This year marks the 11th anniversary of September 11.
It is hard to believe that 11 years have passed since the tragedy struck that changed the world with such a magnitude. It seems like yesterday that it all happened.
In honor of survivors, and honor and remembrance of those who perished, The Alternative Press of Sussex County will be sharing the stories of several area, and former area residents, over the next few days, who have offered to tell their stories to us. I am honored to be able to convey these stories to you, our readers, and grateful that they took the time.
Have some recollections you'd also like to share? If so, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will publish your anecdotes of that day.
In the meantime, I do hope that you will attend the 9/11 Remembrance, 11th Anniversary Ceremony on Sunday, September 9 at 4pm at Sussex County Community College. This year, NJ Burkett from Channel 7 Eyewitness News will be the Keynote Speaker.
And, please continue to read this column for the first 9/11 recollection to be published in the series: mine.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a clear, sunny, warm day. Not a day one would suspect such horrific happenings would occur.
I had decided to go on maternity leave early, originally intended for September 14, but instead wrapped work up on Friday, September 7.
It was a sweltering day that Friday. Dealing with complications from Gestational Diabetes and the beginning of Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension) didn't help my situation.
I made my rounds to say goodbye to my co-workers, and remembered catching a glimpse of the Twin Towers, looking so regal, off in the distance.
Although my office was over 20 miles away from Manhattan, the view from Boonton, NJ, where I worked then, was still magnificent.
I could always tell what kind of a weather day we'd be having from my view, or lack of, of the World Trade Center.
When it was clear, my twin friends were visible, with the tops beautifully shrouded at times with light clouds. On a foggy, or very inclement day, they were not visible at all.
No matter what, I was always in awe that they could be seen even from Fox Hill on Rt. 80 East in Parsippany.
I had always had a soft, nostalgic spot in my heart for these buildings. They were born in Manhattan around the same year that I was, so I guess you can say, I grew up with them. Not only from having been a Manhattanite by birth, but my "home away from home" in those days was in Bergen County, where I spent a lot of time with family. The view from my bedroom window there offered the picturesque skyline, where both the Empire State and Twin Towers were easily seen.
Then there were frequent trips to the city as a child (including a memorable field trip to the towers with a group of French Exchange Students), and my first job was in the city. The Towers greeted me each morning, the rising sunlight glimmering on them, as my bus rounded its last bend before the Lincoln Tunnel. In the evenings, lights throughout the building twinkled, and they were one of my final sites as I headed home for the night.
I was home on September 11, nearly 50 miles from the towers, enjoying a peaceful Sussex County morning. They had thought I was in labor on September 7, so I was told by Morristown Memorial to relax. And that I did. My only plans that day outside of paying a few bills, sending a few emails, and watching morning television, was lunch with two retired co-workers.
I responded first to an email that my friend Barbara had written to me. Barb worked across from the WTC. I wished her a great day. It was shortly after 9am.
I did not yet realize what kind of a day she was truly having.
I called to pay my phone bill. I noticed the phone company's representative who I spoke to had a tone as if she was far away, and having an "off" day.
I was puzzled by the sense I got from my conversation with her, and decided to sink into the recliner for some "Live With Regis and Kelly".
Hmmm...strange...Channel 7 was all static. I tried Channel 4 next...all the channels seemed "out". Until I switched to Channel 2, which turned out to have an antennae in an area other than the World Trade Center.
On the television were images of the World Trade Center in flames. My mouth dropped. No one was sure what was going on. The announcer said planes hit the towers, and it was most likely an act of terrorism. I couldn't believe it.
I sat glued to the television, as all of a sudden, on camera, the first tower began to buckle, and then appeared to roll down into the ground. Thinking of it now still makes my heart pump in pain, and chills go up and down my body. I physically still feel sick to my stomach when I remember that sight. I remember the newscaster gasping on the television as well in shock while exclaiming, "Oh my God, the building is collapsing!"
Then, there was the lone tower remaining, standing, and still in flames, and it followed its twin,until nothing was left onscreen, but a dark cloud, screams, and sirens.
Having tuned in not long before, experiencing what appeared to be a horror film, I naively thought, "everyone must be out ok."
That is what my good-natured heart simply assumed.
And then it became clear there was unfathomable carnage, and disaster.
I quickly heard that Morristown Memorial, where I had been days before, was set up as a trauma center. So I was grateful I was not admitted; I am sure it would have been upsetting to be there at that time. The thing was, after a while, no one came to the trauma centers, which was not a good sign.
I called my office to ensure that everyone there was OK. I spoke to Michele, who had taken over my position while I was on maternity leave, and who eventually replaced me in my job.
