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A day to remember: Sept. 11, 2001

Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about commercial jetliners crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, whether they were a student or a retiree, a banker or a housewife.

They remember their feelings of helplessness, horror, fear and sadness as they watched the buildings burn and collapse on live television, and some cases, in person.

Much as the Kennedy assassination did for a previous generation, the Sept. 11 attacks have left their mark on millions.

The Post-Bulletin asked readers to submit their own 9/11 stories, and many responded. Here are some of those stories:

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A grandfather's funeral

It's hard to imagine that it's been 10 years! While I share the country's tragic loss of Sept. 11, 2001, this date also has personal meaning for my family and I.

It was the day we laid my grandfather, Gene Hillman, to rest. It was a very difficult day to say good-bye to him. I could not stop thinking about all the families who were affected by this horrible act of terror. I had so many emotions going through me that day.

As we celebrated my grandfather's life, I was comforted by the fact that I was able to say good-bye to him and he died peacefully with his family at his side. So many of the victims never had the opportunity to say goodbye to their family and loved ones.

It brings tears to my eyes when I think about my grandfather and what a great man he was. At the same time it also brings tears to my eyes to think about the loss thousands of families also have. It's crazy to think that my grandfather, who was the backbone of our family, had no idea of what happened. For that I am thankful that he is in a better place. I love and miss you Grandpa!

Tamara Zimmerman, Wabasha

Tragedy in a familiar neighborhood

My whereabouts on the morning of 9/11/01 — probably the same as many: sitting on the couch, watching it all go down on TV, safe in town, far, far away from New York City.

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However, I also felt — since lower Manhattan was part of my life for 5+ years — that I was watching a chapter of my life literally go down in flames.

Along with all of the feelings of: "How can this BE HAPPENING?", "IS this really happening?", "WHY did they DO THIS to us?", "Is this the world ending? Is it the BEGINNING of the end?" and "Please GOD, let there be 2,000 survivors" — I was also thinking "NYC, there goes a big part of you and part of me also."

I worked for 4 1/2 years across the street from the World Trade Center in the early and mid-'90s. Half of that time was spent on the night shift, typing into a computer for 8 hours straight as a temp at a very popular investment banking firm. I was there when the first attempt was made to set one of the towers on fire. That happened in the morning, not long after I left work.

Before the banking firm, I was a bike messenger for 5 months. My first memories of the Twin Towers were of deliveries I had made to some of those floors way, way up there. I grew up in Rochester, Minn., and Saugerties, N.Y. I had never taken three different elevators to get to an office before.

When I switched to the day shift at World Financial Center, I skated in from Houston Street, down the West Side Highway riverside walk area towards the towers. That lower Manhattan skyline was etched into my brain. Watching it shapeshift those first two weeks after Sept 11, smoke clearing — was so surreal. Imagine driving into Rochester from Byron, Kasson, Claremont, etc. on U.S. 14 for years, and then one day seeing the Rochester skyline minus the Gonda, the clinic, the power plant. Or think of a time when you saw a forest or farm get ripped down and watched it transform into a strip mall.

That morning was gut-wrenching (of course, for all of us). I just kept hoping it was a dream I would wake up from. Some family and friends called me to ask if I knew anyone working down there still and to say "we're glad you aren't down there anymore." I eventually touched base with all of my friends in NYC, and heard their 9/11 stories.

One more thing. On many a beautiful summer, spring, autumn day, I would go outside for lunch and sit at the foot of the Twin Towers and look up. More than 50 times I imagined them falling and wondered "which direction would they fall... where would I run to if it happened right now?" I always envisioned the cause of the towers coming down as the result of an earthquake (there was always talk of one destined to hit Manhattan), never, ever did I think that they would come down as the result of revenge. The work of human hands, flying our own U.S. planes.

So wish we could turn back the clock.

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— Kevin Carey, Rochester

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Leaving New York for good

My husband, two middle-schoolers, our cat Ginger and I arrived in Rochester at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2001. We made the cross-country drive from New York City to a new life from what I had experienced for the past 20 years. Yes, 9/11 made a big difference in my life.

