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Readers recall when they heard the news America was under attack

The image of those two planes flying into the World Trade Center on a clear September morning in New York City is not one most of us  will likely ever forget.

 When the first plane hit, many Americans thought it was an accident — tragic, but not premeditated.

 When the second crashed into another tower, however, our collective antennae were raised.

 This was no accident.

Then another plane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

And another down in a field in Shanksville, Pa.

America was the target.

On this, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, The Dominion Post shares readers’  thoughts, feelings and memories of that day, as well as reflections on how things have changed — or not — in the years since.

“Sep. 4, 2001, was my first day at Lab Corp. in Pittsburgh. I stayed with my friend Steve, sleeping on his mattress that was pulled out of the sofa. Every morning, I’d turn on his radio while arriving out of unconsciousness.

 “The morning of Sept. 11, I did the same. The broadcaster then said something about a plane crashing into a building. I didn’t hear that right, I thought. Steve came in 10 minutes later and turned on the television. I was now wide awake — but not really taking in what I was seeing. How could this be happening?

“The day was warm and the sky was blue. As I walked along Lincoln Avenue in Belleview, I kept saying to myself, Downtown is 15 minutes away. Is Pittsburgh next?”

Glenn Gallagher, Westover

“Where were you on 9/11? This question has been asked and answered by hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of people since Sept. 11, 2001. I’ve answered it numerous times myself, and still find the events of that day very difficult to understand or believe.

“On that Tuesday morning, I was in New York City at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Times Square attending the Chief Learning Officer 2001: Shaping the Learning Department of the Future Symposium & Expo. It was being presented by the Corporate University Xchange. My friend, Jeanne C. Meister, president of the Corporate University Xchange, was hosting the meeting.

“As director of the American Council on Education’s Corporate Programs, I was invited to participate, because many of our clients were involved. The day began as many others. I had an early breakfast, went to the meeting room and took a seat at one of the tables. There were over 100 people attending, representing over 30 countries.

“We had just introduced ourselves and had settled down to listen to the opening address by Jeanne Meister. Jeanne went to the microphone, and from the look on her face, I immediately knew that something was wrong. She said there had been a terrible accident — that a small plane hit one of the twin towers.

“There was a collective gasp. Regardless of the country where the person lived, whether man or woman, young or old, there was a singular gasp. A couple minutes later, a visibly shaken Jeanne came to the microphone again, and said that another plane had hit the second tower. This time, there was total silence and a singular look of disbelief.

“The people at my table got up and we hugged one another — the man from Australia, the woman from the U.S. Pentagon, the man and woman from Canada, the man from South Africa, and me, a gal from Washington, D.C., via Granville, W.Va.

“Everyone in the meeting hall just sat or stood still in disbelief. When Jeanne returned to the microphone, she announced that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The woman at our table from the Pentagon covered her face and began to sob, while the rest of us at our table stood up and hugged her and tried to comfort her.

“Jeanne suspended the meeting until Wednesday and the  hotel staff moved a big screen into the meeting room. We watched the happenings on TV for what seemed like an eternity. The hotel was in lockdown, which meant that no one could enter or leave. Police officers were stationed at the main doors. There was no room or restaurant service, but the staff set up a buffet for guests. Everyone, guests and staff alike, acted as if we were family — helping and sincerely asking each other how we were.

“I went to my room to call my mother, but there was no phone service, so I sat and looked out my window. I was staying on the 10th floor, so I had a very good view of the city. I’ll never forget the sight of the fighter jets crisscrossing the New York skyline, or the empty streets. The darkness and silence of Times Square was eerie to say the least. When I finally got through to my mother, she told me that my nephew, Marcus, had called her from Florida, asking how I was, because I worked in D.C. When Mom told him I was in New York City, she said that he shouted, ‘New York City, what’s she doing there?’

“The hotel was just a few miles from the Financial District, so I was able to see the plumes of smoke from where the twin towers had stood. That night I went to bed with a damp wash cloth over my face, because the smoky, acidic odor was really strong. I thought of the firefighters, police officers and other first responders, and wondered how they could breathe. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep, because I watched TV most of the night. The images were horrific, and the thought of additional attacks was real.

