Two decades have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil, but many people still feel the impact of that horrific day.
Nearly 3,000 people died as terrorists crashed the planes they’d hijacked into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon. A third plane, Flight 93, was headed for the U.S. Capitol, but passengers and flight crew fought back. The plane ultimately crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Many of our EBI team members also have a personal connection to that tragic day in American history. Here they share their stories, pay tribute to loved ones, and honor the memories of the men and women who served at Ground Zero.
I was home caring for my daughter on 9/11/01. I switched on the television in the morning to see the image of the airplane-shaped hole in the side of The World Trade Center. At that time the news outlets thought it might have been a horrific accident. I was amazed to see that something like that could have happened. My brother was working in New York City, and I called his cell phone to ask if he had seen or heard the news about it. He had not, but said he was able to see The World Trade Center buildings from the other side of his office. He walked over to see what was going on and witnessed the second plane hit the second tower.
I heard his voice drop and get shaky. I could hear the staff in his office start to scramble. I was watching this scene unfold on my television and I could hear my brother’s first-hand experience with this happening in the city where he was working. He immediately said he thought this was terrorism and that the military needed to get mobilized. He then said they were evacuating his building and he had to go. It took him over 12 hours, but he was able to get out of the city and safely to his apartment in New Jersey that evening.
My brother continued with his plans to get married in October. He had arranged for a boat to carry the wedding party around the Hudson River, and we motored by the site of the smoke-filled World Trade Center area. We approached the Statue of Liberty and the DJ played “God Bless America” as we solemnly watched the smoke, dust, and lights around the impact zone. There weren’t many dry eyes on the boat.
The next day my family and I went downtown to the World Trade Center site. We were prohibited from going any closer than multiple blocks away, but we could still see all the soot covering the cars that were in the parking garage next to us and I could see the debris and residue in the storm drain. There were hundreds of people gathered at the barriers, blocks away from where workers were trying to clean up after one of the most devastating and sobering events I’ve ever witnessed. I remember how quiet it was even though we were in New York City with a mass of people.
I remember looking down at my one-year-old daughter in her stroller and thinking that I was grateful she was alive and that she wouldn’t remember this experience, but I also remember how angry I was that someone could do such an evil thing to innocent people.
The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, started like any other day. I was a preschool teacher at the time. I was in circle time with the kids singing to them when another teacher came into my room. She pulled me aside to tell me that a plane flew into one of the twin towers. I thought that was crazy and sad. I asked her if it was an accident. She told me the news did not say. I then remembered what happened in 1993 when terrorists detonated a bomb at the Twin Towers, and I started praying in my head that this was just a terrible accident and not done on purpose.
Just when I was about to begin art with the kids, another teacher came in my room and told me a second plane flew into the other tower. We both just looked at each other and knew. This was no accident.
Parents were showing up very early and taking their kids home. All the kids in my class were picked up by 12:30 pm so I went home. Driving home, I was scared. Every time I stopped at a red light or stop sign, I would look up in the sky. That was the kind of day it was. You did not know where the next attack could be. The feeling of not knowing is terrifying. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for when I watched the replay footage on the news when I got home.
That night after President Bush spoke to the country, I thought about all the victims that were killed that day, and to this day I cannot even imagine what their families were going through. As the very proud sister of a Baltimore County Firefighter, I especially thought about and said an extra prayer for the families of the 343 New York City Firefighters who gave their lives to save others.
I have a picture of the Twin Towers I took in 1997 during my first and only visit to New York. I also have a picture of me in front of a globe in front of the towers. After 9/11, I learned that Globe was broken, but still standing. Like our country at the time. We were broken but still standing.
My nieces and nephews who were too young to remember that day or had not yet been born have asked me about that day. I tell them how I felt that day and what I saw. What everyone saw. How our country came together as one in the days after 9/11. Twenty years later what I can say is to Never Forget, Always Remember, and All Gave Some, Some Gave All.
At 8:46 am on September 11, 2001, I was just booting up my computer on the 34th floor of the World Financial Center, directly across from the World Trade Center, when I heard a loud boom and then saw smoke pouring from one of the Twin Towers. Knowing that my colleague was pregnant with her second child and not wanting to worry about the elevators being disabled, we went down to the ground floor immediately along with several hundred of our American Express colleagues. At 9:03 am we stared in awe from the north side of the second tower, as an explosion and resulting debris showered on our heads. The world was forever changed at that moment.
