Remembering 9/11 after 20 years

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At 8:46 a.m. on a cloudless early September day, American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Another Boeing 767, United Flight 175, struck the south tower 17 minutes later. At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight crashed into the Pentagon, and at 10:03 a.m.—exactly one hour after the second plane sliced into the south tower—a fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa. By 10:30 a.m., both of the Twin Towers had collapsed.

In less than two hours, the world as most Americans knew it had changed forever.

As the nation prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the deadliest acts of terror on American soil, readers responding to a Rochester Beacon survey say they remember that day vividly. In fact, all of the nearly 150 survey participants say they have a clear memory of when, on 9/11, they first heard of the attacks.

Respondents use words like “shock,” “disbelief” and “horror” to describe what they recall most about that day. Many, though not all, say 9/11 and what followed has had a lasting impact on them.

“I think about my visit to Ground Zero a week after the attack, remembering the powerful silence of the voices of the victims and the air still laden with soot. We must never forget,” says Sandra Frankel, who at the time was Brighton town supervisor.

“In some ways, the trauma feels worse as time goes on. I knew several people who were there at the towers. All survived, thankfully, but the panic and terror of that day were the worst I’ve ever felt,” says Melissa Boyack. “I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I knew the life most of us took for granted had changed forever in a fundamental way.”

The four coordinated attacks, committed by militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, claimed the lives of  2,977 people (excluding the 19 hijackers) and injured more than 6,000 others. Civilians accounted for the vast majority of those who died, but firefighters, law enforcement officers and military service members also lost their lives.

On Sept. 12, 2001, the New York Times headline was “U.S. ATTACKED.” The Democrat and Chronicle used only one word—“TERROR”—that spanned the width of its front page. Time and Newsweek published special editions, filled with excruciating, unforgettable images; Time writer Nancy Gibbs observed: “Terror works like a musical composition, so many instruments, all in tune, playing perfectly together to create their desired effect. Sorrow and horror, and fear.”

In response to the attacks, the U.S., with British support, on Oct. 7, 2001, launched Operation Enduring Freedom against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which had allowed al-Qaeda to operate from Afghan territory. The invasion of Afghanistan in time became the longest American war, finally ending less than two weeks ago, on Aug. 31, after the U.S. military completed its exit. Once more, the Taliban control the country.

Less than two years after 9/11, the U.S. war on terror expanded to Iraq, when the invasion of that country was launched in 2003. Announcing the military operation on March 20, President George W. Bush said the goal was to destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and end the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein. The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq in December 2011. 

The aftermath

In the days after 9/11, the nation appeared united in grief: People here and in countless communities around the country took part in candlelight vigils, ecumenical prayer services, and other acts of mourning and remembrance.

Public leaders reached out to Muslim Americans, in an effort to underscore the fact that the attacks were carried out by a small group of Islamic extremists. Mayor William Johnson Jr. visited the Islamic Center of Rochester (which donated $17,000 raised to help the relief efforts). A few days later, Bush paid a similar visit to a mosque in Washington, D.C.

People also hoped for a return to normal life. At first, that seemed a distant prospect. All commercial flights were grounded; the stock market was closed, and some feared the U.S. economy was in free fall.

But civilian air traffic—with strict airport security checks—resumed on Sept. 13. And though the nation’s gross domestic product and manufacturing activity ended 2001 down sharply, by April 2002 the U.S. economy was growing again at a robust rate and the stock market was well above its close on Sept. 10, 2001.

The impact of the 9/11 attacks continued to be felt, however. The national unity that existed in the immediate aftermath soon came undone. And the toll of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq mounted.

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University says more than 6,200 Americans died in Afghanistan during the 20-year war including 2,324 service members and 3,917 U.S. contractors. It estimates a total of 176,000 people—including nearly 47,000 Afghan civilians—as direct war deaths.

In Iraq, by the Watson Institute’s calculation, 4,598 U.S. service members died during the war; the toll among U.S. contractors was 3,650. As many as 209,000 Iraqi civilians also died.

AP estimates the direct Afghanistan and Iraq war costs that the U.S. had debt-financed as of 2020 at $2 trillion. The Watson Institute’s tally of total U.S. spending on the post-9/11 wars and homeland security: $8 trillion.

Judging the U.S. response

A plurality of Rochester Beacon survey respondents—43 percent—believe the U.S. is safer from terrorism today than it was before the Sept. 11 attacks. At the same time, nearly 30 percent think the country is less safe.

