In New York on 9/11, the sun rose that late summer morning shimmering along the banks of the Hudson River, revealing one of the most beautiful days of the year. It was perfect September weather, low humidity, bright sunshine, and clear blue skies.
The headlines on the front pages of the daily newspapers were filled with business news, unrest in the Middle East and the ongoing debate over stem cell research. Two days before, the leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Masoud, was assassinated in his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley.
In sports, the undefeated United States women’s national soccer team beat a strong German team 4-1 in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. Michael Jordan rocked the basketball world with his unexpected return to the NBA.
The White House drama, West Wing, was TV’s highest rated show and CBS’ “Survivor” was anointed best nonfiction program in the new category of primetime TV called “reality programming”.
At 8:44 am on the “Today Show”, broadcasting from “30 Rock” in New York City, Matt Lauer was interviewing author Richard Hack on his new book about Howard Hughes. Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 promised to be the beginning of a gorgeous day.
By 8:46 am, it was a morning that would change the world forever.
Nineteen hijackers took control of four commercial airliners en route to San Francisco and Los Angeles from Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. Planes with long flights were intentionally selected for hijacking because they would be heavily fueled.
American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower, followed by United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. Another group of hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
A fourth aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. local time. Flight 93’s cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers had attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning. Its ultimate target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House.
The horrific collapse of the towers and the death of over 3,000 people was viewed and heard by a vast television and radio audience. The 9/11 attacks had immediate and overwhelming effects upon the American people.
Hundreds of police officers and rescue workers across the country took leaves of absence to travel to New York City, joining their brothers and sisters in the process of looking for trapped survivors and recovering bodies from the twisted remnants of the Twin Towers.
As these events were occurring, most Americans were in shock, others were preparing themselves for a call to arms.
Andrew Daugherty: “I was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky on 9/11. We were out doing exercise; they pulled us all back in. We didn’t know why. The put us in an airplane hangar, the entire company was there seated in front of a TV. We watched TV, and couldn’t fathom what was going on.”
Matthew La Pierre was also stationed at Ft. Knox. “I was a platoon sergeant at Fort Knox and I went to the gym after PT in the morning and I heard something about a plane hitting the Towers as I was leaving the gym. It was before anyone really knew there was a terrorist attack, it was basically a plane crashed in New York, and so by the time I left the gym and got to my unit in the lapse between the two planes it was clear that we were under attack. I began to receive all kinds of calls. Headquarters called an ordered for an immediate lock-down of Fort Knox.”
Andrew Daugherty: “They put us all in tanks. The army sealed everything. Above the base was a no-fly zone for three days. At the amour training school, there were international students. These foreign soldiers mounted up on tanks with us. We were given live ammo. My tank guarded roads outside Fort Knox that led to the main gate. We wanted blood and we wanted it quick.”
Lauren Edwards: “Obviously my day was not like a lot of other people, but I would imagine that Sept. 11 will be like the day JFK got shot or, those significant events in America that shaped America, shaped our culture. It was one of those events that you’ll always remember where you were that day like my Mom remembers where she was when JFK was killed. I can remember exactly what stretch I was doing that morning when I got the news.”
Major Edwards had just returned to her Marine Expeditionary Unit Wing Support Squadron based at Yuma, Arizona when she heard the first reports of the attacks. “September 11, 2001, I had just flown back from DC the night before and I remember driving past the Pentagon, just like every other time I had done that on the way to the airport.”
“That morning, I went out to run with a fellow company commander of mine and we’re obviously three hours back, I forget what time things happen, so it’s six in the morning and we get back from our run and I remember stretching and someone came out to tell us what happened. We all said what are you talking about, it’s not computing, it’s not even possible.”
Marine reservist Gunnery Sergeant Matt Logan was home, taking a day off from school. “September 11th, 2001, I was sitting in my den in Richmond, Kentucky. I was actually enrolled in college, in my final semester and supposed to graduate that December. I was skipping class because I woke up late and I was sitting there watching the morning news. It was the Today Show or something like that and they broke in said there was a plane that had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.”
“I thought that’s ludicrous, that’s crazy, how do you fly into a building? It did not cross my mind that it was an intended attack. I initially thought it was a kind of freak accident, the plane had taken off, lost power, lost capabilities just a really bad day for the people that were there and the people that were on board…”
Lauren Edwards: “I have friends in the Pentagon. I have friends in DC, so my day was spent glued to the radio, all of us were, trying to figure out what was happening, still completely dumbfounded.”
“I’m not nearly as familiar with New York City, but having just driven by the Pentagon and running by it so many times, when I was in college in DC I just couldn’t fathom what had happened. I remember talking to one of my Washington friends her husband, or fiancé at the time, was working in the Pentagon and she was just devastated, crying, couldn’t get in touch with him, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what was happening in New York City or DC that day.”
For the soldiers, shock turned to anger. All across America active duty and reservists began calling in, seeking the orders they knew were to follow. Matt Logan was among the first to be called. “I was serving as a reservist at that time, a platoon sergeant. It wasn’t more than a couple of hours and my phone starting ringing. There were phone calls coming from the bottom and from the top, Marines wanting to know what information was out there….commanding officer, sergeant, platoon commander calling me directly and asking me for information. They wanted to know who I’d heard from, just trying to get their finger on the pulse of how quickly can we stand everybody up, how quickly can you get your platoon, your squad of Marines together and be ready to go do battle.”
“We were all pretty pissed off” remembers Edwards. “That doesn’t happen in America. You don’t do an attack on American soil. So we were all just ready to do whatever we were told at that point and for the bases I think everything got shut down, I think we were told to go home for the day, because there’s no reaction plan for that, it’d never happen, so security got locked down and all these things but nobody knew. We’re just out there in the desert, we got an airfield full of Harriers, and you don’t know what’s next.” “We wanted blood and we wanted it quick,” said Daugherty. “We needed to do something.”
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