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Local readers recall Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
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Local readers recall Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

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We asked readers to share their memories of Sept. 11 and what they think we've learned since then. Here are some of their responses.

• • •

On September 11, 2001, I was at work. I worked at Carolina Thrift. We had TVs there for sale. They were on so customers could see that they worked. Someone heard about the attacks and told us. We all headed to the TVs and watched with horror. Then I went home and watched with disbelief.

In 1980 I went on a one-day trip to New York City. We flew in and spent the day. I went into one of the towers. Rode up to the top. What a view.

In 2001, I was scheduled to go on a four-day trip to New York. That was canceled of course. It was rescheduled for 2002. So I did get  to go back to New York. This time, I got to see the footprint of the towers.

A few years ago, I went on another trip to New York. This was another one-day trip with Holiday Tours. This time I got to see the new memorial and the new tower. What a sight. So I've seen the original towers, the footprint of them and the new tower. I consider myself very lucky to have done all this.

I have a few 9/11 things. A book, a flag with victims' names on it, a little knickknack with the towers that lights up and a T-shirt from Mayberry days that year that says "Mayberry remembers 9-11."

As was said about 12-7-41, 9-11-2001 will live in infamy.

— Phyllis Rollins, Greensboro

• • •

September 8, 2001, on a beautiful crystal clear day, my late husband and I set out for a 16-day guided tour of Turkey. Taking off from JFK, we saw the World Trade Center Twin Towers. My husband and I looked at each other and agreed that was a magnificent sight.

Landed in Istanbul on September 9th. Proceeded with our coach tour with Canadians and Americans. All very exotic and wonderful.

On Tuesday the 11th, we were in a silk market about 4 p.m. local time. A store clerk informed that a plane had hit one of the towers. He had a small TV in his shop.

On the coach our tour guide told us about the attack and it was no accident.

We were all in shock. Later, at our hotel in Ankara, all the TVs in the lobby and our rooms were turned to CNN International or the BBC. We were up all night, just watching.

The next day, stunned and frightened, wanting to get home, we were informed about NO flights home. Also, if we left the tour we would be on our own. Proceeded with the tour with hundreds of calls home from the group. We had extra police protection at all our stops.

The whole of Turkey seemed to be grieving with us.

September 24th, finally arrived at the Greensboro airport and into the waiting arms of our son and daughter.

— Rita T. Minick, Randleman

• • •

It was a beautiful morning. The sky was clear blue. The air felt like fall. We had flown to NY on Monday 9/10.

It was our regular Sept. buying trip for a major retailer I was buying for at the time. We were staying at the Novotel on 54th and Broadway. Our vendor meeting was at 8:30 on Tues morning at 1441 Broadway at 41st St. It was a group buy with 9 other buyers and management from other divisions. I got there at 8:15. The vendor was a prestige brand so they had a kitchen and servers.

We were eating breakfast and discussing business, when one of the servers came to our table and quietly said, we just heard on the radio that something terrible is happening. A plane has flown into the World Trade Center. Call your families immediately and let them know you are OK. I called my loved ones, not knowing that would be the only call I would be able to make. Shortly after that phone lines were jammed and went down. We were moved down to a lower floor for our safety. We heard sirens, sirens, and more sirens. A large TV was rolled into the room. It was surreal to think that what we were watching was only a mile and 1/2 away. We could not leave because it was too dangerous outside.

Finally at 6 pm everyone thought it would be safe to go back to the Novotel. Our management wanted everyone to meet there.

What was outside was apocalyptic. There was a thick coating of dust, debris, and paper blowing up Broadway. We were the only people on the street, no cabs, no other people, nothing.

We locked arms moving as one up the street terrified.

The hotel lobby was full of people, most in shock, some had been at ground zero.

Our corporate office was trying to get us out of the city, but the city was in lockdown. We slept 4 to 6 people to a room for safety and comfort.

Somehow, someway the next morning, the company got 2 buses into the city to take us home. It was a 12 hr trip including stops for bomb searches under the bus. But we made it home.