“On Wednesday, Jeanne reconvened the meeting since no one could leave or enter the hotel and there was no air or train service into or out of New York City. Some of the presenters were already in the hotel, but there were others who were unable to get there. Needless to say, we had a very different schedule for the conference sessions. Thanks to the speakers who were at the hotel, though, a very meaningful and unforgettable show did go on.

“On Thursday, I left the hotel to return to D.C. Fortunately, trains were running again, although planes were still not allowed to fly. I took a cab to Grand Central Station, where there were, what seemed like, thousands of people walking or standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Although there was a huge crowd of travelers, everyone was quiet and calm, because I believe they were still in disbelief of what had happened. In all my years, I had never experienced such politeness or mutual concern from strangers.

“While waiting for my train, numerous people started to move, clearing a path through which a group of grimy and weary firefighters walked. They looked completely exhausted and so very sad. Someone started to clap, and then everyone joined in to honor the group of heroes, who, hopefully, were on their way home.

“When I got to my home in Kensington, Md., I just sat on my sofa and stared, still in disbelief of what had happened. Of all the days to be in New York City, I was there, and was able to experience the very best and the very worst of humanity. That night I went to bed and sobbed. My dog, Lucky, who never slept with me, jumped onto the bed and just laid by my side, where she stayed until morning. Somehow she knew that my heart had been broken and I would forever be changed.

“On Friday, I went to work, where my staff and others hugged me and, of course, asked how I was. I shared my experiences with them, and then they told me that my assistant director’s friend was the co-pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Needless to say, none of us or our country would ever be the same.”

Jo Ann Robinson, Granville

“On Sept.  11, I was taking a class at Fort Belvoir. Fort Belvoir is a military and training base located just south of Washington, D.C. We were a stone’s throw from the Pentagon.

“On the morning of the 11th,  we were in our classroom going over a lesson when an officer, with the US Army, walked in and to the front of the class, lowered a view screen and turned on the TV. He didn’t say a word. Suddenly the CNN news was being played and we saw that an airplane had just hit one of the twin towers. Everyone immediately thought it was an accident. A few minutes later we watched live TV as the second plane hit the next tower. That’s when we knew things were about to change.

“Suddenly the base was on lockdown and no one was allowed to leave the building for any reason, or use the phone lines. I tried calling my husband using my cell phone, but could not get through. Of course our lesson was over and we sat watching live events of New York City. Then we were told that another plane had hit the Pentagon. Suddenly things got more serious as the wounded from the Pentagon were brought to our base hospital.

“For the next nine hours, we sat in our classroom watching events unfold on live TV. We saw bodies of people falling out of the towers, we saw emergency crews swarming the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. We also heard the order that all non-residents were to leave Washington, D.C., immediately.

“I was pregnant with my son at the time and all I could think of was, ‘what type of world was he going to be born into?’ During this entire time, I also noticed that all military personnel were very calm. I think they knew what was coming and what they were going to be expected to do.

“At around 5 p.m. we were allowed to leave. One of my co-workers lived in downtown D.C., so I offered him a ride to the nearest Metro station. For anyone who has never visited the D.C. area, there is a major interstate loop going around and through the city. It’s about six lanes wide for each direction. Here we were driving on one of the busiest interstate systems in the country and not a car in sight. It was spooky. I dropped him off at the Metro station and he later told me that there were police and military all over downtown D.C. checking everyone’s ID to make sure they were supposed to be there. I went home and hugged my husband and the next day woke up to a new world.

“When asked how America has changed since that day? I think we are more frightened, more angry and more judgmental. Right after the events took place we came together as a country. Now we have forgotten all of that and are more divided then ever. My son will be 20 soon. He knows no other world than the one he was born into.”

