Where were you when the world stopped turning?

posted at 12:41 pm on September 11, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

Driving into the office this morning and seeing all of the giant American flags unfurled over all of the tallest buildings, and revisiting all of the pictures, videos, and soundbites coming through my newsfeed today, I’m irresistibly and just as poignantly reminded of exactly how I felt on the terrible day of September 11th, 2001. I’m sure that everybody who lived through that day remembers where they were and what they were doing when they saw the news, and I’d like to briefly share my experience — an experience probably familiar for many, but I’ve just realized, I don’t think I’ve ever written it down before, and I’d like to take a moment to do so.

On the beautiful, clear morning of this day, eleven years ago, I was sitting in my middle school Civics class. The lesson that day had to do with the three branches of our government and the separation of powers, and at least half of the class was having difficulty containing their impatience for the early lunchtime period. Toward the end of the hour, a teacher from down the hall burst through the door, whispered something to my Civics teacher, and rushed back out again. My teacher went over to the TV, turned it on, flipped to CNN, and stood back. There it was. The horrible image of a bright blue sky filled with black smoke. We all stared in silence for a minute, and I don’t think I nor my peers really had any comprehension of what it was we were looking at. The bell rang, but nobody moved. My teacher turned away from the TV and looked at all of our bewildered faces, clearly at a loss for what to say. He finally managed to get something out: “This… this is huge.” That was when the first wave of cold horror washed over me. We all filed out into the hall to go to our next period, and the normal buzz was even louder than usual — it wasn’t quite panic, but our eight-grade minds were having trouble grasping what was happening. During my next period, we all sat in silence again and just watched the news with my teacher. That was when I began to understand the enormity of what I was seeing: As I was sitting there in Yearbook class, thousands of Americans were staring the reality of imminent and gruesome death in the face. As I was at a large school in the northern Virginia suburbs, several of my peers who had parents working at the Pentagon were pulled out of school early that day. I don’t remember any tears from anyone — just shock. Confused, paralyzing shock. At home that evening, my dad sat me and my brother down and told us solemnly: “Kids… your lives are never going to be the same.” And that was when I started to cry.

I don’t have a ton of distinct memories from my middle-school era, but that one is forever imprinted on my consciousness. I even remember exactly what I was wearing and what I had packed for lunch. I invite you to share your own stories in the comments, as we take this day to remember and reflect upon the thousands of people who died at the hands of hateful terrorists; the countless displays of courage and kindness in the aftermath of the attack; and the men and women who have worked tirelessly since to keep the forces of evil at bay. God bless America.


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I was driving by O’Hare airport when the 3rd plane hit the pentagon. Shortly afterwards was the grounding order. Watched plane after plane come in wondering if they were “safe” or not.

usedtobeinmich on September 11, 2012 at 9:41 PM

Getting ready for work at HQ NORAD, Peterson AFB when it started. Couldn’t get on base right away because of the immediate security response. Spent the next 3 months doing 12 hour shifts in Cheyenne Mountain since the NORAD battle staff was kept activated for that long.

NORAD battle staff was fully activated that day for an exercise. A 2 star Canadian General was actually calling the shots for NORAD initially that morning – including the order to ground all aircraft.

dentarthurdent on September 11, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Beautiful post Erika. Thank you for sharing your experience.

conservative pilgrim on September 11, 2012 at 10:00 PM

I was in Seminary and went home in between classes. I was practicing the piano and my husband had the TV on while he folded laundry. (Don’t hate either. He’s a former Marine and loves his clothes NEAT!)
We never have the TV on during the day, but he likes to watch or listen to something when he folds. I kept playing and recognized Dan Rather’s voice speaking with a serious tone. I thought that odd and turned around to look at the TV. I saw the images of the Towers burning. I knelt down on the floor and watched with the rest of the country and world as the Towers burned, updates were happening in real time, speculation of other attacks involving bombs or chemical warfare were being offered, it was crazy….and then we watched the first Tower crumble. All I could think of was the people in the building who just died. That’s the moment that crushes me. I felt shock and numbness. It has taken me a while to process that day. I still hate flying.