Epilogue:

One week later I was back on a plane to complete my orders. Myself, the designer buyer, and 2 other people were the only ones on the plane. We flew into an armed state at LaGuardia. Military guards everywhere. Guns, bomb sniffing dogs, and riot gear.

This trip was even more heart breaking. People were handing out flyers of their missing loved ones. They covered fences, telephone poles, and on tee shirts ... faces everywhere.

All those lives lost on that fateful day in Sept.

— Susan Shope, Eden

• • •

My husband and I were in Konstance, Germany when 9/11 happened. Our group came into the hotel from a tour and we turned on CNN and saw the plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center.

We were scheduled to leave for the U.S. in a couple of days. Of course, all flights were canceled. People were very kind. Some said "today we are all Americans." The hotel said we could keep our rooms as long as we needed them. The Cathedral had a service for us and then a public service, which was packed.

The next day our tour director decided we should drive to Frankfurt so as to be there whenever we were allowed to fly. The airport was overwhelmed with people sleeping on the floor or any place they could find.

Our flight was the first one allowed to leave, only because they were flying a group of soldiers to Washington to help out at the Pentagon, which of course, had also been attacked. Only the soldiers and those of us who had originally been booked on that flight were allowed on the plane, which was the first one allowed to fly out of Frankfurt.

Flying across the ocean to my country which had been attacked was the most surreal feeling I have ever had.

When we finally got to Dulles Airport, which is usually very busy, it was almost empty. They allowed a Pentagon bus to come in and pick up the soldiers, and then a McLean, Virginia, community bus come and pick our tour group up.

I will never forget the effect all of this had on me.

— Phyllis Encinias, Colfax

• • •

On September 11, I was teaching a class of 7th graders. The bell was about to ring for students to change classes. A colleague of mine came into the room and whispered, "A plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York, and the government thinks it is a terrorist's attack."

I couldn't believe it. I thought he was joking. The bell rang and students left the classroom. We turned on the TV, and there for all America to see was a video of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. Later in the day as the news reports came out, I discovered that the Pentagon was also a target. Like most Americans, I was shocked and devastated by the carnage from the attacks.

What have we learned? We cannot take our democracy for granted. To protect our freedoms, we have to defend and fight those who intend to destroy us from the outside; more importantly, to defend and stand against the forces within the United States that are intent on destroying our democracy in order to have an autocratic government where they see the world as an all white-Anglo-Saxon purity. I hope I never see again an attack on our Capitol as I saw on January 6. It is unconscionable.

— Diane Howdeshell, Greensboro

• • •

I was supposed to be at home in Greensboro that day, recovering from a fabulous trip to Greece. However, our flight out of New York the previous afternoon of Sept. 10th was canceled due to weather and we spent the layover in LaGuardia Airport to fly out the next morning. On Sept. 11th, we boarded our flight around 8 a.m. ... happy to end a miserable night in the airport and happy to be on the last leg of the trip to Charlotte.

About 15 minutes before landing, our pilot delivered the first of four messages to this plane load of unaware passengers. We were first told of a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. Strange and tragic we thought. After some seconds, his second message was delivered regarding the second tower and it removed pilot error as the cause. This was sinking in a little at a time to allow us to process the scale of this tragedy. The following messages revealed the towers' collapse and the Pentagon. To make nerves worse, there was a fourth plane still in the air at that time which appeared to have the White House as target.

One could have heard a pin drop, except for my heart beat and rapid breathing! At that point, we were told that we had not immediately landed in the closest airport as other flights had been instructed to do but followed instructions to tail another plane thought to have been hijacked, too. That explained the different flight plan that someone has remarked on and the not-so-friendly attendants that we had observed, not knowing they were trying so hard to maintain professionalism and deal with their own terror they couldn't share. I'm sure each passenger had been scrutinized for any signs of potential threat.