Elizabeth Copenhaver

“At that time, we still lived in New York. (We now live in Alpine Lake in Terra Alta). My husband was a 30-year member of the Massapequa Fire Department on Long Island, NY. After the twin towers were hit, his volunteer fire department was deployed to Ground Zero, where he spent time ‘on the pile’ of rubble, and then going through cars towed from the area looking for human remains.

“Since so many NY firefighters were killed that day, it fell to the volunteer firefighters in the area to attend and represent the brotherhood at the funerals — sometimes 3 or 4 a day — dressed in their Class-A uniforms and bused from one funeral to another to another. Tony attended funerals for days — weeks — to pay respect to his fallen friends.  

“He proudly wears the ‘combat ribbon’ given to firefighters for their service during that time on his uniform.”

Sheila Amato, Terra Alta

“Sept. 11,  2001, in Morgantown was a beautiful cloudless day  and I left the house after the kids left on the bus for school.  At the time I was a pharmaceutical sales representative for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals and I was going to travel to the Somerset, Pa., hospital to call on some doctors.

“While driving on I-68 at around Coopers Rock I got a call from my wife on my mobile car phone.  At that time cellular coverage was very sporadic and I pulled over on the side of the road to talk.  My wife called to tell me that while she was watching the ‘Today’ show they had reported that a small plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings.  I turned on WAJR-AM to hear news bulletins.  We discussed different scenarios on how that could have happened but were still very confused. However, I hung up from her and continued my trip.  While traveling up route 219 from Grantsville I noticed several people outside their homes looking to the east.  I noticed a plume of black smoke to my right far off in the distance.  Again, not knowing that the smoke was from Flight 93 in Shanksville, I continued my trip to Somerset.  

“When I arrived at the hospital, news of the attacks were becoming much more widespread.  The Somerset hospital had called in all doctors and medical staffs to care for the injured.  At that time they did not know that there were no survivors.  

“At this point, news of the attacks was much more detailed and being broadcast on television and radio.  I first went to the ER and saw scenes from NYC on the waiting room televisions.  I immediately went back to my car to call my wife.  She was very concerned because both of our small children were in school at Mountainview Elementary.  We discussed her going after them and bringing them home since we really didn’t know what was going on at that time.  After talking with her, I received a voicemail from Johnson & Johnson.  The voicemail was from the president of our J&J division instructing all field personnel to return home and wait for further instructions.  Johnson & Johnson lost several employees on the flights that were involved.

“My return trip to Morgantown was eerie  in that there was hardly any traffic in either direction on Interstate 68.  By the time I arrived home my wife had already picked up our children from school.  We watched television the rest of the day and had our kids play outside with their friends.  

“Later that evening, we discussed the events with our children.  The next day when names of the victims began to surface, we were made aware that a close friend  we knew from some time that we lived in Pittsburgh in the early 90s was on the second plane that hit the WTC.  This summer, my wife and I finally got to visit the WTC memorial in NYC to see our friend’s name along the memorial.”

John Brett Cahill

“On the morning of 9/11 Susan and I flew to Washington, D.C., where we each had an appointment related to university business. I was going to see Sen. Byrd; Susan was going to make arrangements for an upcoming university trip.  We each were accompanied by a university staff member.  

“As we were approaching the airport, the pilot informed us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Shortly after  we landed, we watched the second plane fly into the second tower.  I called Sen. Byrd’s office and was encouraged to keep our appointment.  None of us knew of the Pentagon plane or Flight 93 headed for Pennsylvania. We decided to continue with our plan — taking taxis  to our separate meetings and then meeting back at the airport later in the day.  

“As my taxi traveled along the Potomac River, the passengers heard a plane fly over at what seemed to be a very low altitude. Upon arrival at the Capitol, I again confirmed my appointment and dismissed the taxi.  As I started in the building, we saw smoke across the Potomac and people began to exit the building shouting ‘run for your lives, there is a plane coming.’ A very kind person offered my assistant and me a ride to a hotel in Georgetown. The airport closed, phones were down, traffic jammed and taxi service was  non-existent. It all happened very quickly. Washington citizens, however, were very helpful and courteous, and Susan and I  both found drivers and cars at our separate locations and agreed to meet at a designated location in Maryland later in the day.