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 49 percent of Americans say the country is safer from terrorism than before 9/11, while 41 percent say it is less safe. By contrast, 67 percent of respondents in 2003 said the U.S. was safer versus 27 percent who answered less safe.

Beacon readers also are split on whether the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were worth fighting, with majorities answering “no” for each one. Forty percent say the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting, but 60 percent disagree. Fewer than one-quarter of survey participants think the Iraq war was worth fighting; of the 77 percent who think it was not worth fighting, 46 percent disagree strongly with the decision to go to war. (Results of a recent AP-NORC Center Poll were similar on this question, with most respondents saying neither war was worth fighting.)

“I fully supported our country’s going into Afghanistan to pursue justice for the murderers of American civilians on 9/11. I do not pretend to know at what point our mission there should have ended,” says Jane Conrad. “Our extraordinary investment there—of the lives of our troops and trillions of dollars—did not achieve what we had hoped: a more free and democratic way of life for the Afghan people, who would therefore be less likely to mount attacks on the U.S. Going forward our elected representatives must engage in more honest and rigorous scrutiny of counter-intelligence and military interventions overseas. We would have been better served had those investments been made at home.”

The following are the complete signed written responses to two questions posed in the survey, conducted Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon usually does not post unsigned survey responses or comments. However, we are including a selection of them below to provide the fullest expression of 9/11 viewpoints and remembrance:

What do you recall most about that day?

I was in a meeting and did not hear until late morning. A sense of bewilderment and then rage enveloped everyone in the meeting.

—Joe Klein 

Before September 11th, I had only an abstract understanding of the phrase “fight or flight.” Being in New York City on that day, and witnessing the explosion from the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, my entire being was consumed by an intense desire to get away from there. It was evolution in action; we are hard-wired to flee from danger and I had never experienced anything remotely like it. And yet, I was on an island and could not leave. When I witnessed the explosion, I was in a cab about to cross a bridge to Manhattan. The crash of the second plane made it clear that this was no accident, so I told the cab driver to turn around and take me back to LaGuardia. Of course, by the time I arrived there, the radio announcer had reported that all flights were grounded, but I initially hoped to rent a car and drive home to Rochester. Those hopes were soon dashed and instead I sat with hundreds of other stranded people in a Marriott across from LaGuardia watching news coverage and wondering if there would be further attacks on the City. As horrified as I was watching the live coverage from lower Manhattan, including seeing people jump to their deaths, my overwhelming memory of that day was the profound tension between my desire to get away from there and my knowledge that the most sensible thing to do was to stay where I was until it became safe and possible to leave.

—Jane Conrad 

I remember and still 20 years later … the feeling that “we were just like them” … meaning all the other countries around the world where you see military in the airports, on the streets, and important places. Twenty years later I still recall this vividly.

—Daniel J Chupe-OHanlon

It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. It was so hard to reconcile that with the horrors of what we were seeing on TV.

—Lynn Malooly 

Short answer: shock and disbelief. I was then CEO of a small internet startup. We were all frozen and unable to get any work done. I sent everyone home. The next day, I called all the staff together to make a little speech, to provide comfort and encouragement. But I was so disoriented and still in shock, I think I was incoherent. I don’t even remember what I said. 

—John Calia 

Incredible anxiety, both due to the attacks themselves and due to the fear that more attacks were imminent.

—Jonathan Feldman 

I walked into work and soon watched the towers fall. I know a lot of people who work in that NYC neighborhood. My supervisor’s young adult kids were there. And he was trying to find them. We knew that cells were overburdened so we waited to hear from people. Went home and watched the towers burn.

—Ruhi Maker 

The brilliant blue skies and the billowing black smoke in NYC after the planes hit the towers. 

—Alli O’Malley 

I recall a sense of unreality. When I saw the second tower fall on TV, it looked like a class Z movie that depended on something tragic to sell. But it was a harsh reality and I was stunned. 

—Rev. Richard S. Gilbert 

Uncertainty. Fear of scale. My new baby.

