Where Were You on September 11, 2001?

 by Brad Dison

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States.  September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday morning, much like any other.  Most of us carried on with our normal routines unaware of the tragedy that would soon unfold.

People who were alive during Pearl Harbor, when John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, and other tragic events all have vivid memories of where they were and what they were doing when they got the news.  I posed the following questions to some of my friends to learn about their experiences with the September 11, 2001 attacks: “What were you doing when you heard about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? How did you learn about the attacks?  How did it affect your day?”  

Before I share some of their stories and mine, here is a brief timeline of events: (All times are in central time zone)

  • 8:59 a.m. – American Airlines Flight 11 departed from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts en route to Los Angeles International Airport with 5 hijackers aboard. 
  • 9:14 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 175 departed from Logan International Airport en route to Los Angeles International Airport with 5 hijackers aboard. 
  • 9:20 a.m. – American Airlines Flight 77 departed from Washington Dulles International Airport en route to Los Angeles International Airport with 5 hijackers aboard.
  • 9:42 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 93 departed from Newark Int’l Airport in Newark, New Jersey, en route to San Francisco International Airport with 4 hijackers aboard.
  • 9:46 a.m.  – American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
  • 10:03 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
  • 10:37 a.m. – American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the West wall of Pentagon.
  • 11:03 a.m. – United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville after passengers attempted to subdue the hijackers.
  • 10:59 a.m. – The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
  • 11:28 a.m. – The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

Dr. Susan Dollar: “I was supposed to study all day for one of the exams we take before we wrote our dissertations. I got up, turned on the TV, saw a bldg. on fire, went to get my coffee from the kitchen. When I returned, I saw 2 buildings [on fire]. I didn’t leave the TV for the rest of the day, at which time the town’ Bagpipe band began practicing on the playground next door. That seemed oddly appropriate for the day. After the band finished, the elementary next door had recess and the laughter from children on recess lifted my spirits through the day and I didn’t study.”

Dr. Elaine Thompson: “It was my first semester teaching college, as a one-semester sabbatical replacement for my own former prof. at Centenary. I was preparing for class at 8:20 a.m. when a student approached me, breathlessly: ‘A plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York!’ I tried to check CNN from my computer but I couldn’t get through. That should’ve clued me in, but it didn’t. Anxious to start class on time (it was 8:18 a.m.; I only had 2 minutes to spare) and picturing a small Cessna crashing into the building, I said ‘Those buildings are built to withstand the impact from a 727. It’ll be fine.’ Little did I know it was a 747, fully laden with fuel. It was a Tuesday, so class lasted until 9:30. By the time I released my class and went into the hallway, it became clear what was going on. Someone had pulled the news up from the satellite TV and projected it on the big screen down the hallway. The first of the devastation I saw was a replay of the second tower coming down. I was in Shreveport — the location to which George W. Bush had been evacuated from Florida. No one knew what was coming next, and Shreveport seemed like it was a high risk location. Students were leaving by the dozens to go home to the safety of their parents’ house. I taught my 2:00 class as usual, arguing at the time ‘If we give up, the terrorists have won,’ but I think I was desperately trying to clutch onto whatever I could to maintain a sense of normalcy.”

Ardala-Shevaun Laguna Wigman:  “I was a freshman in high school. The first tower fell in 1st period Biology and the 2nd tower fell during PreAP English. I didn’t really know a lot about it but it made me sad knowing so many people died and were hurt that day. We were sent home early for safety because our school was too close to Bush’s Crawford Ranch. I also remember being angry [because] my best friend is Indian and has brown skin. People were saying so many horrible things to her. 9/11 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.”

Lynda Dison:  “I was a live in nanny in Phoenix, AZ. I has just gotten up to make breakfast for the two kids. As usual, I turned on the news and was in shock. I woke my employer and told her, and we were literally glued to the TV.  We watched the second plane hit the other Tower at the same time it happened. Each of us spent several hours trying to reach our families. I still have the Arizona Republic special Edition from 9/11…I will never forget.”

Michelle Goben:  “On Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up, got my oldest daughter ready for school, and loaded everyone up in the car to drop her off in the car line. I got home and got my almost 2 month old baby out of the car and went inside. I’d just sat down on the couch to feed my baby and turned the TV on and started watching Regis and Kelly. That’s how I learned about the first plane crashing into the first tower. While watching, the second plane hit the second tower. Then I watched as the towers collapsed.”

Sharon Wafer Thomley:  “I was a single mom of two working my second job at Los Gallos in Coushatta while attending nursing school. I was vacuuming before we opened when I saw it on TV and just stopped. Little did I know my future husband, who I had never met before, was at the red light in front of Los Gallos at the same time when he heard it. Just yards in from me.”

