That Day in September – a New Yorker remembers 9-11

Remember, remember that day in September,

Airplanes and Terror and plot

I see no error in thinking that terror

Should never be forgot.**

You know what today is.

Fourteen years ago today, I was a college student. When I first walked into English class at St. John’s University, it was a little before 9am. The professor was one Dr. Robert Forman.  He was always entertaining, and there’s something about him that tells you he cares that you learn something in his class.

The first person I saw was my classmate Tony.  I said hello, and he asked, “Did you hear something about a plane running into the World Trade Center?”

And I laughed.  All I could think is what idiot could have missed noticing that there were two rather large buttersticks in the sky right in front of him?

I explained that to Tony.  He agreed, and I gave it no thought at all for the rest of the 90-minute class.

I went from one class to another — Christian Spirituality and Mysticism, 10:40am, taught by a Father Caserta. He was not only pleasant, but happy.  He was also very Italian, and joked about it often.

When I arrived, the professor wasn’t there, and someone came into class saying that classes were canceled.

Huh.  That’s odd.

I went to the nearest inter-university phone and called my father — who was an Assistant Dean at SJU.  I called, told him my class was cancelled, and how are you doing?

“Come to the office.”

Ok …. click.

Walking from one building to the other required that I cross from Marillac Hall, past Council and Newman Halls — a narrow corridor outside that was as well directed as any sidewalk intersection without a traffic stop.

Ironically, it also allowed the best view of the Manhattan skyline that the University had to offer outdoors, without going to a higher floor of a building — SJU is, for the record, the highest point in Queens.

But, I didn’t stop for a second. My pace was quick and even, mainly because there were so few people in my way — for once.

Though there was one odd bit of business going on at the time, something I found odd even before I made it to my father’s office: there were clusters of people with their cell phones out.  After the third such group, I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

911-photo-2I walked into my father’s office at the other side of the library, and before I could even open my mouth, my father said, “Planes have crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The twin towers are gone, and the Pentagon is burning.”

And I remember this quite clearly, because I had a little red notebook with me at the time … my first thought was “Didn’t Tom Clancy already write this novel?”

My father suggested I go to the library, and observe the skyline.  by the time I got there, the library was locked.  So I walked back to the terrace I had just gone over.

9-11 ashInstead of a skyline, there were ground based storm clouds running from south to north, a panoramic of ash and dust.  I stood there for an unknown length of time, completely focused on it.  Later, I would learn that the ash and dust were so thick that it came down like snow, even onto the Brooklyn Bridge.

I didn’t even notice my acquaintance Andy walk up next to me.

“I can’t wrap my mind around it,” he said.  “I can’t believe they’re gone.”

If I replied to him, I don’t remember.

Much of what I had from that day I have preserved in my little red notebook — a habitual writer’s thing, a notebook.

I thought that Fr. Andrew Greeley was writing a column right that moment … and he was, one that focused on the calmness of New Yorkers evacuating into New Jersey.

I thought that I had to rewrite my thriller novels, because one of them was a CIA assassin, and at that moment, I knew what she was doing at that exact moment in history.

I also knew that Osama bin Laden was a dead man walking. One way or another, someone was going to hunt him down, and shoot him.  Probably after he was hurt … a lot. Shooting his eyes out? Not how I expected him to go, but as things go, actually kinda badass — but that’s like asking someone which Bond villain death they’d prefer — Goldfinger or Kananga.

On the way home, we had to drive around Union Turnpike, since the local park was a great site for emergency vehicles to assemble.

My family could only watch television that day because we had cable.  We must have watched the towers fall several dozen times by the end of the day.  There were theories that Camp David might be a target, because the Camp David accords had an anniversary that day, or soon.  And there was supposedly a car bomb outside of the state department.

The initial estimated dead: 55,000.  By 1pm, it had become 10,000.

At 6pm that evening, I was amused by a report…. four hours after the attacks in New York, parts of Kabul were burning. The Taliban were under attack. I wondered if (1) Mossad moved really fast, or (2), the dissidents wanted to get on our good side.  I would later learn that a leader of the Northern Alliance had been assassinated by the Taliban several days before, and that was their reprisal.

By that evening, there were 200 firemen missing, and 70 cops also MIA.

We had learned that there were people who jumped out of the towers rather than burn.

The next day, there was a pledge of support from Vladimir Putin.  Thousands of pints of blood were on the way from Israel….

And at 7:36 am on the morning of September 12th, the news had a good image of the Empire State building, with smoke in the background…

There was also no looting … because this is not Los Angeles.  This is New York, where even the criminals were nice enough (or smart enough) to stay home.  There was a seven hour wait to give blood, until people were turned away.