conservative pilgrim on September 11, 2012 at 10:09 PM

It was such a beautiful day I had actually gotten my butt out of bed a bit early, leaving my Crystal City apartment and heading down 395 South past the Pentagon at around 8:45 AM. Got to work and was instant messaging with my buddy in NYC, when he suddenly wrote “they’re attacking my city!” I thought he was joking around, but I pulled up the Washington Post website (which took forever to load, it must have been slammed) and saw the first photo of the plane hitting the tower. It looked so small, though, I thought it was a commuter plane. However, the talk radio show I was listening to started discussing the plane crash urgently, so I turned it up, and my coworkers gathered around my desk and we listened. Then my boss came by and told us all to go home. While I drove toward 395 North, I periodically glanced up at the sky, not sure if I should be expecting some sort of arial attack. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper, and it soon became evident I wasn’t going to be able to make it up 395 and to my apartment, so I bailed at exit 5. I remember how polite everyone was, letting people merge, no one honking horns. Everyone in their cars had the radio on and was listening, you could tell. That’s where I heard to first tower drop.
I headed to my boyfriend’s house (now my husband). Tried to call all my friends that worked in D.C., but couldn’t get through for a while. They all ended up walking home to Arlington. Finally was able to get back to my apartment around 8:00 that night and got my first glimpse of the Pentagon. Smoke was pouring out of it. That didn’t stop for a while. My apartment smelled of smoke for several days. I also distinctly remembered the eerie silence as no flights departed or landed at Reagan airport. Every so often we would hear the fighter jets, though. That was both frightening and reassuring. I remember coming up with an escape plan in case terrorists came back and attacked us. Found out later that family friend Battalion Chief Orio Palmer had died trying to rescue people on the 78th floor of WTC. Eleven years later I can remember every detail of that day. I will never forget, and I will be sure that my sons understand that day, and everything it meant and means for the United States.

ConArtist in Tampa on September 11, 2012 at 10:30 PM

I was working at 17 State Street, across the street from Battery Park. I stood in the park with hundreds of other people and watched the towers burn.

As the years pass I am more and more reluctant to think back on that day. I have a bunch of photos I took of Lower Manhattan during the hours I spent trying to get back to Brooklyn. They’re packed away, and I don’t look at them anymore.

chumpThreads on September 11, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Steve was home sleeping in, so I didn’t turn the TV on while I got ready for work. I was in my car on the way to work, and instead of listening to the radio on my 15 minute drive, I got chills, my heart started racing, and I felt the strongest compulsion to pray and pray hard. I prayed for everyone I knew, I prayed for people I didn’t know, and I felt a distinct presence in the car with me.

I remember walking into the office, and my boss met me at the door. “Have you heard? An airplane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” At the time, we thought some private pilot had taken a really wrong turn. The brokerage office next door had a TV, and their receptionist ran in and said, “It was a commercial airliner!” My heart sank, and I knew immediately that this wasn’t an accident.

We watched in shock as the 2nd plane hit, and in horror as both towers crumbled to the ground. I will NEVER forget…the staggering loss of life; the generous mercy of how many people could have been in the towers or the Pentagon that weren’t; the ultimate sacrifice made by the first responders and those on Flight 93; the overwhelming grief I felt as I watched the news; the urge I had to drop everything and hop in the car for NYC, D.C. or just anywhere but where I was; the love and pride I felt to see so many people of different walks and beliefs come together and unify, all differences cast aside; the pride in my President for taking a stand and acting with compassion and swift justice; the immense sadness I felt at the backlash experienced by American Muslims; the gratitude I felt and still feel toward the servicemen and women who have sacrificed their precious time, safety, life and limb so that I can sleep at night.

I will also never forget that God is good, and He is sovereign!

raybruce93 on September 11, 2012 at 11:35 PM

I was in my 4th year of graduate school and had just dropped off my husband at his office in downtown Dallas. I heard on NPR (which I can’t listen to anymore) that a plane had flown into a building in NYC and at first thought they were talking about the plane that had flown into the Empire State bldg all those years ago. Then after hearing of a 2nd plane flying into the WTC I knew it was terrorism and no accident. I don’t know why I thought this, but the name Osama Bin Laden flashed through my mind. I had read about him in a magazine or something.