Penny Sullivan Andrews:  “I was living in Bossier. Chet and Cody (ages 4 and almost 2) were playing and watching preschool kiddie shows on TV. A friend called, crying, and asked was I watching what was going on. I changed the channel and watched the towers fall. I called Eric at work and he didn’t know it had happened. I told him all air traffic had just been grounded in the US. He said that can’t be right, but of course it was. I was driving a few minutes later, going north on Benton Road, listening to reports on the radio. There was a lot of speculation about where the President was. Suddenly two fighter jets, flying parallel to each other, flew overhead faster than anything I’d ever seen; coming right after them was a bigger, slower plane. I was used to seeing B-52s in that area, but never planes like those. When I could see the white and light-blue color scheme, and the US flag on the tail, I quickly realized it was Air Force One. I laughed because the people on the radio were just talking about where President Bush might be. I said out loud to my toddlers, “There’s the president, right there.” Later, I watched his speech given at Barksdale (loved the “hunt down and punish” line) and it was so surreal that he was just a little ways from where I was right at that moment, and knowing that the whole world was watching it, too. Mama and I were talking and she asked if I wanted to bring the boys to her house to get farther away from BAFB; I truthfully told her I’d never felt as safe in Bossier as I did right then (there’s no way anything could’ve gotten through those jets—what a security escort!). It was announced that the president was en route to another military base, and I continued watching reports on TV. A while later, I walked outside to clear my head for a minute, and just then, Air Force One flew over my backyard. I had to laugh again, because the whole world had been told that he’d already left Barksdale, but here he still was, for the moment, at least.”

Danny Carr:  “I was at Bossier DOTD yard when we saw Air Force One come into Barksdale Air Force Base being escorted by two F16s”

Janice Toms:  “I was working at The Baptist Retirement Center in Arcadia when the great tragedy occurred on 9/11. I’ll never forget that I walked into a resident’s rooms to give her meds to her, and she shared the news with me. It was the all everybody talked about all day at work. I can remember people lining up at the gas pumps to get gas because like any other tragedy, rumors fly and nobody knew what to expect and were getting prepared.”

Jereme Dison:  “I woke up to get ready for work at Silver Dollar City and Brenda told me to watch the news about it. I took the fastest shower ever and got ready to go, all while watching the live broadcast. I had to leave for work minutes after both towers fell. It made me sick to think about it all. SDC was put on high alert all day and we were told to not talk about it much so it wouldn’t ruin people’s vacation. But, everyone was constantly talking about it. Between shows, we were all glued to TVs watching the latest updates. It will be one of many days I will never forget.”

Mitsy Sullivan Huffstetler: “I was driving to a dental appointment before work, and I heard about it on the radio. I was about to top Thrill Hill when it came on the radio. I listened to the radio all the way to Shreveport, and everyone in the dental office was talking about it. I remember one of the workers saying, ‘we’re being attacked and we don’t know by who.’ I also remember a caller on the radio saying he thought Barksdale would be a place the President might go – of course, that turned out to be what happened. When I got to work later that afternoon, it was very somber. One of my co-workers was very upset because his daughter was living in NY at the time and couldn’t get in touch with her.”

Mary Cathryn Barron:  “I was teaching 3rd grade at Saline. I ran to the office for something and I met Jr. Choate coming out the door looking upset. I asked what was wrong and he told me. I went back to my room shaken but I could not bring myself to tell my kids. I recall I was in a daze the rest of the day.”

Janice Wise Lindsey:  “I was at the rehab hospital in Ruston across from Green Clinic…my mother had a stroke and was admitted into rehab for therapy…I saw it on the TV in her room…I said ‘mama a plane just crashed into the World Tower’ thinking it was just a horrific tragedy!!! It was so overwhelming it took me a while to grasp the magnitude of this catastrophe!! Shortly, after I saw it on TV the therapists came and got mama for exercises…when she got back from therapy there was hysteria everywhere!! Some even saying that the Lord was coming back!! Such a horrendous attack to Americans on our home soil!!”

Betty Woodard Causey:  “I had just arrived at work. Cheri Holmes Falgout called me and told me to turn on the TV. She said they are blowing up the world.”

Lavon Sullivan:  “I was home watching TV when I heard the “break in” about the plane hitting the Tower in NY. I immediately called the Post Office and told Muriel what had happened since there was no radio in the Post Office.”

Muriel Sullivan:  “[I was] sorting mail in preparation for the daily adventure of delivering to those people on my route. I feared that USA was heading to a war.”

Judy Cox:  “[I] was sitting at my desk at Tango Transport in Hall Summit when we heard the news. Everyone stopped what they were doing for a silent prayer.”