I spent the majority of 9/11 on the streets of Manhattan, attempting to walk from the lower west side to a midtown hospital, where my then fiancé (now husband) was working as an intern. It felt like weeks, not hours, as I watched people jump to their deaths from high above and ran into people I knew (including a colleague whose husband was killed instantly in the second blast), strangers covered in blood and soot, brave men and women from the FDNY and NYPD, and other rescue workers.
For a while, we stayed under the protection of a local hotel’s roof, trying to reach our families on payphones (cell service was non-existent), but after other planes began hitting targets on television, we decided to get out of lower Manhattan altogether. It was a smart move, as just 10 minutes after we evacuated, those buildings came down and we would have surely been injured or at least incapacitated by the fumes and smoke.
I was extremely lucky, and I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I skirted death that day. In the end, I knew of only three people directly that died – quite a miracle in itself when you consider the tens of thousands who worked in the vicinity. May God bless their souls on this upcoming anniversary.
What did I learn from that day? Firstly, know that your life is very short, and can end in the blink of an eye. Appreciate all that you have and strive to be the best person you can be, to your family, friends, and yes – even those who you may perceive to be your enemies. Secondly, if you are ever in a crisis situation, take a deep breath and rely on your instincts. On 9/11, those who survived (including myself) used basic skills to navigate through a situation that was truly unexpected. Listen to your intuition and recognize strengths in others to work as a team and solve your immediate problem. It sounds basic, but when we panic, we tend to think only of ourselves and that can work against us. Lastly, do not live your life in fear, as that’s exactly what terrorism threatens to do to us, as individuals and as a nation. We must remain strong as Americans and know that we live in the most amazing place on earth. That doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges, but the reason that those hijackers wanted to kill us that day was the realization that they don’t have all the blessings that we do. Be thankful for all you have, work hard to achieve even more, and respect and help those around you to dream and achieve as well. Live boldly!
It was a beautiful September morning, and I was checking into the Convention Center at the Baltimore Harbor for a Career Fair where I was a vendor. I was sipping a hot cup of coffee and started setting up my booth. Just as I hung my banner, the people on the floor had started saying, “Oh My God!”. They were sprinting through the halls with their mouths opened and a bewildered look in their eyes. I thought that there had been a fire on our floor, so I stopped someone in their tracks and asked what was going on? Why all the chaos? This person said that there had been what seemed like a terrorist attack in New York. She said that I should get out of the building.
Being still and looking around, people were yelling at this point, and I couldn’t make out anything other than “Oh No!” and “Oh My God!”. I sent my manager a text letting him know what was going on at the Convention Center. He shared that an airplane had been flown right into one of the Twin Towers. He told me to go right home and that all of Baltimore is shutting down. Just then, security came around the booths on my floor and told us to use the emergency exits in a uniform fashion. Fire alarms were flashing at the exit doors. People continued to sprint through the halls, trying to leave, pushing, and shoving, making it known that they weren’t standing by for any direction.
I finally got to my car and started my journey. My heart was pounding fast and furious, and I kept trying to call my husband and mother. I could not get any calls to go through because apparently the cell towers were so busy with everyone calling everyone. My children were at my mom’s house, and I needed to make sure that they were okay. Miraculously, I was able to contact my husband who was a firefighter in Baltimore City (he is now retired). He was so grateful that we had a connected call and he just told me that he loved me, kids were fine, and that I just need to get to my mother’s house safely.
My husband confirmed that we were under a terrorist attack. There was pure chaos on the road, but I made it! I remember holding my children and my mother and being so thankful that we were together. We were all sitting in the living room and glued to the television and witnessing what was happening to our country. I could barely breathe.
The next day, my family and I went to church and feeling so sad. The number of those found perished just kept increasing. We prayed hard for the victims and their families. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I was still alive while others died from the attacks. I remember thinking that I am not better than anyone else – what sets me apart from all these other beautiful souls? Why was I spared? So many lives lost – it was awful.
I knew we needed to help somehow. Aside from financial donations, I volunteered with my church to collect food and clothing and drove them to the Catholic Diocese in New York that next week. My husband volunteered to help with the clean-up of the wreckage. He wanted to help his fallen brothers and represent somehow.
So many things have changed from that beautiful September day. I won’t get into all the political changes, but personally, if I go to the movies or shopping mall, I look for emergency exits so I can get out in a hurry. I am still afraid to fly, but I continue to stand in long airport lines, lose the shoes, have full-body scans, and get the occasional pat-down. When I attend any large public event, I have to take clear bags and go through metal detectors. It’s an inconvenience, it’s a shame, but I feel that it helps keep us safe. What hasn’t changed, however, is the way I continue to value love, life, family, and human kindness.
EBI solemnly marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Peace be with all the survivors and may the memories of those who were killed that day always be remembered.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.