We lived in mid-town Manhattan, so we heard about the terrorist attacks like most people — from a phone call. The day was surreal as we watched people streaming north from downtown trying to get home to the various boroughs. The days afterwards were dark and dreary — and very quiet.

I am from Atlanta, but my husband is from Rochester, and he said that now was the time to move and Rochester was the place to go, especially since his parents were getting older (they have both now died), and we could stay in their house for a while. So, we rented a car (we hadn't owned a car for 17 years), packed what we could fit in it and had a friend watch our apartment.

We found a place to rent fairly quickly, but we did not give up our New York City apartment, or bring the rest of our stuff out, for six months. Once you give up an apartment in NYC, you almost never move back into the city! Now we have a house with almost five times the room we had in NYC. I still have kitchen drawers and bureau drawers, not to mention a garage, that are almost empty!

Our kids took a little while to adjust, but it was a good move for them. Our daughter used our NYC address as her return address for a year after we moved. Eventually, though, she made some wonderful friends at church and at school, and now calls Rochester home. Both kids ended up going to college in far-off states (Arizona and Massachusetts), so they probably won't come back to Rochester. That's alright. They now have good memories of the Midwest.

Many people say, "Don't people move from Rochester to NYC, not vice-versa?!" Well, not in this case. We still have a deep sadness about what happened on 9/11, but we can also say, "Thank you, Rochester!"

Lela Griffin Lofgren, Rochester

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Cut off from the world

I was the City Clerk, and nurse, in a small village in the Aleutian Islands. A worker from the seafood plant came in to the clinic with symptoms sounding like appendicitis (a common complaint for one hoping to get a free flight off the island). A TV was on in the tiny ER. The FAA began closing airspace, and the only way off the island was a WWII Grumman Goose seaplane. I looked at him and said that today was probably the wrong day to become ill, at which point he seemed to recover enough to go back to work. The next day, however, we did have to receive permission from Washington to fly out a patient suffering from a heart attack. It may have been the only flight authorized during the shutdown.

Being geographically and culturally isolated from the lower 48, and the rest of the world, it was difficult to grasp what was happening that day. I felt very lonely and sad for my country, and yet oddly safe being so far away.

Alexandra Paisley, Stewartville

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Special services, and comforting worries

I was pastor at the two Lutheran churches in Lutsen and Tofte at the time.

I had just got to the office at the church in Tofte when my Church Council president called to tell me to turn the television on; a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. As I turned on the television I saw the second plane crash into the south tower.

As the events unfolded and the tragedy progressed, I decided to have a prayer service that afternoon at 4 p.m. to pray for the people involved in the tragedy and for our country. I called several people in my congregations and started the "prayer chain" network announcing the prayer service.

We had the service at 4 p.m. and had about ten people attend. At the conclusion of the service, one of the attendees who I had never seen before came to me and thanked me.

She told me that she had a friend who worked on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center and she was afraid for his safety. She had been in shock most of the day and didn't know what to do. When she heard about the prayer service she decided to come even though she wasn't a religious person. As we talked she offered her thanks because, as she put it, "This is just what I needed. This is the best way I can deal with this." I never heard from her again after that prayer service on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.

Rev. Bob Kleinke, Rochester

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Fear for an American in London

I was an American living in London with my family. We had been there 5 years. At the time, I was running a brewery in Berkshire.

The afternoon shift came in and said there was an attack on America. They were always joking around with me about America and so I thought it was just another of their jokes, but one in rather poor taste.

I blew it off. It wasn’t until a number of other people called or came in reporting what they had heard on radio that I started to believe that something had indeed gone terribly wrong in the United States. I phoned home and couldn’t get through.

My folks were visiting and someone should have been there to answer. I was concerned for my family and left work early. I headed home, listening to the news. On the way home the news reported that the plane destined for the Capitol went down.

The news channels were full of all the different stories. No one had the full description. It was confusing and disorienting. How many planes? Which sites? The news was essentially being reported second and third hand while UK news crews scrambled to get in place. There was an underlying element of concern for what might happen next and in what country. The message that carried through was, "If it could happen there, it can happen here."

When I arrived home all adults were safe and glued to the TV. My husband had heard the news and came back from work early as well.