Once I got to school we all gathered around the T.V. and watched in horror as the Pentagon was attacked and the twin towers fell. A labmate of mine rolled in around 11 a.m. completely oblivious to all that had happened in the past few hours. The next day she emailed around a leftist screed about how America deserved the attacks. I furiously rebutted her remarks and she ended up apologizing, but remains a hopeless lefty to this day.

My friend and I felt so helpless and wanted to do something, anything to help even though we were so far away in TX. We decided to go donate blood, and a lot a people must have had the same idea because the donation center was packed. Before I could donate, my husband called me frantically to come pick him up immediately. His office was in one of the tallest buildings in downtown Dallas and he was worried that Dallas might be attacked also.

My dad was in the Army Reserves and he was in Georgia doing his yearly training for a week. After all the planes were grounded he was stuck there for another week and he was waiting to see if his unit would be called up to active duty. He and his unit (medical not combat) had served in Desert Storm, and we were sure that this next war would have a much higher casualty rate. His unit didn’t end up going over there and he retired a few years later.

My cousin and my cousin’s husband ended up serving in Iraq in the Army and Marines respectively. They both came back whole in body, but my cousin’s husband came back with PTSD.

9-11 has affected us all in one way or another. I was never that interested in politics or news before that day and since then I’ve become a complete politics/news junkie. Hot Air is a daily must-read for me.

I had to talk to my 7-yr-old about 9-11 in some depth today because his teacher had some them a presentation and he had lots of questions. It kills me to have to open my kid’s eyes to the fact that there are real-life villians out there, not the cartoon characters they see in Disney movies. But I also told him that we have real-life heroes–firemen, policemen, military men and women and others that risk there lives to keep the rest of safe while we sleep. Thanks to all of you here on HA that have served and continue to serve our country.

drflykilla on September 11, 2012 at 11:45 PM

NoStoppingUs on September 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM

ImageSniper on September 11, 2012 at 12:52 PM

GW_SS-Delta on September 11, 2012 at 4:34 PM

Classy. Did you even read the thread?

Bmore on September 11, 2012 at 11:52 PM

I was living in Los Angeles at the time so I was asleep when the phone rang. It was one of my friends on Central Time. She asked me if I had the TV on and I said, “No, I’m sleeping!” She told me to turn it on and sure enough, there were Katie Couric and Matt Lauer earnestly discussing how a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The live camera was showing the smoke billowing into the sky. Then we were watching as the second plane hit the tower and my friend and I were both like, “Uh, this is no accident.” We knew immediately it was bin Laden. Watched coverage for the remainder of the day. I recall thinking Jim Mikla-whatever who was the Pentagon correspondent on NBC must have been especially jittery because he was reporting live when he swore he heard an explosion. Come to find out it wasn’t nerves after all; he really HAD heard an explosion.

I worked in law firm in Century City and our building was shut down for the day. No one knew what was happening and there was fear that West Coast cities could be next. My brother worked in Brooklyn at the time and every morning, he passed under the towers when he switched from the PATH to the subway. It took us hours to ensure he was accounted for that day. My good friend’s sister, however, was on the 88th floor of Tower 1. The documentary, “Heroes on the 88th Floor” is about her boss, who led many of his employees and others out of the building. This was in spite of building security telling everyone to stay where they were at and not panic. Good thing no one on that floor listened. My friend’s sister fortunately made it out alive although her boss did not.

As others have mentioned, I recall thinking how eerily quiet it was outside for several days after the attacks when there were no planes in the sky, just fighter jets patrolling. I also remember that we were dismissed early from work a couple of weeks later because the Emmy Awards were being held in Century City that year and for security purposes, they wanted everyone out of the vicinity. They were using mirrors to check under the limos as they arrived to ensure there were no explosives. It was all very surreal.

NoLeftTurn on September 12, 2012 at 2:00 AM

When the first plane struck, I was not settled into my hospital room after delivering a beautiful baby girl by scheduled C-section. I picked that day as a joke for my daughter’s future husband, thinking he’d need 911 if he ever forgot her birthday.

I didn’t know.

elspeth on September 12, 2012 at 7:55 AM

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