Our instructions were to disembark as quickly as possible, exit the airport with no baggage. We could not tarry at the TVs in the airport which were absolutely inundated with waiting, now stranded passengers. Our first information came from the person who was picking us up and his car radio. How easily one of those hijacked flights could have been mine! Just by fate, I was on the last flight out of that NYC airport and one of just a few that got its passengers to their destination. How very grateful I was for a safe landing. How grateful I was to the flight crew who performed under enormous stress. How sad I was for the loss of humanity that day. I was truly leaving a world we had known heading to Greece and returning to a completely changed world beginning on Sept. 11, 2001.

The tragedy of that day is seared in my memory with my feelings of disbelief, fear, loss, helplessness and gratitude delivered by the calm, grateful voice of my pilot. I can still hear his voice.

— Marty Outlaw, Greensboro 

• • •

Walking through an Army motorpool we got the news and started locking down post as soon as the second plane hit. Sadly, the last few years have done more damage to this country than 9-11 could ever match. We are no longer the nation holding strong in the face of tragedy, we are a divided nation that trades lives for votes. In our desire to ensure "freedom" we have neutered our ability to demand integrity. Truth always takes a back seat to party and our national honor has suffered to a point it may never recover.

Americans need to recognize that remembering tragedies inflicted on this country are meaningless if we fail to prevent the tragedies we inflict on ourselves. Learn to value truth, have empathy for our countrymen, allow ourselves to be corrected and to self-correct, and not allow fear to overrun our honor and common sense.

America is different today than it was then, and will be different tomorrow than it is today. We are well on our way to allowing everything this country could and should be to dissolve into a quagmire of partisan rhetoric, lies and demagogues vying for power. When it is finally gone, when democracy fails, this attack would have happened to a country that no longer exists and we will have disgraced anyone that had ever given their life for it.

— Tim Jackowicz, Archdale

• • •

On September 11, 2001, Dr. Sam Sue and my husband, Woody Underwood–Physician Assistant, with Greensboro Orthopedics, were in Honduras on a medical mission. They had gone there with medical supplies to help treat and perform surgery on the native Indians there. They were in a remote location and heard about the crashes by ham radio. What was supposed to be a seven-day mission turned into 10 days.

Dr. Sue’s wife, Cecelia, and I were in contact with each other daily, wondering how and when they could get home. Finally, Woody and Dr. Sue were able to call us by satellite phone. They were flown from Ahuas to San Pedro Sula to wait for a flight to Texas. After waiting three days at a hotel, they were able to fly to the United States. The Honduran Protective Force was on high alert — they confiscated some toothpicks Woody had in his pocket! TOOTHPICKS!

When they arrived in Greensboro, Mrs. Sue and I were at the airport to welcome them home. Needless to say, they were thankful to be back, but were saddened by the attack on our country.

Dr. Sue passed away in 2016, and Woody and I attended the visitation. When Mrs. Sue saw us, we hugged and talked for several minutes about the ordeal all of us had gone through. We will never forget what happened to our country on that day and will forever be thankful to the good Lord for bringing our husbands home safely.

— Becky M. Underwood, Greensboro

• • •

I traveled with my staff to the General Services Administration Supply Depot in Burlington, NJ. On 9/11 we were in a meeting with the Depot GM and his staff. He received a text alert that a plane had struck the North Tower, 20 minutes later he received another alert that another plane struck the 2nd tower. It was not long after the 2nd alert that he got an emergency request for 10,000 body bags. The depot was locked down and security measures were put in place.

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Midafternoon we left to get something to eat. A co-worker was in a wheelchair, I went into the establishment to ask if there was a ramp to get in. The bartender said no but 2 guys went out and carried Bobby in his chair up the stairs. They said “stay as long as you want, we will take him back down.” That was the first time we got to see all of the news reports.

We left the depot late afternoon to go to our hotel. We stopped at the light at the Jersey Turnpike and watched lines of first responders turn on the turnpike for NY. Everyone honked, waved and, I’m sure, cried like we did.

