Nineteen years ago, the United States was victim to a coordinated terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda, as two planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth plane crashed in Somerset County, Penn., as the passengers and crew attempted to regain control from the terrorists.
Nearly 3,000 died and 6,000 were injured, and countless lives changed, as well as American policies abroad and domestic.
Most people remember where they were and what they were doing that day, including several affiliated with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Athletics Department. Below is a first-person reflection from Renee Hill, the wife of UTRGV head men’s basketball coach Lew Hill, who was downtown New York City at the time of the attacks.
For me, 9/11 started as a normal high-energy busy morning sprinting to the Long Island Railroad followed by a ride downtown on the subway to prep for back-to-back power meetings in my high-rise office. What I actually experienced was far from my normal busy workday in the city.
The city is always busy, moving and shaking as loads of people are commuting by foot simply to get where they need to be. However, this day provided a different view. As I looked out my office window, it was filled with a huge cloud of black, gray and white fog or smoke flooding the city sky and sidewalks. My view of the twin towers began to fade in what seemed like slow motion, but in fact, it happened pretty quickly.
The towers were hit by an airplane and the visuals that followed I still see crystal clear today. The fog, the people, the towers, the loud sirens, the influx of police and firefighters flooding the city streets to help. It was complete shock and chaos combined.
Everyone was reacting all around me. I stood there in complete silence. I couldn’t move. I just stared in disbelief at the window. What appeared to me as falling stones and tower glass quickly showed me another view. A co-worker grabbed me and said, “We must go now.”
I grabbed my bag, phone and coat to head for safety. The hallways were filled, elevators shut down, and there was a line waiting to get to the stairs. Once I made it down what seemed like a million stairs out onto the street, reality hit and it hit hard.
The city was under attack and everyone was in full panic mode. Being fresh to city work life I had no idea of an escape plan. Everyone was quick to assist and help and I followed suit as we were all looking for safety.
All forms of transportation were closed. Cellphone towers were out. It was a case of figure it out as you go, but just keep moving. Police were in the city streets directing everyone toward a bridge to escape the city.
I am a Long Islander and my co-worker is a Brooklynite, so we headed for the Brooklyn Bridge. As we walked, I recall helping others pick up the pace and move quickly. I walked arm and arm with people to get to safety.
My feet were burning. My eyes were on fire. My bags seemed to get heavier with each step. However, we were all in this together. It was a strong sense of togetherness as everyone realized we are all experiencing this attack together.
The walk to Brooklyn took hours but felt like days. Once I reached Long Island, I walked in my house covered in aftermath, feeling defeated and wondering how something so devastating could happen here in America.
I sat on the floor crying while thinking about the people, families, first responders and more who didn’t make it home.
I lost friends, particularly a high school classmate who was so eager and excited to be working in the towers as a financial guy. I didn’t know what to say to his parents. I had no words for anyone.
It was and still remains a topic that chokes me up when speaking about it. There is not a year or a time when I travel back home that I don’t think about the visuals, the lives lost and the sacrifices made by so many people that day.
I am thankful for all the progress made and I continue to pray for those who are still hurting and seeking healing. It takes time.
As we reflect on this crushing attack that happened 19 years ago, please remember to keep those affected in your hearts. We never want these lives to be forgotten.
I can tell you exactly where I was — AP English with Robin Aufses. Second row. Fourth seat. I was 15 years old and in 11th grade at Kennedy High School in Bellmore, New York, 41 miles from the World Trade Center.
The principal came over the loudspeaker and told us a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers. It sounded like she was fighting back tears. I don’t think I fully grasped what had happened, though. She didn’t give many details. My first thought was a small plane or something like that. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine the truth.
Mrs. Aufses asked us if anyone had family working in the World Trade Center. A few hands went up, followed by silence. At the time I thought one of my cousins worked there. He had previously worked on the third floor trading copper, but his office had relocated prior to 9/11, a fact I learned to great relief hours later when I got home and asked my mom. She’d reached my cousin. He was fine.
The rest of the school day was a whirlwind. In every class we were glued to the one or two available computers to try to get the latest information. Rumors swirled around the hallways that made the day sound even worse than it was. It was like a bad game of telephone. I remember specifically someone saying the Sears Tower had been hit. It had actually been evacuated, not hit.
In AP American Government, the teacher teared up as she told us to make sure we went home and tell our families we love them. That was the class in which some of us were discussing who did it. No one knew yet. Again, rumors were flying around, mostly without basis.
In gym class, the coaches asked us to run laps. They said, “What do we do when we’re in trouble?” One of the students said, “Run!” Most of just walked. I was with a few friends when we heard a loud noise. It was a plane overhead, moving fast. We knew that all planes in the U.S. had been grounded. So, what on earth was this one doing in the sky? It was probably a military plane. But for a few moments … we all froze.
One of the scariest parts of the day was wondering about a classmate’s father who worked on the 103rd floor of one of the towers. He was freaking out all day. He couldn’t reach anyone. Late in the day he finally got through. His dad overslept and didn’t end up going to work. It was a miracle.
