Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, was seared upon the minds and memories of nearly all people exposed to the news that day.
It seems everyone remembers what they were doing when the shocking reports came that one, then two, airliners had slammed into the towers of New York’s iconic World Trade Center.
“I had worked an overnight shift and was sleeping, and my wife woke me up and said, ‘I think WWIII has just started,’” recalled Jon Terry Phillips, one of several Cache Valley residents sharing 9/11 memories on the Herald Journal’s Facebook page for the 20th anniversary of the attack.
Echoing the comments of many others, Phillips went on to say, “I was glued to the TV the rest of the day. I’ll never forget that horrible day.”
Many Americans witnessed the second World Trade Center strike on live television after network news crews directed their cameras on the already-burning North Tower. The real-time video horrifyingly confirmed without a doubt that the first collision was no accident.
News also came that another airliner was flown into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and that a fourth apparently hijacked plane crashed near the rural Pennsylvania town of Shanksville.
Then Americans received the biggest shock of all: Thirty minutes apart, each of the towers crumbled to the ground before much of the nation’s eyes.
In Cache Valley, a lot of this was witnessed just before children left for school, and the kids entered classrooms that day in front of stunned teachers trying to help them process what was happening.
Some schools did this by monitoring and discussing the events, while others tried to shield young people from the horror.
Terry Camp was in 8th grade at North Cache Middle School, where his first-period class happened to be U.S. history.
“I remember shortly after arriving at school that our teacher informed us there had been some type of attack in New York. We spent the entire class period glued to the television watching the coverage and trying to understand what had happened and make sense of it all,” he said.
Anna Russak Halling was only in first grade, but as often happens at such times, the tragedy became associated with a trivial and unconnected detail — a clothing item she chose to wear that morning.
“I remember my aunt calling my mom and telling her to turn on the news. We used to watch TV in the morning as we were getting ready. I specifically remember putting on those socks with the frills on the top and just watching the tower fall, not really understanding what was going on,” she recalled.
But the gravity of that day’s events was not lost on the young, as Halling went on to explain:
“My parents were very somber and quiet, so I knew it was a serious situation. At school the teachers were really quiet, and I don’t remember doing much schoolwork that day. We had a moment of silence and the news was on a lot. Even as elementary students, we were affected.”
Behind the shock and silence exhibited by many Americans swirled a flood of emotions — fear, anger, disbelief, sadness.
Carolina Shawgo described her experience and impressions this way:
“I was in Peru when my mom turned on the news and there was a video of the first tower falling. We thought it was a movie at first, but quickly realized it was real. I remember feeling scared and sad for the people in the video. America seemed so vulnerable at that moment.”
Marissa Neumann Rasmussen was five-months pregnant with her first child when the terrorist attack occurred, which added an extra layer of anxiety.
“I was so scared of bringing a new life into this crazy world,” she wrote. “We ended up naming him Alexander, which means defender of mankind, because of this event.”
For Nick McCollum, the day took a surreal twist as a result of a stunningly inappropriate comment he made in jest before hearing any news of the attack.
“I was late for my first class. I made a joke and excuse for my tardiness about saving people from a plane crash, having no idea what was going on, right as the second plane smashed into the tower on the TV behind me,” McCollum wrote.
Valley resident John Harmon remembers Sept. 11, 2001, as the day he got engaged as well as one of the worst days in U.S. history.
He heard about the attack in the morning but had already planned to pop the question that day to his girlfriend. Harmon recalled that as the couple contacted friends and family that evening to break the news, “people were happy for us, but some of their reactions were a bit subdued due to the events of that day.”
What happened in the days following 9/11 — the massive cleanup, the memorials, and President George W. Bush’s declaration of “War on Terror” — is also still fresh in the minds of many Cache Valley residents.
Charlene Conley-Kent said she’ll always remember the feelings of people coming together for a common cause, a coalescence she described as “United they stood.”
This drew a response from another Facebook commenter, Kema J Hughey, who wrote, “It’s sad that something so horrible had to happen on our land for people to come together.”
Cache Valley resident Craig Petith is a native New Yorker who was working north of the city on the morning of 9/11. The news flashes and what he personally witnessed still resonate strongly with him after 20 years.
“I was hanging cabinets in a house in Somers NY,” Petith wrote. “We heard about the first plane from the painter, whose house we were working in. We were saddened, not knowing the full extent, and continued working. Then we heard of the second plane. It was then we found out they weren’t planes, but jumbo jets.
“At some point, we went outside and heard military aircraft flying overhead, headed in the direction of NYC. After a short time, we packed up for the day, and I went to my wife’s place of employment. On the way, I crested a hill and looked in the mirror. It was a clear day, 40-50 miles north of the city, and I could see the smoke rising. Us NYers were glued to the TV for weeks, with no normal programing worth watching, hoping for more miracles than were possible …
“I am a NYer. No matter where I live, I will always be a NYer. I will never forget.”