A child’s eye view – my 9/11 story

On the morning of September 11, 2019, I sat aboard an Amtrak train from Washington, DC to New York City for a speaking engagement for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. As the train rolled north through Philadelphia, New Jersey, and to within view of the skyline of New York, found myself ruminating on the events that took place on that day nearly two decades earlier. I wrote them out in a Twitter thread – in part to document them for myself in years to come.

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The attacks of September 11, 2001 etched themselves deeply into who I am. The horror of that day fostered a need to connect with the world, to understand why events happen, and how they impact people across the world. I dove into the past to try to understand our rapidly evolving 21st century reality. That day left indelible memories that remain with me today, as they do for millions of Americans. Though I lived hundreds of miles from where four planes crashed, the events nevertheless shaped who I am. 

Here’s a slightly edited transcript of my notes from 2019, a look back at a child’s memories of 9/11:

Thought I’d share some of my memories of September 11, 2001 on this…anniversary.

I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade at Williams Valley Elementary School in Tower City, PA in September 2001.

It was a normal Tuesday morning in Mrs. Zerbe’s classroom.

My first memory of that day is that our teacher kept walking out into the hall to talk with other teachers. Then students started to be pulled from class. Little by little, the classroom emptied out. No one told us what was happening.

I ended up being one of the last students left – I asked the teacher what was going on and she responded that “some mad people crashed planes into buildings in New York.” As a kid, I was obsessed with skyscrapers and remembered hearing a story about a WW2 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.

I asked if that building had been hit by a plane again. She said, “no it was the World Trade Center.”

I didn’t see any images of the events of the day until I got home after being picked up from school. My aunt was over at my house and I remember her crying as we watched the towers crumble over and over again on the news. Eventually I was told to go outside to play.

By afternoon, I was back inside and watching tv. Nearly every channel had coverage of the horrific events. I sat there mesmerized by images of terror and destruction. Those clips remain seared in my memory.

I played in a youth soccer game that evening, as it seemed my parents and the parents of other kids struggled to find some normalcy amid a day of horror. We found out later that the doomed Flight 93 zoomed over our heads that morning, crossing Schuylkill County as it careened toward its destruction in Shanksville.

The days after 9/11 are remembered as a blur of vignettes and news reports. My parents, my brother, and myself gathered coins from our small piggy banks to give to the Red Cross. I wrote a letter to the President. The news became a part of my everyday life.

I became a newspaper subscriber in the years that immediately followed 9/11 and watched obsessively as the US invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq. My constant need for information about the world came from my experience on 9/11.

Ten years later, in 2011, as I finished my senior year at Williams Valley High School, I started as a Davenport Fellow at the Patriot News in Harrisburg. I wrote an editorial that spring that talked about, what else, but the impact of 9/11 on me and my peers.

Today, I look back at 9/11 as the day I became aware of the world. I learned how evil existed and sought to understand why the events of that day took place.

My passion for history was kick-started that sunny September day in 2001, on a day I experienced it myself.


Featured Image: An Associated Press photographer’s shot of the burning World Trade Center tower with the Empire State Building. 

2 thoughts on “A child’s eye view – my 9/11 story

  1. Sad and very good. It reminds me of sitting in my 6th grade classroom on the day John Kennedy, our president, was shot and killed. Our teacher, Mrs. Kell, turned off the lights in the room, had all of us sit down and put our heads down for silent prayer for the President and our country before we were dismissed to go home. Also so very sad and a very scary time. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Every year at this time I stop and reflect on that terrible day as I’m sure most of us do. I remember feeling sick and hollow inside, like I feel after having a spat with my wife or like I would feel after being mugged. It was that personal. Some people wanted to talk about it but I wanted to shut it out and watch reruns of Leave It To Beaver and pretend that this evil event hadn’t occurred. Maybe that’s not the proper thing to do but I wanted to stop seeing those planes flying into those buildings and thinking of the horror for those poor souls inside. I don’t regret that I did that then and as I catch another tribute today on tv, I still limit myself to only one or two stories. My personal memories are almost nothing compared to the terrible tales of those who lived through that awful Tuesday. They say we should always remember 9/11. I just wish I could forget it.

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