—Mark Browning 

I was on my way into Manhattan for work, sitting in traffic on the West Side Highway, listening to WCBS Radio. It was a gorgeous, crisp, blue sky day. At the 8:48 Traffic & Weather Together update, Tom Kamiskey in “Chopper 88” reported seeing smoke coming from high up on one of the World Trade Center buildings… I recall he went on to say that it looked like a plane had hit it… I was horrified, and knew that would be bad. I just didn’t know how bad it would get. When the report of the 2nd plane came across the radio, I looked around at the cars next to me on the highway, wondering if any of the drivers had heard what I did. I unrolled my window and yelled to the guy next to me: “Did you hear that?” He nodded, said he couldn’t believe it, and turned back to look down the highway… The West Side Highway closed in front of us and cars were forced to take whatever the next exit was. I got off in northern Manhattan and worked my way down Broadway and Riverside to get to my office: CBS News on 57th and 10th. By the time I got to work my colleagues were already out the door and headed downtown. At that point we all knew our world was changing forever… My daughters, 2 1/2 and 15 months old at the time, were home with our sitter. I couldn’t reach them for several hours. My husband watched it all unfold from Scotland, on a special trip with his Mom who had just been diagnosed with cancer… I knew it would be a long day, many long days, at work… And it was. I watched endless loops of video of the planes hitting the Towers and the destruction at the Pentagon, working with my colleagues on 24/7 coverage. Our correspondents and crews came back to the Broadcast Center and left again, covered in dust and physically and emotionally exhausted… The first day was just the beginning of a series of days, weeks and months where everything was different and horrible. Stories of bravery and “We’re all in it together” helped, but didn’t make the awfulness go away. One of the things that stays with me most today were the flyers with faces and names of the missing—posted on the external walls of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital around the corner from work. Gut-wrenching. They were there for as long as the weather allowed. No one could or would take them down. That night and many nights afterwards, the sound of fighter jets that I couldn’t see crossing the sky kept me up. The other lingering memory was the smell, a combination of electrical fire, waste and something else… My extended family celebrated my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with a cruise that left Manhattan at the end of May 2002. As we passed the WTC site, the pile was still smoking and the smell still potent. The memories are visceral 20 years later.

—Mary Sue Dehn 

As managing partner of Nixon Peabody’s Rochester office, I walked the halls of our office most of the day, trying to reassure and comfort people and permitting those who were so emotionally affected that they could not work to leave.

—Dave Schraver 

This day was a memorable one for me for a different reason—it was my sixteenth birthday. Our teacher explained the unfolding events to our second period AP US History class, us not believing it was real even after our teacher turned on the radio. After the bell rang, we filled the cafeteria, and stared at the TV coverage while eating cupcakes my friend had made for my birthday. We watched in disbelief as the second tower fell. Nothing was clear that day, and we didn’t know if another attack would unfold on TV before our eyes. I remember a mix of quiet shock, some fearful crying, some teenage jokes in poor taste, then our day at school moved forward as normally as it could. However, almost every business shuttered that afternoon, and we celebrated my birthday at the Olive Garden because it was one of the few restaurants still open. In the days after, I remember an eerie quiet with no planes in the sky. I also remember the huge wave of patriotism that followed, and tacking a full-page flag image from the D&C to my window to be a part of the nation uniting in a time of crisis.

—Margaret Rich 

Disbelief. This is crazy. OMG.

—Dominick Annese 

The strangeness—the sense of disembodiment.

—William Pruitt 

In my office at Kodak R&D labs. The initial report over the internet flashed breaking news that a small plane had hit one of the twin towers. Notable yes, but not at all the reality. Soon thereafter I joined many in a large meeting/presentation hall watching the live events. The company allowed anyone to go home who needed to. I thought that was a wise and compassionate decision although I stayed in the bldg. I also recall my Mother calling me from NJ to check that I was alive and well in Rochester, NY. You just wanted to reach out to your loved ones. Also, I had been in Windows of the World for several hours just the previous weekend with a few friends. It was difficult to comprehend that the venue had vanished from the skies. The memory of that tremendous view and the incredible height was right there … fresh. That breathtaking and majestic height. The mind-boggling fall.

—Vincent Hesketh 

I walked in to a hotel lobby for a meeting of the New York State Emergency Medical Service Council in Albany to find a half dozen doctors (including one of the medical directors for the FDNY ambulance service and key staff of the DOH EMS Office) watching the first tower burn. Several of us started our business meeting, which was interrupted and then stopped when the second tower was struck. The rest of the morning is now a blur. I was the senior supervisor for the ambulance service (Rural/Metro) in Rochester and one of the coordinators of our ambulance disaster response team for the Northeast. The only question was whether I would go to NYC to lead the team on the ground or back to Rochester to coordinate the response. I was told to return here to coordinate the response.

