Chris Murtha, Wethersfield: I was living in NYC at the time, and would connect my subway line at the WTC everyday. I can still remember everything about that morning. It was a bright blue sky, fall crispness in the air, and I was on my way to Newark airport for my United Airlines flight to California.
I had a connecting flight in Chicago, and around 9:00 the plan started turning around to head back to O'Hare. The pilot announced that management told them they needed to return to Chicago, not further explanation was given. Everyone was annoyed because of how this threw a wrench in their plans for the day. Then a few minutes later, the pilots announced that the FAA has ordered them to land at the closest airport (St. Louis) due to "sabotage" in NY. There was no panic on the plane, just confusion and conversation amongst passengers speculating on what that meant.
I called my office in NYC and got a recorded message that the building was evacuated due to an emergency. I then called a colleague in San Diego (a former New Yorker) who's first words were, "Thank God you're alive. No one knew which plane you were on. New York is being attacked and they're crashing planes into buildings!" Like a scene out of a movie, I felt like the terminal was spinning around me like I was the only one in terminal who just found out. Then someone was able to turn on a TV, and everyone crowded around to see the first tower fall. Then the terminal became more chaotic with screams, frantic phone call attempts to NY, and disbelief.
I was able to get through to my sister-in-law who was working in midtown, and she let me know that she and my brother were OK. I was able to reach my parents in CT to relay the news, to their obvious relief. It was a few days before I was able to get through to all of my NYC friends (and DC friends), who fortunately were OK.
I ended up driving home with my boss back to NY, getting back on the 14th (he had driven from Las Vegas to St. Louis). The drive across the country was strange - roads more desloate, random American flags hanging on overpasses, and little conversation as we were glued to the radio. When I finally made it home, there was a hole in the skyline replaced with billowing smoke and dust, and a unique smell, kind of like burnt rubber, that lasted for weeks.
Phyllis Parizek Benton, (formerly of West Hartford) St. John, US Virgin Islands: In 1990, I moved to West Hartford and, the following spring, we had a tag sale. Our paper boy ended up buying a set of golf clubs from us, and my husband gave him the deal of the century. We would see the young man practicing with the clubs on his lawn down the street. It was a wonderful neighborhood with a special kind of innocence.
Ten years later, the towers came down. It was a clear, beautiful day, and we had planned to go to the beach. Instead, we went to the local Red Cross center in Farmington to help out however possible. After several days of volunteering, I was asked to call the families of missing Conn. residents to tell them about available mental health services. Many of these people waited anxiously as I spoke, hoping I would have positive news about their missing loved one. It was so, so sad. I remember those calls, and what some of the people told me. One woman spoke as a child made noise in the background. "I have a young child, and I have to hold it together for her." Another woman, who sounded older, was waiting for news of her husband; it was clear she was all alone. I made the calls, left the Red Cross that day and never went back. There was a palpable sadness everywhere and an eerie quietness. I remember hearing about cars left at train stations in Connecticut. The owners never came back.
That weekend -- in the midst of sadness and unbearable heartbreak -- I could hear children playing in our neighborhood. It was a pool party; I assumed it might be a child's birthday; perhaps the family went ahead with the party, even in this terrible time, so the child would not be disappointed. As I drove by, I saw a neighbor. "They're celebrating because their son got out of the World Trade Center." I was eager to speak with the young man who had escaped; he appeared to be in his mid-20s. He told me he had been in the second tower; when the all-clear was given, he decided to stay with a friend on a lower-floor cafeteria and finish a cup of coffee. They worked up above the 80th floor. Shortly afterward, the building shook as the second plane hit. Because of their simple decision to stay put on one of the lower floors, he and his friend lived; many of his coworkers had returned to their office and ended up dying. When his building was hit, he ran out and kept running uptown. I asked him, "What did you think?" He said he thought they were being bombed.
I was so thrilled to meet with this survivor, especially after knowing that so many people, including the loved-ones of those I had spoken to several days earlier, would never return. I had a paper American flag in the rear window of my car, and I gave it to the young man. He placed on the door of his mother's house. He told me he had wanted a flag, but it was hard to find any in stores. The whole country seemed united and very patriotic.
That night, as I continued to try to process everything that had happened in the past few day, I began to wonder -- was this young man our former paperboy? I mentioned it to my husband who said he doubted it. Months later, as I rounded the corner on our street, I had my answer. It was a Wednesday evening, when people put out their trash along with "valuables" -- items they no long needed but which others might find useful. The young man's mother was now moving, and they were cleaning things out. There on the curb sat the now well-worn set of golf clubs that my husband had sold to our paper boy so many years ago. I almost could not breathe.
I know that the entire country mourned the World Trade Center attack, but somehow this event -- so senseless and unfair -- seems more personal to people in our neck of the woods. I believe it always will be. I also know that, as memories of 9/11 fade for some, I will always remember it like yesterday.
Jim, Bristol: I worked for a bank that had an ATM machine at the top of the WTC. I know someone used their card right before the first plane hit. I have always wondered who it was, and what happened to them. If their loved ones knew they were at the top. Also, one of the armored car drivers lost his life in the building.
J. Morton, Somers: My memory of September 11th was getting my middle child ready for her preschool open house. My mother called and told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and that I should turn on the TV. By that time, the second plane had hit and I remember being glued to the TV in disbelief. I wasn't sure if I should bring my daughter to the open house, but we went anyway. While at the open house, another mother came in and told us that a third plane was missing. At that point, I remember being nervous for the safety of my children. I knew our country was being attacked and really didn't know what was coming next. I left the open house and went straight to my eldest child's school to bring her home. I guess I just felt better having all of my children home with me. It was a scary time for our country.
That Tuesday started out to be a startlingly beautiful day: sunny, blue, and clear. I was proud of myself because I had just managed to get an unwanted sofa out to the street, all by myself.
I headed for the health club. I was in the hot tub, when the water aerobics teacher started voicing alarm. She had been watching a TV nearby at the entry desk.
Quickly I got out and went to the TV. As I watched, I said to myself: "Are they trying to scare us? They certainly are succeeding." The news was getting worse and worse.
A short time later I went to my sister's house. One had to be with family at a time like this.
(Coincidentally, I had been at the health club, when news of the Oklahoma bombing broke some years earlier.)
Never would life be the same again. The only thing I can compare it to is my reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy. Then too there was a quantum change of perception.