Brenda Morgan:  “Paul and I were both at home watching TV when it happened. That was one of the most devastating and captivating memories I have seen. To this day, I still get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of it and still get teary eyes thinking of the people who died that day. I have a special feeling for the families of those who lost loved ones and empathy for the last thoughts of those who knew it was their last moments.”

Rick Cole:  “I was at home didn’t know anything was going on then Leesa’s grandmother Corra Barr called me and said, ‘turn on your TV, they are a bombing New York.’ So Then I did and saw the most tragic event of my life unfolding like a movie right before my own eyes. I then realized it was really happening like it was and my prayers and thoughts went out to the many that I knew who would not be returning home. I remember praying for those who would not see their daddy, momma, son, daughter, or friend ever again. I then stayed glued to my TV as the unforgettable events happened as I watched in horror and disbelief to what mankind could ever be responsible for causing.”

Brittany Borders: “[I was] sitting in my high school chemistry class watching channel 1.  I heard teachers screaming and running around in the hallway.  They were all in tears and we were clueless until they explained it all to us and we saw it on TV! A day I’ll never forget!”

Kay Barr: “I was in my office at Quitman High School. Bertha Robinson made an announcement on the intercom that we were under attack and needed to pray. I ran out of my office and was immediately asked by a teacher where my son was (he was stationed in PA at the time) and was he alright. I told her I did not know and was sure he was not in a position to call but knew he would let me hear from him as soon as he could. In my heart I was anxious to hear from him but at the time I had a school to calm down. While well intended, the announcement caused mass panic and I was going room to room trying to calm frightened students and teachers. It was a day that all of America will never forget. Images emblazoned in our mind forever…pain we will never forget!”

Gary Dison:  “I was driving to Shreveport to a doctor appointment. An announcement on the radio sounded like the Orson Wells announcement from years ago! I realized it was a real and current thing that was happening — not the famous Wells announcement !! We walked in the doctor office just as the second tower was hit. There wasn’t a sound from the office full of patients watching the television. Following the doctor appointment, we went to Strawn’s across from Centenary . The owner got a phone call and said “all streets are blocked because he is landing at Barksdale right now”!! He being President Bush and Air Force One. Getting out of town was challenging due to blocked streets. The entire day seemed unreal.”

Brad Dison:  “I was a cop working the day shift in Jonesboro.  Another officer and I had just heard on the radio that an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers when we received a call that a man, we’ll call him George, had stolen a case of beer and a Pittsburg Steelers cap from a local gas station.  I assumed, like most people, that it was an accident with a small, private airplane. We located George walking down the street with the beer and the cap.  When we spoke to George, he was angry because the cashier refused to give him change for his $20 bill.  George seemed to be confused.  We put him in one of the cop cars and we returned to the gas station.  The cashier said George paid with an imaginary $20 bill and demanded change.  We only got bits and pieces of the story because we were trying to determine what to do to help George.  When we arrived with George back at the police department, the Chief of Police had the news on.  He told us that one of the Twin Towers had collapsed.  I thought he had misunderstood and explained that a small airplane had struck one of the towers.  He told me to look at the TV and told us that both towers had been struck by separate jets.  Using split-screen, the news station replayed footage of the planes striking the buildings and of the first tower collapsing on one side and live footage on the other.  Suddenly, we heard the news anchors sighing in disbelief as the second tower collapsed.  We were all stunned but we still had to help George.  Based on a local psychiatric evaluation, the doctor determined that George needed to be transported to a hospital in Shreveport/Bossier.  With the flip of a coin, we determined that the other officer would transport George.  I had to go back on patrol.  I listened to the news on the radio and the police radio for the rest of my shift.  Almost every car I met for the remainder of the shift was filled with people with their mouths wide open and the look of shock on their faces.  They were obviously listening to the news on the radio.  Lots of people pulled over on the side of the road to listen to the news.  I received no more emergency calls on that shift.  Over the police radio, I heard that parents were flocking to one of the local schools to check their children out of school early because they were concerned.  At the time I thought that was uncalled for.  Now that I’m a parent, I understand their concerned.  The only other memorable police call I heard that morning was from the Sheriff’s Department.  The Sheriff’s Department received reports that small web-like things were falling from the sky.  I wondered, as I’m sure they were too, if this was another part of the terrorist attack.  As I patrolled through Jonesboro, I watched the skies for aircrafts of any kind and of web-like things falling from the sky.  A short while later, a deputy determined that the web-like things were a natural occurrence which had to do with spiders.  We were all hypersensitive and in shock.  9/11 was certainly the strangest day I ever worked as a police officer.  Five years later, I went to New York and visited Ground Zero.  Visiting the site was a touching experience.” 

Join the conversation and tell your story.  Comment on this story and tell us what were you doing when you heard about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? How did you learn about the attacks?  How did it affect your day?     

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