—Paul Bishop 

Remains of the World Trade Center complex, after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Shock, confusion, sadness, fear for friends in NYC … then the dread felt as the eventual realization set in that we were going to war. Also what stuck with me was certain people’s response. My crew and I were shooting a commercial at the Henrietta Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Its owners made the decision to close all branches of the store because people were rushing in to buy guns, some expressing intent to take revenge against anyone wearing a turban… Very sad, and scary days.

—Kat Sweeney 

Terror and disbelief. Fear quickly set in as we started wondering where the next attack would be. My daughters, ages 17 and 13 at the time, needed reassurance that my wife and I couldn’t give genuinely, as we were shaken too. The rumor mill reported the Ginna nuclear power plant could be a target. Needless to say, we didn’t get much rest that night.

—Keith Elliott 

I was living in California, and had many friends in NYC, so I remember being glued to the television, trying to call friends, and feeling very far away and vulnerable.

—Jill Swiencicki 

On 9/11 I was trying a products liability case before a jury in NY Supreme Court in Geneseo County. A courtroom officer interrupted proceedings to whisper something to presiding Judge Jerry Alonzo. The judge excused the jury and advised counsel that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Some guessed that a small private plane on auto pilot (like Payne Stewart’s) must have found its way over Wall Street. Minutes later we learned that another plane hit the second tower. Lawyers, witnesses, officers and jurors called loved ones to learn more. My wife Liz, a native of Manhattan, sobbed as she told me that she watched one of the towers fall live on TV. Prior to moving to Rochester, I worked at Thacher Proffitt & Wood whose law offices were at the World Trade Center. I thought I had lost many of my NYC friends. I found privacy in an empty jail cell near the courtroom and let my emotions flow. We lawyers and court officers gathered in Judge Alonzo’s chambers to steady ourselves. A mistrial was declared. I drove home listening to the news on the radio. It would be many days later that I would learn that everyone at Thacher survived the attack.

—Paul V. Nunes 

I was in South Beach working at a conference. The husband of the woman running the conference worked at the Pentagon and so did her admin’s husband. The conference quickly closed down and they drove to D.C. Her husband was okay but her admin’s husband died in the attack. Being out of town, it took us days to get back home. When we could fly, our travel agent booked rental cars for us in each city in case that was our last stop. Eventually, we made it to Syracuse and drove to Rochester. It was a very long and stressful week.

—Laurie Enos 

The absolute horror of the buildings coming down. Also, the weather was beautiful that day. I had a sick horse and was starting to feel better about her starting to recover when I heard on the radio that an airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. 

—Cathleen S. Carstens 

My cousin at risk. Researching “why might they have done this” late into the night, and finding materials about how depleted uranium is causing horrifying birth defects across Iran.

—Kate Kressmann-Kehoe 

Going to my child’s daycare and visiting the baby room to just sit and realize his life would be forever changed by the events of the day.

—Paul Kingsley 

I remember being terrified for my children who were in middle school/high school at the time. I remember dropping one child at school and coming home to see the news report and wondering whether the other tower would be hit as well. And then it was. Right in front of my eyes as if in an animated movie but unimaginably worse since it was real.

—Linda Hopkins 

Shock. It was too much to take in. I called my son at home, working with a friend to remove wall-to-wall carpeting, and really, all I could tell him was to watch what was happening.

—Karen Beadling 

The awareness that something significant had changed for our country.

—Scott Fiske 

A feeling of dread and numbness came over me. My first thought was about who I might know that died in the attacks and then seeing TV images of the “jumpers” and feeling such deep sadness for all the victims, those in the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the four planes. Weeks later I attended a funeral for one of my former patients who had been killed.

—Sanford Mayer MD 

Having just changed jobs to a new healthcare organization, I was the new person at the corporate leadership meeting that morning. While the meeting was going on an employee entered the room and brought in a television and turned on the national news. Once we saw the second plane hit the tower two we all knew it was more than an “accident.” We all returned to our respective healthcare operations and started systemwide planning for a potential influx of patients from NYC, which never occurred.

—Michael McRae 

Called into a manager’s office after the first plane hit and there was a TV. We were speculating about cause, such as mechanical failure, because it was such a clear day. Then we watched the second plane hit and we knew what it was. When the towers came down the anguish, anger, and sadness combined to be a super strong emotion.

