GREENSBURG — On this day 20 years ago the world changed forever.
Four commercial planes were hijacked by terrorists – one careening into the Pentagon, one crashing in a woody glade in Pennsylvania, and two slamming into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, causing the tallest buildings in New York City to collapse into a snarled mess of steel, stone, brick and ravaged bodies.
Many remember the time and the place in their lives when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot. Many remember the day Nixon resigned. And many remember of the day the Twin Towers fell.
“I worked night shift as a security guard and was going through EMT training at the time,” said Greensburg Fire Chief Nathan Stoermer. “Mom called me and said, ‘Turn on the tv.’ And like everybody else, I was glued to the TV from then on.”
Stoermer, who was 17 at the time, said the logistics of the rescue was what held his attention.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that there are people working today that have no idea what 9/11 was.”
Airline pilot Wayne AmRhein has worked for American Airlines for 32 years. He was flying for U.S. Airways September 11, 2001, from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh.
“I was First Officer on a 737, and we got a message that two airplanes had hit the World Trade Center,” he said. “We didn’t find out until they closed down the entire country’s airspace, and told us we had to land. As we were cleared to land in Akron, the tower controller told us that the first Tower had collapsed. We just didn’t know what to make of it, and the full story didn’t hit us until we were on the ground. ... As we got inside, we looked at the news. We went to a hotel depressed and were stuck there for three days.”
AmRhein said everything related to his career has changed since then.
Greensburg Assistant Fire Chief Brian Wenning’s experience on that day is similar to many others, but his insights are unique and poignant.
“I came on at 6 in the morning at the firehouse, and we were going to spend the day training,” he said “Before we left the station for the training we heard the announcement that a small plane had hit the towers, and I felt bad for the firemen because they were having to run up and down 90 floors of steps. Then we heard that a plane hit the second tower and it was then that it sank in that this was not just a bad day. ... We finally heard that the second tower had collapsed. It didn’t sink in until then how many firemen had died as well, and it just made me sick.”
Then Wenning said something curious: “I never want to have another 9/11, but I would love to have a 9/12. Nowadays, you see nothing on television but people arguing about so many things, but on that day we were all the same political viewpoint. We were brothers united in the face of something horrible. You’ve never seen so many come together as they did on 9/12. We were all together praying and rallying for our country. I would never want another 9/11, but I would truly give anything if we could again be like we were on 9/12.”
The Daily News also reached out via our Facebook page and asked visitors to share their memories from 20 years ago today. A few of those responses follow.
Debbie Tilley: I was called by my brother who told me to turn the TV on immediately. About 3 minutes after turning on the Today Show, I watched the second plane hit live on TV as I’m sure many others did. Katie Couric started to scream before realizing they were live on air. It was the saddest thing to watch her break down, be terrified and have to put all that aside to become the professional news anchor again. I got in my car, got my daughters from school, and sat in front of the TV for the next 48 hours scared, wondering what would happen next. I will never forget that day. When the first tower started to fall live on air, my first thought was OMG those fireman are in there! There’s people in there! And I started praying even harder.
Lori Durbin: I was working that morning on a cardboard bookmobile for the Library’s participation in the upcoming fall parade. It was so surreal to design, cut, and paint all while watching the footage. I remember it was hard to see through my tears as I watched the Towers fall. I was worried about what might come next and I had a need to connect with my children to be sure they were safe. It was impossible to fathom the loss of life and to understand what changes this act of terrorism would have on our world.
Brad Sefton: I was in Jr. High at the time. Looking back, I wish more teachers would have allowed us to watch the coverage that day. A few did, but most didn’t. It was the moon landing, Berlin Wall type event for my generation. Coverage of the recovery efforts was heartbreaking, but seeing FDNY guys raise a flag over ground zero and seeing the cross that was left standing in the I-beams were two unforgettable moments. The unity of the nation and patriotism was great in the days that followed. President Bush throwing out a pitch at Yankee Stadium during the World Series was symbolic of our strength as a nation.
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