Since I was very uncertain what exactly was happening I made the children come in from outside. We turned out lights and closed curtains. We lived in a regular London neighborhood and were the only American family in the area. I had never felt nervous or concerned about living there, but things seemed to be spiraling out of control and I was not sure how the rest of the neighbors would view what was happening. The fact we were American was never an issue before, but I wondered if it might become one. In fact all the things that I thought about being American on foreign soil came into question that day and in the subsequent days.

On Sept. 13, I was due to fly to Scotland for a meeting. I was worried about getting on a plane with an American passport because it still wasn’t clear how far the terrorists were going to go. Living in the UK, one realizes how strongly the British and American pasts are linked and I wondered as many did if perhaps an attack in Britain might be next. The level of security was intense — concrete bunkers placed all around the airports, police with machine guns (from a country whose police carry no weapons), trained dogs sniffing all luggage. The flight was unusually quiet.

Through the following weeks the number of people that stopped or called to say how sorry they were about what happened and that their thought and prayers were with the American people was overwhelming. The level of surprise that this could happen or even be considered to happen was pre-eminent in the conversations. The concern that America would close borders and withdraw from the global sphere was equally of concern. The recognition that in spite of the tragedy, we were still held as the shining star for freedom and democracy was incredibly comforting.

Ann Fahy-Gust, Rochester

 

A wedding diminished

Our daughter's wedding was Sept. 22, 2001, in Minneapolis. She was marrying a man whose father was Egyptian, and whose family has lived in New Jersey for a generation or two.

The Egyptian Americans were afraid to fly to Minnesota for the wedding. They have Egyptian names and believed that they would be treated badly at the airport — harassed, singled out, questions, restricted from flying, looked at suspiciously, etc..

So, about a third of the wedding guests did not attend. Even the best man, who was not Egyptian at all, but from New Jersey, was afraid to fly.

We had the wedding anyway. (We can't live in fear; if we do, the terrorists win), but it was diminished by the events of 9/11.

— Stephanie Podulke, Rochester

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Feeling vulnerable and angry

A Tuesday morning at work, just like any other workday. I was working as a nurse at Fort Belvoir Army Hospital, in close proximity to Washington, D.C. My administrative assistant ran into my office informing me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

I thought it was an unfortunate event. Shortly afterwards one of our soldiers came into the clinic stating another plane hit the 2nd tower. We turned on the TV and saw the horror. I then called my husband who worked as an Associate Regional Director for a government agency in Alexandria, Va., to inform him of the events unfolding.

Then the Pentagon was hit. At that moment, I felt terror and uncertainty. I again called my husband who could see smoke and military attack helicopters from his office windows. Many of his employees had family and friends employed at the Pentagon. Panic and terror ensued while attempting to obtain accurate information. Then there was yet another plane, this one crashed in Pennsylvania. I was mandated to remain at the hospital until the injured were triaged to area hospitals. No injured were transported to Fort Belvoir. I was finally free to go home.

I remember going home in disbelief. There was such stillness. Our lives were changing forever. I felt so vulnerable and angry, asking myself how this could be happening in our country. I remember the patriotic music on every station, continuous TV coverage, and presidential support for George Bush, people turning to God for strength, American flags along roadways and hanging from bridges.

There was disbelief when dogs began inspecting employee cars upon arriving at military bases and causing long delays in getting to work. There were many funeral services at local churches for weeks afterwards. Neighbors and friends returned to New York for funeral services for former co-workers, family, and friends. Almost everyone we knew while living in Alexandria, either knew or were related to someone killed or injured in the terrorist attacks. One enduring question remained — "what was to come next"?

September 11, 2001 – a day forever ingrained in the minds of Americans, but especially those living in Washington, D.C., New York, and Pennsylvania. Our world had changed, and there was no going back.

Linda Villemure, Rochester

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Loss of a classmate

Like most people on September 11, 2001, I was shocked and heartbroken about the events unfolding on the East Coast. We never forget the emotions that surround us on that day and the days afterward. For most people; it truly changed us in recognizing the good in life and as a reminder to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us.

I was in Rochester on that day but having grown up in Massachusetts, I knew the only two people from western Massachusetts to have died on 9/11. Jean Destrehan Roger and Eric Raymond "Rick" Thorpe.