“We were gratified to learn that the President’s Office, led by Provost Jerry Lang (who was the designated campus leader in the absence of the president) and Chief of Staff David Satterfield and other administrators and  staff members had done a good job of taking the necessary steps to keep the university operating.  

“Sorting it all out was a difficult task for leaders on campus and around our community, state and country.  It all happened so quickly.  Many feared the loss of loved ones and colleagues in the New York area, a bomb scare had been called in to the Morgantown campus that day, related events were unfolding rapidly around America, we enrolled hundreds of students affected in states and countries, conflicting reports were being received, and communications were not nearly what they are today.  Eventually, we met as agreed and started home together, quietly reflecting on what we had witnessed. We called our families and stayed in touch with the President’s Office.  

“As soon as we arrived in Morgantown, student and university leaders met to share information and discuss the ways we could help.  One request was to help the campus community process the impact of the events of the day.  Three days later, on Sept. 14, I spoke to the university community on the lawn of Woodburn Circle. It was a time of strong emotion and quiet reflection.  My remarks comprised  one of the more difficult speeches of my lifetime.

“A year later I attended and spoke at a memorial service for a West Virginian killed on 9/11, and five years later, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I again spoke to the campus community. The events of 9/11 and its aftermath remain central memories of our service to WVU. We were and remain very proud of our students, faculty, staff and administrators, all of whom performed  admirably on 9/11.”

Former WVU President David and Susan Hardesty, Morgantown

“My wife Lisa and I moved back to Morgantown from the Washington, D.C., area three years prior to Sept. 11, 2001.  I was working with my family’s landscape business and she continued to work remotely and periodically commute back to D.C. for her job as a federal government contractor.  

“On the morning of 9/11 Lisa was in Washington, D.C., to meet with her corporate office and service a contract at the Pentagon.  I was checking on landscape projects we had in the Morgantown area and pulled up to a client’s home to meet with my men.  When I arrived at the job site I soon realized that there was no work being done and none of our employees were visible even though our trucks were still on site.  The client’s door was open, which I thought odd, so I walked up to it and peeked inside.  The client saw me and motioned me inside where everyone else was and said ‘you need to see this!’  

“I then saw on the television the first of the planes that had crashed into the first twin tower.  We watched the second plane suddenly hit the buildings.  After a few minutes the news cut away from New York City to Arlington, Va., where a third plane had just hit the Pentagon.  It was then when I excused myself saying I needed to locate my wife, Lisa, as she was in D.C. and could quite possibly be at the Pentagon.

“I called her office which was located in Crystal City in close proximity to the Pentagon and connected with the receptionist there.  I asked for my wife and was told that she was in a meeting.  I said ‘OK, good, she is OK then.’  The receptionist said she would let me speak with here as she needed to inform everyone of what was happening.  The response I received was ‘What do you want? I’m in a meeting.’ To which I replied look out the window.  At that time they were being given instructions and I was told ‘I’ll have to call you back.’

“The local officials were beginning to close all the roads and the cellular networks were overwhelmed with the volume of calls coming in and out of the area.  During the next four hours it was impossible to communicate with my wife and I would just tell our very young daughters that Mommy would be home soon.  Finally when Lisa reached Frederick, Md., she was able to call me and let me know that she had made it out of the city before the total lockdown and that she would be home shortly.  

“Everyone was overjoyed when she returned home, we went out to eat, spent some time together with the family and were thankful of her return.  

“We spent the next several days mourning as we heard the stories of tragedy unfold and the horrors it brought to our country and fellow Americans. We still remember to this day the effect this had on our lives and lives of everyone across the country.”