Not all of my friends were so lucky. I had one friend who told me for weeks after 9/11 that she kept waiting for her grandfather to come back through the door. There was nothing worse than not being able to say anything that would comfort her.
My dad was teaching in Brooklyn, about 10 miles from the World Trade Center. He told me he could see the smoke from his classroom and had to close the windows.
Beyond the horrors of the day, though, what I remember is experiencing sports as a unifier. I’m a Yankees fan, but I had incredible respect for the Mets that year. Not only did they allow the use of Shea Stadium as a staging area for relief efforts, but they volunteered at that staging area as well. Images of then-manager Bobby Valentine carrying supplies are seared into my brain.
When sports started playing again, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I had spent a lot of time reading, listening and watching news about first responders’ desperate efforts to try to find survivors. I remember the dread when it rained, making the debris heavier and harder to move. With all that going on, I couldn’t decide — was it okay to take three hours to follow a baseball game?
I listened to the first Yankees game after 9/11 on the radio. I remember there was some kind of argument between a player and an umpire late in the game and one of the Yankees announcers, John Sterling, started wondering aloud why the player would argue. There are so many more important things going on in life. His partner at the time, Michael Kay, disagreed, saying the argument should happen. I think he was making a point about trying to return to a sense of normalcy. That part of the broadcast expressed the conflict I, and probably a lot of people, were feeling.
A few days later, in the Mets’ first home game after 9/11, a large crowd sat on their hands for seven innings, not sure whether or not it was okay to cheer. Then, in the eighth inning, Mike Piazza launched a go-ahead home run that will never be forgotten. The stadium erupted. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at home who let out a scream of joy. In that moment, Piazza told us it was OK to cheer again. We needed that, and I thank him for that.
The Yankees were a major source of pride as well, and although they lost the World Series, they won all three home games, including two in dramatic fashion. As a New Yorker, I can say we needed that too. We needed something to cheer about, and perhaps just as importantly, a brief escape from reality.
I was a sophomore at Florida State. I went to weights at 6:30 a.m. with some track teammates and then directly to my 8 a.m. class, sports marketing. As my class ended and the professor took the PowerPoint off the screen, his computer went to a news page on the internet with a photo of the Towers on fire. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at on the screen. A few moments later an announcement came over the speakers on campus (until then I didn’t even know there were speakers like that on campus) asking everyone to return to their dorms and apartments.
I ran the mile back to my apartment and immediately turned on the TV as I still didn’t know what had happened. My roommates/track teammates and I spent the morning huddled up together, watching the news and trying to get in touch with our parents. Phone lines were jammed and none of us had cellphones at that time. We were over 1,000 miles away in Tallahassee, Florida, feeling completely helpless and scared while wondering if more attacks would occur.
My track coach was able to get word to us via email that practice was canceled for the day and I eventually got in touch with my parents around 5 p.m. Luckily, my mom was able to get in touch with our family and friends in NYC and confirmed they were OK.
Track practice and campus life didn’t look the same after 9/11. Access to our locker rooms meant having your bag searched before entering. Running the football stadium steps was no longer allowed. Airport travel was limited for competition the following spring.
The horrific attacks that took place on 9/11 forever changed me.
The way people came together and the care and love our country showed each other in the following months, however, was beautiful.
My 9/11 story is not unlike so many others. It’s a moment in time where you can recall where you were at, what you were doing, and how you felt. It started out like so many Rio Grande Valley mornings. While not exactly cool, it was a balmy 79 degrees. Traffic flow from my home in Mercedes to my office in Pharr was like any other day. As I had done for years, I was listening to the local news talk radio station catching up on the day’s news and events. At approximately 7:55 a.m., there was jarring break-in from the national news correspondent. I recall the time because of the abruptness and tone of the reporter.
The ABC correspondent said there had been attack on the World Trade Center. He described what was initially thought to be an accident and only later learned it was an attack. His tone, which I can only describe as shockingly somber, was what got me. At that moment, as I drove toward my office, I looked at my fellow commuters and noticed we were all sharing the same experience. It didn’t matter which station we were listening to. It seemed as though each station reported what was happening at the same moment. It felt as if time had stopped for each of us. As we drove toward our destinations, I witnessed mouths gasped in shock, hands on heads in disbelief and blank stares. It was like we were in this tunnel hurtling toward something we could never imagine.
As I arrived in the office, I noticed a large group of co-workers gathered around the one television in the break room. Silence. Not one sound was made as we stared in disbelief. As it became apparent what we were witnessing, tears began to flow, and calls were being made to friends and family in the vicinity of New York City.
The morning turned somber as we each retreated to our offices trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed. Questions were asked. Is this real? Who would do this? How many are hurt? How many have died?
It wasn’t until later that night that we started getting answers to these questions. As my wife and I huddled in front of our television that evening, we couldn’t help but feel the anguish, sadness and despair of those that lost family members due to this senseless act. We still could not comprehend what had happened. I recall sitting there with my soon-to-be 2-year old son asking my wife, “What did we bring our children into?”