She said all they could see was smoke over the horizon in the spot where the towers usually were...that broke my heart, and I was relieved I was not there too...I don't believe I could have mentally taken it, and even less since I was pregnant.
While we were on the phone, our vice-president of sales came out of his office to announce that he had heard a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. We had also learned of the crash into the Pentagon.
It all was so hard to digest and fathom, wondering who would do this, and why.
My heart suddenly sunk when I realized something could have happened to my friend, Barb, since she worked just across from the towers. Throughout the day I tried calling her, and got messages that "all circuits were busy"...cellular communications were knocked out in our area.
I finally reached Barb at the end of the day. She evacuated her building after the second plane hit, and the streets were chaos. She made her way uptown to her apartment, her shoes falling off along the way. I remember her telling me that they all thought the city was being bombed, and they headed towards the East River, in anticipation that if they jumped in, they could avoid being bombed.
A man on her way uptown saw her crying, walking through the city barefoot, and told her, "Don't cry sister."
Since she thought she might be going back into her building, some of her belongings were left behind, including her apartment keys. She had to get her spares from her boyfriend, yet had no way to contact him. She was thoroughly exhausted when she returned to her place.
Barb could never return to her office building, and her office temporarily relocated to Times Square before relocating out of the city. Due to the effects of 9/11 on the fiscal health of her company, her company eventually laid her off.
I also worried about my aunt, uncle, and cousins, who live in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill. No one could reach them all day on their cells. I simply tried their home and got my aunt on the line. They were all shaken by the effects of watching the towers burn from across the river.
More than a year later, pieces of charred paper, with the return address of the World Trade Center, would blow into her backyard.
That day my lunch with my two co-workers was canceled. One of them had worked for American Express at one time, and worried about her co-workers who were in there. And my other co-worker was at home wondering if her daughter-in-law was ok. She was en route to Denver, when her plane was grounded. It ended up taking her days to return home...rental cars were sparse, so she ended up sharing one with some others headed back East. Both were too upset to meet.
That was one of the surreal parts though...the quiet skies. Not hearing planes for at least a week was strange. Sussex County is a major flight path from Newark, as well as JFK and La Guardia.
And I felt violated to learn that United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles flew over our home before crashing into the South Tower. In fact, analysis of the flights show 175's assumed takeover point by the terrorists was over Sussex County. It was creepy to learn such darkness took place right over our heads.
And once planes resumed their service, I have been jumpy from those that flew too low, or if they are too loud. And although I really enjoy flying, in fact I just returned from a trip only a few days ago, there are always some concerns running through my head as I travel, in spite of all the stepped up security measures we now all must abide by.
Stories emerged from those I knew the day....one co-worker, her husband was normally in the towers around the time the planes hit, and thankfully and miraculously missed his train that morning. Another, her husband watched it all unfold from Jersey City, and got on the last train home to Wayne before service was shut down. He said smoke was coming through the train tunnel as he boarded. He was in total shock and kept telling my friend/his wife, "It was so screwed up..." about the whole experience.
A friend of a friend was missing. She worked in the Windows On The World Restaurant...never found. Another woman from this area I met lost her nephew, Todd Ouida,who has been profiled on memorial sites and documentaries (click here
to learn more about the foundation, started in Todd's memory).
I spent the remainder of my maternity leave watching the coverage, and stressed out, wondering what kind of a world we were living in.
It was refreshing to see a resurgence in patriotism, though quite honestly, some of that has died down over time, and that is a shame. We should be patriotic in all circumstances, not just banding together in times of tragedy.
We need to never forget 9/11 and how it affected us all in some way, whether we were in one of the impacted locations that day or not. This terrible day has changed the fabric of how we all live.
As a journalist, I have covered several 9/11 events in my career, in West Orange (click here
), Stanhope, and at Sussex County Community College in Newton. I have interviewed people who were there for some stories over the last few years. In 2010, I wrote a story for the now out-of-print LH! Weekly, interviewing several people, including some maintenance people in the buildings. One saw an airliner seat with a passenger still in it land atop his building, her hands (he could identify from the manicured hands she was female, and also by her clothing, she was a flight attendant) bound and clutching her purse, but most of her body, including her head, missing. He took her purse and brought it to authorities so they could identify her.
My heart always goes out to those who I interview and photograph for 9/11 related stories. I choke up behind my camera, while my sunglasses often shield the tears that fall onto my notepad as I write.
I realize in those moments, each person has a story that should be told, and never forgotten...
Thank you to each of those who have poured out their hearts to me this week, and shared their stories. It is my honor to put them into words for them.
God Bless all who have been impacted by 9/11, and God Bless the USA.