On Sept. 11, we keep hearing “Never Forget.” In all honesty, sometimes I try to forget. The truth is, I will never forget. I cannot forget the sound of my husband’s voice when he called me from his office at the World Trade Center, sounding out of breath like he had just run a marathon. “Could you turn on the TV? Something happened. We felt an explosion. The building shook and there’s debris falling.”
I turned on the television and saw replays of a plane flying into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke and flames poured out of the building. I told him what was going on. He said they were advising people to stay inside the building because of the danger of getting hit with falling debris.
After hanging up, my thirteen year old daughter and I were glued to the TV. No one could believe such a terrible, insane accident could have happened. That’s what we all thought it was – the newscasters, everyone. None of us, for even a moment could conceive of anyone doing something like that deliberately. Ten minutes later, the inconceivable happened. On live television we saw a second plane strike the south tower, the one immediately next to the building where my husband was.
Horrified, realizing this was an attack and not an accident, I called my husband. “Another plane just hit the south tower. Get out of there now!” He assured me he would.
The events of the day played out on live TV as we helplessly watched, not knowing if my husband was safely out of the building. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon and we realized this was a large scale attack. We braced for further attacks while the government grounded all planes.
We saw the south tower collapse and crush everything in its wake including the building my husband worked in. I reassured my daughter that her father was fine. He said he was leaving the building an hour ago. Surely he was well beyond that area. While reassuring her, I prayed I was right.
About half an hour after the tower collapsed, a call came through with an unknown number. I answered the phone and immediately felt like an enormous burden had been removed when I heard my husband’s voice. He had borrowed a phone from someone from out of town. Unlike most, that man’s cell phone was working. They were making their way to midtown and didn’t know the south tower had fallen.
We were lucky. My husband made it out. I only spent about two hours not knowing if my husband was dead or alive. Other family members of survivors spent most of the day not knowing and fearing the worst.
My husband told me about how, while the stream of people made their way from lower Manhattan to midtown, they heard planes flying overhead. They were terrified, thinking more attacks were imminent. Then they realized those were military planes and everyone cheered, like a scene out of a movie.
He did not tell me about the horrors he saw – people jumping from the buildings, remains on the ground. I never asked. I didn’t want to know. And yes, survivor guilt is a real thing.
At that time we lived in an area in Queens just west of the Nassau border, right between both major airports and there was usually a constant stream of air traffic overhead. It was eerily quiet. The entire neighborhood was quiet for days. Even our block, across the street from a playground that was usually filled with the sounds of children playing & yelling, basketballs bouncing, and parked cars blaring music was soundless.
In the mournful silence, word spread throughout our Church and school community about who was safe, who was lost. A beloved teacher lost her son and there was a memorial within days at the local little league field where everyone showed up with candles. The fence surrounding St. Paul’s Church, which is not far from the site, was entirely covered in tributes. There were photos, letters, candles, flowers. I cannot remember a time when I witnessed such a sense of community, of caring and kindness.
No one old enough to be aware of the events of that day will ever forget, but we need to make sure the generations to follow remember as well. Remember the heroes who ran into the buildings to save lives, the incredible bravery of the passengers aboard Flight 93, the men and women who dug through the rubble for days hoping to find survivors, and the nearly 3,000 lost that day. Honor their memories. Never forget.
Joanne Giulietti is a freelance writer. She lives in Riverhead.
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