Memories of the Towers that Fell on a September Morning
It is hard to believe that it has been fifteen years since the towers fell on September 11. That was our Pearl Harbor moment. We should never forget all those who died and sacrificed on that day, nor should we forget the lessons we learned. These are my memories of the towers that fell, written on its tenth anniversary. (#NeverForget #911)
There are thousands of things that I could write about in remembrance on the 10th anniversary of September 11, the fateful day we watched so many die… but the magnitude of that moment is too enormous and too emotional, limiting what I can write about here. Instead, I would rather write about the towers that I watched rise as a girl and watched fall as a woman.
In early 1971, as a young north Jersey girl, I remember the excitement upon hearing that One World Trade Center was completed and ready for business, having watched them build the World Trade Center for what seemed like an eternity, or nearly my whole life. In truth, construction began in 1966 and by December 1970 One World Trade Center was almost complete, ready for its first tenants, even though its upper floors were unfinished.
It wasn’t until 1973, however, that both One and Two World Trade Center towers were completely finished, standing side by side like a giant number eleven. Many people thought they were the most hideous buildings ever constructed, but I was in amazement of how tall they were with 110 floors each, often imagining how small the world must look from atop their roofs, and longing to photograph it from that perch.
Although many people only think of the two tall towers when they hear mention of the World Trade Center, it, in fact, consisted of seven buildings on 16 acres, but understandably One and Two were the most visible and most well-known. I remember, at the time, one of my teachers mentioning how more than 50,000 people would be able to work in those buildings, with another 200,000 visitors at any given point in the day.
The image of 250,000 people all in that small space so impressed me as a little girl in 1971, that I remembered that number 30 years later on September 11, 2001, as I watched from California on CNN the first tower burn, then watched the second one get hit, and then sat in shock as I watched them both fall. That number of 250,000 people immediately came to mind… a quarter of a million people all dying as the towers collapsed was unfathomable.
Being from north-east New Jersey, my family and I went across the GW, the George Washington Bridge, every weekend to visit my grandparents. It was a 15-20 minute trip, which often included attending plays and shows, visiting parks and museums, and visiting my parents’ countless friends in the City… writers, poets, artists, musicians, and the less eccentric lawyers, doctors, bankers and businessmen. We still had family and friends there… were they okay? Were any of them on those planes, or in the towers, or rushing in to save people?
It was hard to think as I struggled to get ready for work. It had started as a typical morning. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. as my television turned itself on to CNN, allowing me to listen to the news as I got ready for work every morning. I remember catching glimpses of the first video images on my bathroom mirror as I brushed my teeth, minutes after the first attack, and thinking that it must be a promotion for a movie, but it wasn’t. I stopped and turned up the sound, I had a mouthful of toothpaste I quickly spat out. I plopped down on the edge of my bed as I watched, toothbrush in hand. The Towers were hit, one-by-one, the Pentagon was hit, and then the towers collapsed. Our nation was under attack… and I had to pull myself together and get to work.
September 11, 2001
As videotaped by a nearby resident from her
apartment building directly across the Towers.
Had I had any other job at the time, I would not have gone in to work that morning, but I had more than 150 high school students that would be looking to me for support and some semblance of normalcy in a crazy world. I would spend the day talking to them, listening to them, struggling to find a ‘teachable moment’ in the chaos I had witnessed, hoping that I would be enlightened with inspired answers to each and every difficult question that came my way… and praying… praying for all those who had died just moments before and praying for the rest of us who were left behind.
If there was any saving grace that day, it was in finding out, after I got home from work, that 250,000 people did not die at the World Trade Center, as I had thought that morning. There were less than 3,000 people who lost their lives that day, but it was still nearly 3,000 people who died in a matter of hours. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 70. There were eight children who died that day under the age of 12. There were 38 foreigners from 12 different countries who died along with 30 others from unknown countries. Of the Americans who died that day, nearly 700 of them were from New Jersey.
None of us who witnessed it on television, much less those who witnessed it in person, will ever forget that fateful morning, nor the horrific images burned into our memories, although at times we wish we could. Nor will we ever forget the brave men and women who risked or lost their lives to save others that day, from those who rushed a cockpit of hijackers to those who ran into collapsing towers or stopped on their way out of them to help others. They made us proud to be Americans and they renewed our faith in humanity.
But in case you ever forget, just walk around your neighborhood and you will see flags on people’s front porches, or hanging from shop windows, or blooming on a hillside, or drive through some country road, as I did a few days ago, and you may find the American flag painted on the side of a barn.
Let’s remind each other tomorrow, on the 10th anniversary of September 11, with our own flags or in our own way, to never forget.
September 11 Resources
- September 11 Names Memorial Archive by CNN: All the victims who died on September 11, 2001 – in the towers, the planes, the Pentagon, the rescue workers – are listed with photos. The list can be sorted by numerous categories: name, age, employer, city, state, country and location of death.
- September 11 Tenth Anniversary
- September 11 Photographs
- September 11 Videos
- The History Channel’s 9/11 Timeline
- The 9/11 Memorial Interactive Timeline
- The 9/11 Memorial Site: A web archive of photos and videos.
- The New York Times 9/11 YouTube Channel: A web archive of broadcasts, personal stories and reflections about 9/11.
- 9/11 Video Tribute Archive YouTube Channel: Individual video tributes to 9/11.
- Make History: National September 11 Memorial & Museum
- Ten Years On: Musical tribute by well-known musicians and artists.
- Families of September 11
Martie Hevia (c) 2011 – All Rights Reserved