We had shocking news: The NY Times said something nice about “the nazi,” Mayor Rudy Guiliani, calling him Churchill in a baseball cap.

NY Governor Pataki had come down.  He thanked a fireman in critical condition for  his service, and the fireman said, “Well, what do you expect?”

And by night, there were so many who showed up with lit candles, the city looked like it was on fire.

By January 20, 2002, we had a count around 2,900 dead.

Ann Coulter made a statement that many were pissed off about: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

A quote which could be offensive if not for two things …. one: if you ever get a chance to read that article, you will notice that it was about mostly about a friend of hers, Barbara Olsen …. she was on a plane that flew into the Pentagon. So, Coulter was annoyed.

When asked about it later, she told Fox news democrat Alan Colmes “We better convert them to something, even if it’s what you call ‘real Islam.’ ”  Which, frankly, converting the 10% of the muslim world that hate us (about 120 million, give or take) to something other than a sharia-variant would be a good idea.

My feelings about it were simple, and later summed up by a quote from the tv show The West Wing:

“We need to kill them. We need to find them and to kill them. We kill them. Then we find out who sent them and we kill them too. You kill the people who did it. You kill the people who planned it. Then you kill everyone who is happy about it…”

I think at the end of the day, more people would rather have Ann Coulter’s solution of converting people who want to kill us, even if it’s to generic, Atlantic-avenue Islam; it would be a better idea than my general feelings on the matter.

But, frankly, I don’t think it’s a matter of religion. Americans have protests and near riots over the rights over any lone individual. Instead, in the Muslim world (which included parts of Patterson, New Jersey), there were people who had parties over 9-11; if someone feels happy about killing civilians, there is something wrong with that person as a human being. That person is about the same level as the average serial killer.

But, that was 14 years ago …..



Putin is on the warpath and Israel barely talks to us — probably because we won’t listen.

The cops and firemen who were there are being locked out of any 9/11 memorial.

They locked out any and all priests from even showing up.

The cross forged from I-beams of the tower were being threatened by atheists with nothing better to do — they were later told to shove it.

The unions who showed up in force to clear the rubble of the towers started to turn it into a political freakshow.

Rye play land in New York had a “Muslim Day,” and it turned into a riot because they banned all headgear from roller coasters.  This includes a a hijab — something about not wanting the woman strangled or decapitated.

We’ve gotten exactly one replacement building. Though it is shiny.  But I still want a WTC with a missile battery.

And this week, President Obama wants to sign a deal with Iran to give them nukes, while at the same time admitting hordes of people who may or may not be refugees, from a country that has hated us for a few decades.

Everyone likes to say never forget.

I hope this has made some people remember.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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3 Responses to That Day in September – a New Yorker remembers 9-11

  1. Lori Janeski says:

    I lived in upstate New York at the time. I was a freshman in high school, and I was in Mr. Pucci’s English class when I heard about it. Sister Mary Walter came over the PA and said “We will have a moment of prayer in silence for the victims of a terrorist attack that has just been committed against the United States.” She didn’t explain what it was, and that was all, for the moment. It wasn’t until lunch that I knew what happened, but I remember thinking that it must have been someone blowing up an embassy, or something like that. My imagination only went as far as “a few” casualties. I said a prayer and went back to listening to Mr. Pucci talk about “Cry The Beloved Country,” our assignment for the day.

    At lunch, I sat down next to a girl in my class, Katey Collins, who was visibly upset. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, “My aunt lives close to the World Trade Center.” I just blinked stupidly and asked, “What about the World Trade Center?” I was such a non-New-Yorker that I barely knew where the World Trade Center was. I can’t remember for sure if she had to tell me where it was, or if I knew already. Either way, she looked shocked and said, “You don’t know? . . . that was the terrorist attack Sister Mary Walter was talking about. Somebody flew a plane into the Twin Towers.”

    I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation I had with her, but what I do remember is the class immediately after lunch. It was algebra with Mr. Lepak, a nice guy, a good teacher. We knew the minute we walked into class that he was absolutely furious, which was new for him. The little TV in the corner was on, and it wasn’t playing the usual Friday morning corny high-school-news station that we were always forced to watch in homeroom once a week. It was on one of the major news networks, and Mr. Lepak said: “Sit down. Shut up. Watch the news. There is no homework.” He didn’t say a word to us the rest of the class. That was the only day all year that had no homework assigned.

