8:46 AM — North Tower hit
9:03 AM — South Tower hit
9:37 AM — Pentagon hit
10:03 AM — crash of flight 93 near Shanksville, PA
Every year on this date, we are inundated with messages reminding us to “never forget”. As if we could.
Twenty minutes before Flight 175 hit the South Tower, I woke up late, a carefree college student who only cared about rolling out of bed in time to make it to class. My roommates had already left for the day and for some reason, I turned the TV on, something I never did in my scramble to get to campus on time.
I stopped in my tracks as the image of a flame-engulfed skyscraper filled the screen. What building was that? Was it a fire? A bomb? Creeping closer, I turned the volume up. They were saying that one of the Twin Towers had been hit. Reports early on were that there had been an explosion on one of the middle floors.
None of the information during those first hours was accurate or complete. The usually calm and confident voices of reporters had been transformed into frantic, staccato snippets. Journalists glanced over their shoulders like caged animals, anxiously pressing fingers to their ears in an effort to hear and relay the disjointed updates coming in faster by the minute.
I stumbled backward and collapsed on our fluorescent orange loveseat as the unmistakable shape of a jet came into view and smashed into the South Tower. The newscaster sounded frantic. “A jet… a jet just hit the second tower.”
At first, they called it a tragic accident.
My brain couldn’t keep up. If one was an accident, what did two mean? With dawning horror, I began to realize.
I walked the mile and a half to campus, anxiously scanning the sky each time I heard a jet passing overhead, a reflex it would take months to quell.
The student union was mobbed. We huddled around TV screens, listening, crying, and drawing some small measure of comfort from each other's presence as Peter Jennings reported that the Pentagon had been hit. We knew by now that terrorists had hijacked the planes.
We watched, stunned into a trance of communal pain, as he reported that people on the floors above the impact sites couldn’t get out. They were dying, trapped in the buildings or, unthinkably, by jumping from the burning wreckage.
It would take months for the heaviness in my chest to lesson, and months more for the grief to subside in some small measure.
They say that every generation has its defining moment. For many who were fledgling college students that day, 9/11 was it. Friends and acquaintances dropped out of school to join the military. American flags flew in front of nearly every home, business, and house of worship.
Many of us donated blood because it was all we could think of to do to help. Eventually, blood centers began turning donors away, so overwhelming was the response by people who needed to do something.
We were a nation of panic and rage, of grief and disbelief, but we were also a nation of triumph. While we lost innocence and trust, many gained a deeper appreciation for our freedoms, our military, and the resilience of our nation.
I don’t need to be reminded to remember. None of us who lived through that day do. It is seared into the consciousness of a nation, and its lessons will follow us to the end of our days.