—Jim Bertolone 

I was on my way home to change after a job interview when I heard about the first tower. When I arrived at my current job location, I found out it was more than just an accident. I remember sitting in my editor’s office with most of my co-workers watching the coverage on this little TV in silence. It was unreal.

—Melanie Watson 

I had just gotten released from the hospital earlier that morning after cancer treatment, and I was still a bit groggy. I was laying on the couch watching the Today Show when the horrible events began to unfold, and I was certain even in my unclear state of mind that I was imagining it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was actually happening. My husband came into the room and stood staring at the TV in stunned disbelief. When I finally acknowledged that this wasn’t my imagination, that what I was seeing was real, I remember thinking that this was the end of life as we knew it, and probably the beginning of the third world war. It seemed, even in those early moments, that all of our lives would be forever changed.

—Karin Cross-Smith

The genuine horror and sadness that pervaded our workplace when we learned what had happened.

—Sandra Wright 

In my classroom with my students watching the towers fall.

—Tim Judd 

An uneasiness permeated every moment of that day. I worked a night shift job in manufacturing, so had just woken up around 9 a.m. and turned on channel 10 to watch the morning news/Today Show. My roommate was still asleep. I watched as the second tower was struck on live television, woke up my roommate and she didn’t believe me when I told her what was happening. Once she too saw the unfolding coverage, then we watched for the rest of the morning, texting and calling friends and family until we had to go to work. It seemed like all of the radio stations had changed to broadcasting news of the attacks for the duration of the day and evening. At work we did our jobs, but all of the radio stations were playing news and we went about our work.

—Matt Ulakovic 

We watched television reports of the direct attack on the World Trade Center in NYC. This direct attack on our nation and in our state was unimaginable yet real. Emotions were high. As Supervisor of the Town of Brighton at that time, I convened the leadership team, and we gathered on the front lawn of Town Hall, standing in a circle, holding hands. Together, council members, police chief, department heads, and staff that wanted to join did so for mutual support and comfort. We shared our reactions to the attack and took a moment of silent prayer for the innocent victims and for the vulnerability of our nation. We then got to work in partnership with other security and public safety personnel to identify potential targets in our area and to plan how best to protect them. We also told staff that if they needed to go home to be with their families, to do so. Most chose to stay at Town Hall, dedicated to serve the community in during this unsettling time. Thankfully, no issues arose locally that had to be addressed, but we were forever changed by the attack.

—Sandra Frankel 

I was at work. I remember everyone dropping their work, clustering around TVs (scarce in that location), and sharing their shock and thoughts for most of the day. I also remember feeling strongly that this behavior was giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted, and continuing to work while avoiding those conversations—to this day, I don’t know how much of that attitude was legit or the avoidance stage of grief.

—Linda Saalman

It was just a normal day until all hell broke loose. Then things changed forever.

—Max Remley 

The disbelief that this was happening within our borders and the horror of what directly affected people were experiencing.

—Beverly Faro 

Mostly the confusion: whose airplane(s), from where, what’s al-Qaeda, where are they from, are we ALL in some kind of danger now?

—Lee M. Loomis 

I can barely answer this question. In some ways, the trauma feels worse as time goes on. I knew several people who were there at the towers. All survived, thankfully, but the panic and terror of that day were the worst I’ve ever felt. I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I knew the life most of us took for granted had changed forever in a fundamental way.

—Melissa Boyack 

I recall the disbelief most. I watched the entire incidents occur on the morning news. It just did not seem real to me. I felt as if my brain was being tricked. This is not a movie, this is REAL! My beloved AMERICA is being attacked right before my eyes.

—Robyn Carter 

One of our sons was at NYU living south of Houston Street. I called him immediately and spoke with him before the cell tower collapsed. We lost touch completely for a few days after that. He saw the second tower go down.

—Rob Brown, ESOP Plus 

I was playing golf at Oak Hill with a client when all of a sudden carts were racing toward the club and a guy yelled to me what was going on. Somehow we got a seat in the grill room and watched it all!

—Dan Mossien 

A feeling of emotional numbness at the tragedy and loss of American lives along with anger that an enemy of the U.S. was bold enough to attack us on our own soil and fear that they might do it again.

—Jeff Luellen 

Have 9/11 and our nation’s response to it affected you personally? How?

My feeling that the country has lost its way since 9/11 is gnawing at me. The military and the government contractors keep growing. The sense our leaders are craven cowards, putting political considerations and their own personal wealth building first, is deeply unsettling.