Jean was a 24-year-old flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, and her parents, Tom and Eileen, are friends with my parents. She and Rick, although they have never met, shared the wonderful ability to light up a room when they walked in. They were both infused with the gift of inspiring people and they both died too young on 9/11.

Rick Thorpe was a classmate of mine at Soule Road School in Wilbraham, Mass. He was a shining star even at a young age. I remember a girlfriend asking me which boy I though was going to be the "popular boy" in high school. I said without skipping a beat, "Rick Thorpe."  Why? Rick had defended me against some other boys that were picking on me because of my deafness.

Rick did go on to enjoy a shining life like I expected he would. He was smart, athletic, funny, good hearted and handsome. He even was the captain of the football team. He really had it all.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 35-year-old Rick, a father and a husband, was one of the leading salesmen at the investment firm Keefe, Bruyette and Woods at the World Trade Center when the plane crashed in. He hurried to help his coworkers get out of the building and ran back in to see if anyone was left behind that needed assistance when the building came down. I was touched that in the end of his life, he still stayed true to his personal philosophy in helping others just like he did when he helped a deaf classmate as a young boy.

In his honor; Rick’s family has opened Rick’s Place in his hometown of Wilbraham, Mass. Rick’s Place helps children and families cope with the loss of a loved one. I know firsthand the value and importance of reaching out to others during their difficult times. It is very inspiring to see what his family has done with the tragedy that has dealt them on 9/11. Creating something good out of something so terribly awful in true American spirit.

Calli Kelly, Rochester

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Stranded in Boston

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in a bank in Hanover, N.H., opening an account for my eldest son (I had moved to Dartmouth to start his college career) when the plane hit the second tower, and I then realized it was a terrorist attack.

I was stranded in Boston for five days as Logan Airport had no flights going out. I had bought a hospitality business in July '01, so had to manage business via telephone. The telephone company wrote off the $1,000 bill — they called it a National Disaster expense — and the parking ramp at the Minneapolis airport also wrote off the additional expense for parking. People cared.

I called my other two children, one at Marquette University in Milwaukee and the other at high school student at home in Shakopee, Minn., to confirm they were OK.

The events shook my sense of security. I have become much more skeptical and anxious about situations that seem out of the ordinary. However, I have also witnessed the tremendous determination, empathy and resolve of the American people. I take very little for granted since 9/11. May God continue to bless the U.S.A.

Mary L Biermann, Rochester - NO PHOTO

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Did we survive or crumble?

I'm a teacher. It seems that I'm in school when tragic events happen, from the Challenger blowing up to the Twin Towers coming down. My first reactions were to make sure my family was safe. I called home to my daughter and told her to turn on the TV as the tower was hit.

Just then the second plane hit! Teachable moments — are my students OK? The rest of the day was weird — no airplanes coming over the playing field on their way to the airport, but police cars driving by more frequently. In between, watching the TV news and the images that will stick in our minds forever. Then after school, watching the news flashes — history in the making — just like JFK assassination in the 60's!

In November 2001, the Lions International held their "Peace Poster" competition and the theme was "Lighting the Way to World Peace". Our homeroom kids started on their posters and I started drawing also. I made 3 different drawings and then combined them into one. Today, Sept. 1 — 10 years later — I unrolled that picture. Before me was the firemen, police, spectators looking up, tower metal, an angel, and a mosque with 2 Arabs saying prayers. How fitting! Today, we know that the 16 acres is being rebuilt. Maybe the wound will now heal some, but we can never forget!!

How has America and the world changed? I feel my safety has been compromised. I'm content to travel within America, but I'm glad that I had the chance to travel to Europe before terrorist bombings world-wide. I don't know if I want to fly in an airplane again. We haven't learned from previous lessons — America can't be the world's policeman. Will America still be a world leader? I hope so, but I wonder when I see things crumbling around me — like the infrastructure of roads, bridges, schools, water systems, etc. Why are we spending billions to build other countries when we should be here at home?

What will students read about America in the history books/computer many years later? Did we survive or crumble?

Vicki Meredith, Stewartville Middle School

 

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