Michael Biafore, Morgantown

“I was a few days into a September vacation in a condo right on the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Del.  That early morning suggested it would be a lovely late-summer day to spend on the beach, so at about 8:45, I turned on one of the early morning shows to check on the day’s weather.  Soon a report came in that a plane had hit one of the twin towers — at the time there was no mention of the kind of plane involved, but you could see some smoke. I sat down to watch and a little later the second plane hit and I knew it wasn’t an accident, but possible terrorism.  I sat there in my pajamas till probably 3 p.m. glued to the TV and the horrors unfolding in NYC, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.  My brother is a building contractor in western Pennsylvania and his crew was working on a home near Somerset — I found out later in the day that the fellows on the roof saw the low-flying jet pass over that house probably seconds before it crashed.  I walked out on the balcony about noon and looked up and down the beach — on that perfect beach day there wasn’t one person on the sand or walking on the boardwalk.

“We decided to go get something to eat at dinner time — the outlet mall stores outside town had all closed after noon, and very few restaurants were open near the malls or in town.

“I remember vividly all the images on TV of that day, especially the towers collapsing; the empty beach and streets and the stunned look of the few people I saw later.

“As I look back at that time, I think the tragedy did bring us together for awhile — we weren’t Democrats or Republicans, pro or con vaccines, masks, etc., but united as Americans.  Coming back to Morgantown the next Sunday, there were American flags hanging on every overpass and bridge on the roads home.

“It’s a shame we don’t seem to have that unity anymore.”

Karen Long

“Everyone remembers the sky that day. So blue. We had moved to Millburn, N.J., from Morgantown two months before — my husband, my 17-year-old special needs son and me. The electricians were due at 9 a.m. I hoped they could figure out the crazy electrical system in our mid-century modern house. When I opened the door the older man said they had just heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

“ ‘I’ll turn on the TV,’ I said. I pointed to a long, orange extension cord that led from the kitchen to the den to power the electronics. ‘That’s one of the problems I called about. The outlets in the den don’t work.’

“I had expected to see damage caused by a small plane with a confused pilot. Instead we saw the unimaginable, a tall tower engulfed by flames and smoke. As we watched, the second plane hit and the second tower exploded. We froze, shocked.  ‘This is war,’ I said. The men left. Then the towers fell.

“I didn’t look away from the horror show on television until the school called late that morning to tell me they had cancelled classes and I needed to pick up my son. I drove by the train station where hundreds of commuters left their cars every day before heading into New York. How many of them were in those towers? I couldn’t imagine the loss. My son was frantic with worry. I couldn’t explain what had happened. ‘This is bad,’ was all I could say.

“My husband, a doctor, was on emergency standby at the Newark hospital where he worked. But he came home early, shocked that they had not received a single patient. That evening, I hiked up the hill behind our house to the top of South Mountain Reservation. From there I watched smoke billow from lower Manhattan. The familiar skyline was utterly altered. Turned to dust.

“I couldn’t stop thinking of all those lost lives. I couldn’t stop thinking about my older son who had joined the Army a little over a year before. He was in the 82nd Airborne. He would go to war. To Afghanistan.

“Here are the impressions that stay with me: The utter helplessness. The sorrow. The worry. The shock. Those blue, blue skies that went silent in the following days as planes stayed on the ground.”

Nancy Abrams

“I was in Mr. Vidovich’s 6th grade science class at Suncrest Middle School when I first learned that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember thinking that a small biplane, doing tours over Manhattan must have ended up hitting the building, with no other fatalities. Later that afternoon my mom picked me up from school and I asked her if she heard about the World Trade Center, and I asked her if anyone else was hurt. With tears in her eyes she solemnly said ‘the towers are gone.’

“I can’t imagine the struggle parents had between wanting to be honest with their kids, while also not wanting to scare them. My sisters Stephanie and Maureen were both living in Pittsburgh. I remember that evening my dad driving to pick them up from school, because at that time no one knew if the attacks were over or not.

“I think it’s fair to say that the attacks of 9/11 are one of those huge events in our nation’s history that mark an end of one era, and the beginning of another. It changed the trajectory of our country, and even that of the world. I will always take pause on 9/11, and feel haunted by that day.”

 — John Williams, Morgantown

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