—Joe Klein 

September 11th was by far the most traumatic day of my life. And yet compared to so many others, my experience was tame. The term “survivor’s guilt” doesn’t fully capture the shame of being so traumatized and afraid when you know other people had experiences that were so much worse. I now have some sense of the meaning of PTSD, what people in many parts of the world today and throughout history have experienced when their homeland is under attack. I was so grateful then at how our country came together to rally around the people of New York City, and to fight a common enemy. It grieves me that there was not a similar unification of Americans and our elected officials after January 6, 2021, which was an even greater threat to our country and our way of life (a representative democracy).

—Jane Conrad 

The father of one of my students died in one of the towers. Community impact was enormous and felt.

—Bob Lewis 

Yes it has. Specifically, I changed my entire life and future. On 9/11 I was a student in college just studying what would later become a wish list of studies. On 9/12 I changed my major, signed up for student government, and the rest is history. At the 1st anniversary of the attacks, I was dedicating a memorial on the college property and have (since) made policy work, community work, servant leadership, leaving a legacy my new life. I have also now created 2 scholarships (1 in ROC, 1 in Austin) to support first responders.

—Daniel J Chupe-Ohanlon 

Two people I knew very well died on 9/11—my law school roommate (in NYC) and my junior high school social studies teacher (at the Pentagon in D.C.). I knew many others who were on-site and were deeply shaken by the attacks. Nevertheless, targeted anti-terrorism activities have been a far more effective response than the misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

—Jonathan Feldman 

I was born in Pakistan. The invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq impacted me. My U.S.-born children were treated or called a terrorist on a few occasions (at age 12 and then 18). I have not been back to Pakistan since 9/11 partly because of the potential security threat to my U.S.-born husband. My cousin had to flee Karachi with her American-born husband at short notice after death threats. My extended family lives with the insecurity caused in Pakistan by what has occurred in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion and the political consequences of U.S.-facilitated regime change in Pakistan.

—Ruhi Maker 

The bellicose response to the attack, and the accompanying security theater within the U.S., have conditioned far too many in this nation to accept fascist ideology. In some ways, our national response to 9/11 paved the way for the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and all the chaos that ensued.

—Christine Corrado

Yes. I did not believe we should have gone to Afghanistan. As a Vietnam veteran I knew what the outcome could only be bad.

—Dominick Annese 

How could anyone not be affected by George Bush’s response? He started a war based on a lie that has shaped the world we live in.

—William Pruitt 

9/11 had a direct and lasting impact on my life and that of my immediate family. We did not lose anyone whom we knew well, but mourned all the incredible, diverse lives lost that day—people in the planes and in the Towers or the Pentagon who were just going to work and about their daily lives. Until 9/11, I lived in a privileged bubble, not believing I had anything to be afraid of. This, even though I lived in Manhattan when it was seriously not safe to walk in certain areas, particularly at night. I was held up at gunpoint in New Orleans once. I was a kid living outside London when the IRA began their bombing campaign on the Underground. But none of those things made me afraid… Maybe it was having young children and realizing how much they could lose if I or my husband died? 9/11 made me afraid. My husband’s mother lived around the corner from us and went through 2 years of cancer treatment before succumbing. We had another baby, a son, born in 2003 whom she got to meet. The lingering anxiety of living in post-911 NY, combined with the craziness of the news business, and the insanely high cost of living anywhere near NYC contributed to our decision to leave. We ended up in Rochester in 2004, where my parents had returned a year earlier after decades living away thanks to Xerox and bought a house around the corner from them. Even with numerous trips back to NYC, I did not/could not go to Ground Zero until 4 years ago. We took our two younger kids to the 9/11 Museum. I cried. I wasn’t able to really tell my kids exactly what hit me most—though the images of those flyers on the cement columns might have done it. PS: The questions below should have a space for an explanation of the response. The answers are more complicated than a simple more/less or agree/disagree. PPS: The Beacon is a great addition to the Rochester media landscape. 

—Mary Sue Dehn

I went to high school with people who perished in 9/11. I think of them sometimes. It is probably fair to say that I had a distinctly different appreciation for living in a smaller metropolis like Rochester for a time afterwards. Having grown up in NJ and often being in Manhattan I knew the city without discomfort. However, after 911 it felt like a target, with the uncertainty of imagining the enemy out there. Watching. And planning.