    By then, they were replaying the footage of the attacks over and over and over again. I’m not sure how many times I saw it from how many different angles during that one class period, but it was a lot. After a while, it was kind of numbing. The rest of that day is a bit of a blur, but I remember rushing to the car when my mom pulled up after school and asking her, “Did you hear about the World Trade Center?” It was a stupid question; one look at her face and it was obvious she’d been watching it all day. She told me that she had been watching it live when the second plane hit.

    I almost remember my mom’s description of it better than what I actually experienced. She said that Dad had called her from work, which was odd in the middle of the morning, and all he said was “You need to turn on the news.” She did, and she said that she remembers thinking, “Oh, what a tragedy. Those towers right there . . . and JFK and all those planes coming and going . . . it was just a matter of time before someone hit it by accident . . .” Then she watched the second one hit. She said it was like the whole world had just moved a little under her feet. That in that one moment, she realized that THIS WAS NOT AN ACCIDENT, and “everything changed.”

    The summer after senior year, I interned at the Star-Gazette Newspaper in Elmira, and one of the gifts they gave to me and the other intern at the end of the summer was a 9/11 memorial book. It has a reproduction of the front page of every Gannett newspaper in the country in it, plus some overseas newspapers, just showing what they printed the day after the attacks, with no commentary. Usually, it sits on a shelf in my room. Today, I got it down and left it on the dining room table, after looking through it. I decided to make a special point of getting it down every year, “lest we forget — lest we forget.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was attending Montgomery College while living at home. That Tuesday, I didn’t have any classes and was sleeping in, being a bum. My mother woke me up too early, apparently REALLY wanting to watch the news for some reason but unable to get the TV off of the VCR connection and switched to a live feed.

    I walked upstairs, still mostly asleep and trying not to wake up. I turned on the news for her and saw the now-famous image of smoke coming out of the North Tower. There wasn’t any footage of a second hit, so I must have been there in the fifteen-minute span between the two crashes.

    I thought it was an accident, and went back to bed.

    I still feel bad about it, because there’s a feeling that everyone should have been keeping vigil; but at the time, all I could think about was how tired I was and how the tragedy wouldn’t be any less tragic by me staying up. The accident was going to be there later.

    I was able to doze off, but I wasn’t able to stay asleep for long. I got up again, cranky over having been disturbed, but that vanished when I found out the second tower had been hit. Like so many, that was the moment I understood the implications. This was probably around 9:45, because I remember I had been watching, fully awake and understanding, when the South Tower collapsed at 9:59.

    Knowing it was an attack put me on edge — not just because of the change in perception, though, as I live just outside DC. The Pentagon had already been hit by the time I knew what was going on, and no one knew what else was going to happen. My father was in his office at the Hoover Building that day, headquarters of the FBI, walking distance from both the Capitol Building and the White House. A longish walk, but still close. Prime target area.

    I didn’t see live footage of the attacks or people jumping out of the windows until I saw archived clips years later. I saw the Towers come down: first South, then North. It looked like each tower was shrinking into the ground while a roiling cloud of smoke erupted from their bases like a slow-motion explosion. That’s the image of 9/11 that will stick with me.

    That, and the weird feeling I get when I remember my first reaction to the day was “I’m going back to bed.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kentbook says:

    I was preparing for work when our Service Manager called and asked if I’d heard of a plane hitting the WTC. We turned on the TV and started watching and continued thru the rest of the day. We saw, live, when the second plane hit the South Tower, when the Pentagon was hit, and when the Towers fell!! We heard of United 93 crashing in Pennsylvania and I immediately told my wife that the passengers had taken it down–those that sacrificed their lives to save more in Washington are the ultimate American Heroes!
    I was so numb all day, so drained to see this happen to our nation>
    I tried all morning to contact my NY son who worked in the Village and kept getting his voice mail. Finally, he answered around 115 in the afternoon, he said his battery had died while he watched it all from his apartment roof top in Brooklyn near the Williamsburg Bridge. He was still very emotional and wished he hadn’t seen it all!
    My two stepsisters were both in Manhattan when it happened, one was able to get one of the first ferries out to Staten Island, the other was on a story for the SI paper downtown and went to Ground Zero to report but ended up helping the Red Cross minister to the injured and help the first responders get food and dehydration. She finally made her way back to SI on a tugboat around midnight but didn’t answer or return calls til midmorning to let us know she was ok!
    I weep when I watch the compilation of the events as they happened that day, see the first responders going into the buildings, the people jumping to their deaths to keep from burning alive, knowing when the buildings fell that those that ran to danger had perished, I weep for their bravery and loss, the loss for this nation and I WILL NEVER FORGET!!!!


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