Eleven years to the day after standing in a Manhattan office and watching on television as the dreadful events of Sept. 11 unfolded, I walked into a middle school classroom Tuesday morning and came to an amazing realization. Few, if any, of the seventh-graders I was about to face would remember 9/11/2001. They were barely two years old then.
I was at the school as a substitute teacher, and here was a whole group with little awareness of what this day meant to our country and the world. Thankfully, the principal came on the intercom, and spoke about the nearly 3,000 men, women and children who died in what had been the twin towers of the World Trade Center and on four airplanes hijacked by 19 terrorists.
Two of the planes crashed into the towers, a third plowed into the Pentagon in Washington and the fourth was crashed by a group of courageous passengers who yelled "Let's Roll" as they stormed the cockpit over Shanksville, Pa.
I experienced plenty of horror that day, even though the office I worked in was more than two miles from the towers. I watched our receptionist collapse as she began to realize she would never see her son again. He had called within minutes after the first plane hit to say he was on the 105th floor of the north tower and it was filling with smoke.
Later I walked with an associate to Washington Square Park -- still about a mile and a half from Ground Zero -- and watched as smoke continued to billow high in the air. Then we joined hundreds of refugees from the towers and surrounding areas, covered in soot, and walked to Grand Central.
Eleven years later, Mayor Bloomberg and family members of victims were concerned that people might begin to forget that day. I never want to forget, and I contacted a few friends and asked what they were doing that day and what they remember.
Bob recalled that he said goodbye to his wife at Grand Central and went across town to his his job with the Food Network. As the day unfolded and businesses closed, he met his wife on 5th Avenue. As they rushed toward the train station, they looked up in horror as an F-15 fighter jet screamed right over 5th Avenue and people ran into building entrances.
On their way home on a train filled with soot-covered people, there were emergency workers at every stop to comfort departing passengers. For the next three years that Bob and I worked at HSBC Group in lower Manhattan, he couldn't bring himself to look at the site where the towers once stood.
My friend Ed Katz from Westport emailed these recollections:
I had planned to work from home that day. I had Yankees tickets for that night with a friend, Adam. My friend would usually be at his office -- in the World Trade Center -- but his wife had scheduled a dentist appointment for him first thing that morning and he decided he would work from home and we would go into N.Y. to the game together. Adam insisted later that he would have been fine because he was on one of the lowest floors, but who knows? Knowing Adam he would not have been fine because he would have been helping get people out of the building.
A few days later, we found that friends of ours had lost their son that day. We had been to his wedding five years earlier. He worked on one of the top floors at Cantor Fitzgerald and found the roof had been locked and he and his co-workers were unable to get it open.
When his remains were identified about two years later, the speculation was that he had jumped to his death to avoid being burned or to escape all the smoke. He left a wife and two young children behind, in addition to his parents, who were devastated.
I also contacted my high school friend, Marilen Pitler, who lives in St. Louis. Here are some of her thoughts:
... the day seemed very ethereal, not really real. My drive to work is short, and the news had just broadcast the first tower being hit. By the time I got to work, all eyes were on the conference room's TV screen, watching as the second tower was hit. As with the world, we had no idea what was going on. We were asked to remain at work for our own safety. We did not know what might be happening in St. Louis. We had no idea what was happening, the world was upside down.
My friend Walt from the Fairfield Museum and History Center said he turned on his computer that day to retrieve emails, saw one of the burning buildings and initially thought it was some comedy video. He left the computer and was riveted to his television for the rest of the day.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.