—Vincent Hesketh 

We are all impacted by our outsized military budgets, which divert money needed for domestic concerns to foreign campaigns that make profits for the military industrial complex and debilitate nations at home and abroad.

—Jill Swiencicki 

It certainly affected me. I’m softer; I take more time to tell friends and family how much I love and appreciate them. But I’m harder; knowing that we have enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy us, I am firmly resolved that we must be prepared to defend ourselves.

—Paul V. Nunes 

I have lost the “freedom” (more correctly, the naivete) of thinking I could come and go when traveling. It has also made me more of a pessimist in thinking people of different religious/ethnic cultures are actually interested in co-existing peacefully.

—Scott Fiske 

I think our national response was not well thought out. It got us bogged down in Afghanistan for 20 years at huge cost. It also led to unwarranted xenophobia. I flew to NYC 2 weeks after 9/11 and in the airport waiting room were 2 men who appeared to be of Middle-Eastern origin. You could feel the tension in the air as they would be getting on our plane. A young woman came in, surveyed the situation, sat down between them and started chatting with them. I felt ashamed for my fearful response to them. Arriving in NYC, I took a shuttle into town for a meeting but we had to let someone off near Wall Street. I saw the devastating wreckage of what was once the shining white towers, a sight I will never forget.

—Sanford Mayer MD 

When assigned to NYC I often stayed a day at my best friend’s apartment, my college roommate. He worked for the Public Employees Federation (PEF) in their offices high in the Trade Center. He had left before 911 to work for NYSUT. As a statewide AFL-CIO rep and area rep for Postal Workers there was a good chance I had met some of the union members who worked there, especially PEF and CSEA. Always aware of the evil in the world, it seemed much closer that day.

—Jim Bertolone 

The South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

We knew many people that lived in NYC and were there when this happened. Fortunately, none of them were in the towers. I did have a workplace associate that was in training at the hotel right there. Luckily she was evacuated, but she suffered lung problems for years after from the long walk away from the site. 

—Sandra Wright 

Images of people jumping from the World Trade Center to their deaths to escape the flaming wreckage of the building, the first responders rushing to the aid of victims at the Ground Zero, and New Yorkers fleeing as smoke and debris hailed down on them, have remained a permanent, painful memory. Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, I remember and recommit support for the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect and defend us. I think about my visit to Ground Zero a week after the attack, remembering the powerful silence of the voices of the victims and the air still laden with soot. We must never forget.

—Sandra Frankel

It sensitized me to the systematic bias against Muslims in the U.S., as we accelerated our cultural tendency to conflate the religion generally with its more extreme and aberrational adherents. In the absence of any other obvious place to put this comment, I have a problem with your Q4. I think we are safer from international terrorism but less safe from domestic terrorism, which is why I answered “no difference.”

—Linda Saalman

In 2001 I worked for a labor union that had 34 members killed at the World Trade Center. For weeks after we met with their families and helped them get quick assistance as well as longer-term access to death benefits and other types of help. I will never forget being in a room with dozens of surviving family members still in shock because their spouse or parent went to work that morning and was never seen again.

—Brian Curran 

Other than the greatly increased airport security, not really.

—Lee M. Loomis 

Watching the 9/11 events play out traumatized me. The anguish and desperation I saw my fellow Americans experience still lives with me today. I will never forget the soot-covered faces. 

—R. Carter 

Bigotry prevailed!

—Dan Mossien 

I’m troubled by the inability of our political leaders to identify specific military goals and then provide the military with the resources and freedom to achieve those goals.

—Jeff Luellen 

The following comments were unsigned:

What do you recall most about that day?

I watched in real time when the second plane hit one of the towers, I watched in real time when the plane hit the Pentagon, and I watched in real time when the towers collapsed. It was devastating. My sister worked at one of the county buildings during that time and her daughter, my niece, was in pre-k in the federal building. I was so afraid for her because news reports were saying any and all government buildings were at risk. I just remember when we all got home we just wanted to remain there. We hugged each other a little longer that night. 

The surreal aspect of the day—how could such nearly inconceivable horror unfold on such a beautiful blue sky summer morning? 

Feeling stunned and then sick to my stomach. Then, feeling even worse when I became aware that some family members had friends who were killed. 

I remember when I first heard at work that the 2nd tower (the South Tower) was struck. The realization hit in an instant that this was not just a horrible accident, but an attack that would profoundly change our lives. We were allowed to leave work early as many of us had worked in NYC (and I had lived in Brooklyn and had worked in Lower Manhattan). The reports seemed too hard to believe, until I went home and saw on TV that my former place of work was reduced to a war zone. I held onto our infant daughter, Rosie, and realized that the world that she would grow up in would be vastly different than mine. 