We left Burlington 2 days later for DC. There was a flag draped on every bridge we went under. When we got back to DC and saw the Pentagon, I pulled over on I-95, we got out and cried — again. The country was one back then.

— Nancy Holecek, Greensboro

• • •

The shock and horrors of 9-11-2001 will forever remain vivid in my mind and heart. The world changed dramatically that day 20 years ago.

In subsequent years I deliberately scheduled lumbar spine surgery in 2002 and a knee replacement in 2018, each on September 11th. I wanted to have some positive thoughts for that date to reflect about annually in the future. Thank you to Dr. Jeff Jenkins and Dr. Matt Olin for improving my quality of life. September 11th will always be a special date for me, evoking a wide range of emotions. At least I now have a few pleasant associations for that dreadful date in history.

— Helen Ullrich, Greensboro

• • •

I flew over NY City with a clear view of the Twin Towers at 8am on September 11. The weather was so good the pilot said he would be surfing later in the day.

I landed in Boston about 8:30am, soon to hear airports in NY and Boston were closing. In the rush to board a car rental shuttle, I saw the second tower hit, on a big screen TV, mind-numbing.

No cell service, my family was on edge, but I was safe. I kept trying to process emotions for those victims and their families, I just felt brain dead, but also lucky and fortunate, the kind of day that really will never go away.

— Bill McKenzie, High Point

• • •

Paul and Maxine Bradley and Carol and I were on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Chicago when it was announced that the flight was being diverted to Nova Scotia due to "institutional terrorism" in the States. Flight attendants were spaced throughout the plane, carefully observing the passengers. Few, if any, passengers then had cell phones. A passenger who was on the plane phone when the evens occurred, was asked not to disseminate information to other passengers, apparently for fear of panic.

A subsequent announcement advised that the Nova Scotia airport was full and that we would be landing in Montreal. A third announcement advised that the main Montreal airport was full and the plane would land at a nearby "freight airport." As planes landed, they were spaced a thousand feet or so apart. We were off-loaded to a shuttle bus and passengers and carry on luggage were checked by security and bomb-sniffing dogs. Checked luggage was placed on the runway and also examined by security. At the terminal, we used our phone card to notify family that we were safe. Carol loaned our phone card to a German lady so she could notify her family. In gratitude, she broke into tears.

All local accommodations had been filled by other passengers. We were bused to a ski resorts two hours north of Montreal. It was off-season for the resort and it was being opened to accommodate passengers.

The next day, September 12, the airline announced that passengers had the option of returning to Frankfurt or bused to Chicago. We quickly decided to make our plans and fortunately got ahead of the travel complications. By phone, we made rental car reservations for pick up in Montreal. At five a.m. on the September 13, we took a cab for the two hour ride to Montreal and picked up the rental car. Vehicles were being thoroughly checked at the U.S. - Canadian border. After hearing our Southern accents, and a quick look in the trunk, we were waived through. I suppose we did not fit the profile of terrorists. It was necessary to stop in Albany, NY to exchange the Canadian vehicle for a US vehicle. Frequently changing drivers (except for Carol who had left her drivers licenses at home, a mistake she swore never to repeat), we drove straight through and arrived in Greensboro at 4 a.m. on September 14 — very tired, but very, very grateful travelers.

— George Coggin, Greensboro

• • •

Although I lived in Greensboro, I was working in Peoria, IL that week. I was getting ready that morning and had the TV on, but not really paying attention. I noticed a plane flying into a building and stopped, curious about what I was seeing. I went downstairs to the training room and met my co-trainer, curious if he had seen the news. Participants came into the training room in shock. My co-trainer and I decided to continue the training as scheduled, but gave participants permission to do what they needed to take care of themselves. By Thursday night, I had a rental car; I had an ticket on Northwest Airlines – the only airline that had resumed flying; and I had extended my hotel reservation in case I couldn’t leave. Friday, when I got to the ticket counter at the airport, the agent recommended that if I had a car I should drive. She said she could not guarantee that the flight would not be canceled or that I wouldn’t get stuck in Detroit. I thanked her profusely for helping me make my decision. You see, my mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in June. Her youngest sister, already in the hospital, had died on 9/11/01 (not connected to the terrorist attacks). When the events of 9/11 happened, I was reminded of how quickly things can change without notice. I was determined to get home. My mother died on 10/21/01. Along with my sisters, I was by her side.

