This world has seen many tragedies; it’s through remembering our history that we can begin to move the needle towards peace and prosperity for all.
Dec. 7, 1941, marked the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and will forever be embedded in our U.S. History. Similarly, Sept. 11, 2001, will live forever in our minds as a day of infamy in which the world stood still. On 9/11, America lost nearly 3,000 lives. Many people survived to tell their story. Many unsung heroes made the sacrifice to save others as they lost their lives.
It’s September and New York City is busy with tourists, tennis fans at the U.S. Open, Fashion Week, back to school and concerts, to name a few. Remember, cell phones were a brand-new phenomenon and social media didn’t exist.
As the sun rose that morning, the weather was perfect with barely a cloud in the sky. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center North Tower, instantly killing 76 passengers, 11 crew members and the employees starting their day in the offices inside the building. The Twin Towers stood upon 16 acres of land, it was a district unto itself — the headquarters of 430 companies from 28 countries around the world.
“We were at the bank very early, prepping for rounds of presentations that day,” explained Dean Cornier, who worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, two blocks away from the World Trade Center. “We heard an unusual noise and I personally thought it was construction. Now, I realize it was the whoosh vibration of the first airplane heading towards the tower, before the explosion. A technician came in and said, ‘a plane has hit the World Trade Center.’ We all thought it was one of those small planes because commercial airliners don’t fly over Manhattan.”
United Airlines Flight 175, carrying 51 passengers and nine crew members had already been hijacked and slammed into the South Tower. As soon as the second plane struck, Cornier and his colleagues were in a state of panic, not knowing which building could be next. The bank was on lockdown until late afternoon.
While Cornier and his team members were trying to figure out if their building was next to be hit, Kevin Ortega, now a real estate agent living on John’s Island, was working on the 84th floor of the South Tower as a bond broker for EuroBrokers. His firm had 300 employees working that morning, and 61 of them didn’t make it out. Ortega and his boss saw people from the North Tower jumping out of windows.
“At that moment, something clicked and I left. It all happened so fast. I was in shock, seeing someone jump out of the window.”
Ortega made it out safely. He traveled down from the 84th floor and took one of the last subway trains leaving the WTC.
At 9:05 a.m., then President George W. Bush was informed about the Twin Towers while visiting an elementary school classroom in Florida. “I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom,” Bush explained. “I didn’t want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm… I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing the leader must do is to project calm.”
At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles airport in Virginia was hijacked en route to Los Angeles. It crashed into the Pentagon, killing 53 passengers, six crew members and 125 civilians and military personnel.
Around the WTC, a community of neighborhoods, schools, shopping centers and restaurants are going about their day. Jessica Williams was only 15 years old; it was her second day of school and her birthday. Williams attended the High School of Economics and Finances and was just two blocks away from the catastrophe. Once Williams and her classmates exited out of the school, she saw papers and documents scattered everywhere and as they looked up, they saw smoke coming from the towers. Subway entrances were blocked as they started to walk over to the South Street Seaport/Brooklyn Bridge.
“All of a sudden, we just heard this sound,” Williams recalled. “We looked up and saw the tower falling. It was like we were in a movie. Everyone ran at full speed. There was this dark cloud chasing us as we ran. We were covered in debris.”
Retired firefighter Chevalo Wilsondebriano, owner of Charleston Gourmet Burgers, was a member of one of the many firehouses who responded to Ground Zero. “I was sitting around the station and it came over the walkie talkie that there was an explosion at the World Trade Center,” he remembered. “There was no mention of a plane.”
Wilsondebriano’s supervisor told him to gear up the MERV (Mobile Emergency Room Vehicle). MERVs are only used for major mass casualty incidents. Wilsondebriano was also a firefighter during the 1993 bombing at the WTC. He never thought the towers would fall, but he witnessed with his very own eyes the South Tower falling as he and his comrades ran up the West Side Highway.
United Flight 93 left Newark, New Jersey at 8:42 a.m. originally destined for San Francisco. It was hijacked at 9:28 a.m. By 9:57 a.m., the heroic passengers decided to fight back, attempting to gain access to the cockpit. At 10:02 a.m., the plane carrying 33 passengers and seven crew members crashed in an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Officials believed the hijackers were heading to the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
9/11 was a moment in history that changed the world. Despite the tragedy endured, America decided to unite and protect its vibrant culture and tenets of freedom. Sept. 11 is now Patriot Day, a holiday observed to commemorate the lives of those who died in the terrorist attacks. We will never forget their stories and the acts of courage displayed by citizens and first responders. We will never forget our nation’s resilience during one of our nation’s darkest days.
By Maurice J. Frazier