At 7:00 a.m., when I walked to the end of the driveway at our Brighton house to pick up the WSJ that had been delivered there, the morning enveloped you with the gentle beauty of late summer. So much of that day remains a jumble of bleak, unfolding horror, but the perfection of that morning remains a very distinct memory. 

We were in Canada on our way to Wisconsin from NYS. We were at a rest stop when the news came on. We drove as quickly as possible to border with US. 

We didn’t know where my brother-in-law was. He was working in both NYC and D.C. at the time. He left very early in the morning and my sister couldn’t reach him. He was safe, his cell phone turned off due to a meeting, but didn’t know what was going on since he was in a basement. My sister was home in NJ with three tiny children. We were frantic till we heard back from them. 

It was the most beautiful fall day. My mother and I were going to a play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We knew something was going on because guards were stopping traffic at the border. When we got to the hotel we unpacked and went down to check the bar television just in time to see the plane fly into the side of the World Trade Center. 

I remember walking home from work in the middle of the day and stopping at St. Paul’s Church on East Avenue to sit in silence with others who had the same inclination. I then walked the rest of the way home and spent time with my wife and our two teenage children and neighbors—one of whom played his bagpipe on the sidewalk in front of his house as a tribute to those live lost and altered by the horror of 9/11.

Being on the phone with my stepson while he was at work, after he called me to turn on the TV and let him know what I was hearing. We stayed on for quite a while and I gave him a running commentary of the events, including the second plane hitting, people jumping out of the buildings to their death. Horror was the feeling. 

The sheer horror. The possibility that the Niagara Power Project could be next. The extraordinary difficulty in trying to explain the unexplainable to middle school students. The extreme worry over the safety of a brother-in-law (who) provided high-tech physical security equipment to the Pentagon. The fear for the safety of so many college classmates who lived in New York City. 

It was just unbelievable. The series of stunning events: the planes hitting the WTC, people jumping, the buildings collapsing, the pictures of people on the ground fleeing. I was at work and everyone was in a state of shock. Everyone was looking at TV or on a computer seeking information. Then people just wandered away and went home. 

My parents and brother worked in NYC. I had just moved to Rochester. My mother called in the morning and she had watched the towers fall out her office window. My father and brother were MIA until nighttime. 

Have 9/11 and our nation’s response to it affected you personally? How?

Some PTSD kicked in because of a cousin being kidnapped in South Sudan in the mid ’80s. He and 2 other priests were held hostage for 6 weeks. 

I used to work in Lower Manhattan a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and I knew people who still worked and lived in NYC. Fortunately, everyone that I knew made it out safely. I had a scare when I read the name of a woman on Flight 93 who shared the name of a woman that I knew, but it was not her. I was in the Air Force Reserves, and our operating tempo increased as we supported operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq. 

I didn’t know anyone that perished in the attack; neither did I know anyone in the military during the aftermath. But I was affected by the sheer violence of the attack. And I was pleasantly amazed at how we pulled together as a nation for a very short time. Unfortunately, I believe the never-ending war was more politically motivated than as actual retribution for the 9/11 attacks. We have spent so many lives and so much money, while here at home we’ve let things go to hell. How can we occupy another country and tell them what they should do when we haven’t figured it out ourselves? 

Before 9/11 I had never considered the idea that anyone would attack us. I had been to the World Trade centers on business not long before the attacks and so I felt a connection with the buildings and the city, so I felt like these terrorists had attacked me personally. It brought a war closer to me than I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. 

On September 11th each year I pause to reflect on the tragedies of 9/11 and the remember with admiration the selfless acts of hundreds of Americans. I had a greater understanding of the sacrifices of distant relatives and my parents who experienced Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Lusitania and the shelling of Ft. Sumter. 

I have been horrified at the response of our country. I remember sitting after church with some friends from First Universalist Church, sharing our responses and feelings—I said I felt compassion for the young men who piloted the planes, that they had been brainwashed to be able to do it and were victims themselves, and even my UU friends could not really comprehend that I could feel compassion—they viewed these men as simply enemies. 

My daughter was 5 years old at the time and she was terrified to go to Eastview Mall because she thought Osama bin Laden was going to be there.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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