— Carla Sockwell Morgan, Greensboro

• • •

Who can forget that day? My friend and I had planned to leave early for a few days at the coast. We were packing the car when she remembered her pillow, and went back inside to get it. Minutes later, she motioned from the door for me to come inside. Her husband had called and told her to turn on the TV, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. A retired flight attendant, she was worried for her friends. We watched in horror as the second plane hit the other tower, and immediately realized this could not be just a horrible accident. We began calling friends and family, as news of the attack on the Pentagon and another hijacked plane in the air came on the news. Was our coast being invaded? What next? That afternoon, as news of the events spread, and after we had witnessed the collapse of the towers and watched the chaos in the streets of New York, as people tried to escape the smoke, dust and debris, we felt the need to gather at our church to pray for the victims and for our country. We were obviously under attack. Calls went out, and around 4:00 members and non-members around the community gathered at our church. There were so many unanswered questions; who was doing this and what was to come? We understood that life as we knew it would never be the same.

— Brenda Boyce, Greensboro

• • •

Still as vivid and gut wrenching as it was on the day that it happened. It was one of those picture perfect fall days up and down the East Coast. As such, the pictures from Manhattan that day were as crystal clear as they were unbelievable. We have been to the World Trade Center site in recent years and down into the 9/11 museum, and the memories and feelings of that day just come screaming back as you look at the artifacts. As magnificent as what has risen out of the ashes of 9/11 is, it is still a place of melancholy and mixed emotions for me.

— Charles Edwards, Greensboro

• • •

I was showered, dressed in my uniform and ready to drive to my 11am-7pm shift as an RN at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, on September 11, 2001. Because on this day I was ready early, I turned on my TV to watch the NBC news. Katie Couric announced that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, which she expressed must have been a terrible, tragic pilot error or something else had gone wrong. The TV cameras were on both Trade Center towers. One was smoking, with fierce fiery horror. Then suddenly I saw a plane fly into the second tower. Immediately I felt weak, confused, totally in fear for our country, and asked myself, "are we at war?!" I sat trembling on my couch and started to cry. I had lived in NYC for 8 years in the 1970s and had been in those towers many times. All that I could think about was the people inside those towers, the beloved New Yorkers of my past and the death and destruction. Then I had to compose myself and go to work. It was a very difficult and hard day.

— Mary Lois Brugler, Greensboro

• • •

I remember the maintenance man where I worked came into the office and told us. I knew that during WWII a plane had hit the Empire State Building (maybe not it but a big building in New York City) but it was foggy and weather-related. My first thought was something like that had happened. There was very little work done the rest of the day — we kept going back and watching television.

— Jane Lewis, Burlington

• • •

What have I learned in 20 years since 9-11-01? That the "unity" that we saw, post-9/11 was very short-lived (if we were even truly "unified", at all, that is). Today, the nation is as divided as at no point since the first American Civil War. Hopefully, our bitterly divided nation can come to its senses before history repeats itself.

— Chris Noell, Greensboro

• • •

I asked my husband for a divorce 7 days earlier. My personal crisis paled in comparison.

— Jennifer Ann, Greensboro

• • •

I was attending a meeting at a Northrop Grumman facility on the morning of September 11. Suddenly we were told to evacuate the building with little/no explanation. Only later did I learn about the terrible attack on our country.

Later that afternoon I talked with my son who was a student at the University of Georgia. During our conversation I told him the coming war would be fought by his generation. Little did I know that eight years later he would deploy to Iraq as the S2 (Military Intelligence Office) for an Apache Helicopter Battalion.

Later I found out a good friend who was a pilot for American narrowly missed being the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. He had flown that flight many times as it was considered a good route to work. But when the schedules were released he was not assigned to that flight for that day. He’s now enjoying retirement on the Outer Banks.

— Mike Sigmon, Greensboro

• • •

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was sitting in a hole in the ground that I had just dug to connect underground electrical cables for Duke Power Company. I had my truck parked next to the hole with the radio playing when I heard the news about the plane crashing into the first tower. During the next hours, the event would go from being a tragic accident, to a terrorist attack.

My 19-year-old son had been killed in a car accident nine months earlier and everything that I experienced was still being filtered through the lens of that loss. He had talked with a “marine corps” recruiter the day before he was killed and planned to enlist. On September 11th, I remember thinking, “at least he won’t have to be in the middle of all of this.”

— Mark Cable, Whitsett

• • •

My experience of September 11 was somewhat surreal. I departed Detroit aboard a Northwest flight on the afternoon of September 10th bound for Narita, Japan. We were flying over Canada when the pilot announced that we could be delayed by diversion to Alaska to refuel. When I was stretching my legs in the forward aisle (between coach and business), I met one of the pilots and asked why we were diverting to Alaska. He said that Russia had suddenly closed their airspace to commercial traffic and we needed to fly the long way across the Pacific instead of over the top. I asked if this was unusual and he told me it is unusual to be without warning in advance. It turned out that the pilot determined there was adequate fuel to reach Japan but our arrival was delayed several hours and I missed my connecting flight to Taipei. I went into the terminal to make flight arrangements for the next day and saw the video of the first crash into the World Trade Center on a lounge TV monitor and assumed it was a movie. It wasn’t until I called home that I learned of the true nature of the tragedy. When I finally arrived at my hotel I was able to find CNN on TV in time to see the second crash. I was very upset by the attack but powerless to act or even support my family.

The next morning I caught an early flight to Taipei (there were no flight restrictions yet) and reached my hotel just before a historic typhoon struck the island. For three days the typhoon ravaged the island and I was lucky to be near the coast because the inland flooding was horrific. When I was finally able to meet with people, I was quizzed about the attack and what I thought of it. It was hard to grasp the panic felt around the world and my feelings of being isolated from my family and countrymen.

— Don Henza, Greensboro

• • •

I remember it was my 4th year wedding anniversary. I was getting ready for college and my husband walked in the door from work and seen the look of terror on my face. It hurt my heart.

— Gretta Rawlison 

• • •

I remember sitting at my home desk listening to the news that morning in I believe Fox8 and turning my head at the TV just as they were showing the second tower being hit and then running to my bathroom and throwing up then crying for the loss of lives that one knew was going to be a large number, I know very many people were in dire shock I started to dig deep into my memory of friends that I had living in NY and if any of them worked at the trade center, thankfully no we all became united that day and now 20 years later look at how united we are, sad very sad... We aren't honoring those who perished that day for sure we need to truly honor each and every soul that was taken that day and say a prayer for the families left behind that are without their loved one.

— Joy Stone-Stoll

• • •

I remember it was the impetus for the Patriot Act, which effectively removed U.S. freedoms.

— Josephine Sorenson, Hayti, South Dakota

• • •

On September 11, 2001, little did I know, my life would change forever.

A nurse burst through the doors to my operating room and shouted:

"Doctor, Doctor! Please Hurry! You need to finish your surgery!"

Speed up my surgery, why? I thought to myself.

All flustered, and yet trying not to interrupt, she continued: “A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers.”

While still focusing on the task at hand - I wondered, on this gorgeous, crystal clear Tuesday morning, who in the world would be reckless enough to accidentally hit one of the Towers?

Back to work to finish as quickly as possible, but no quicker. After finishing the surgery, I ran down to the lobby to get a glimpse of the news. A second plane just crashed into the other Tower. Oh my God, this is no accident, this is an attack! I immediately called my family and friends.

— Dr. Kathy Reilly Fallon, Westchester, New York

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