No one spoke a word. We all sat, riveted in the TV screen in the corner of our classroom. I looked out the window and saw my math teacher in the hallway crying, screaming actually, while other teachers tried to comfort her. I heard shouting down the hall, but not angry shouting. The confusion was palpable. We all knew something was happening, but what did it mean? Are we at war?
Shortly before 9 a.m. our principal had made an announcement and most teachers had put the news on. I remember thinking “this isn’t good. It’s too big to hide from us, so they’ll show us.” The reports were confused at first. A plane, no a missile (or was it an explosion?) had just hit one of the twin towers. A girl in the back of the room recognized her childhood home in the live feed, an apartment high-rise where she grew up in Manhattan. She wondered out loud if maybe her Uncle was OK. We now know that at 8:46 in the morning, the hijacked American Airlines flight 11 collided with the North Tower at over 400 mph.
“My boss told me when I stopped in at work,” Simcoe recalls. “He said we are at war, we just got attacked, and I said ‘Yeah, OK.’”
“It wasn’t until I got in my car and heard it on every station. Then it finally sunk in,” Simcoe said.
It was a sickening sensation, to sit and watch helplessly- hopelessly- as we were brutally attacked. Being high school students we didn’t understand what was really happening. There was no context for something like this, and it made it harder to see. The phone in the classroom rang, causing some kids to jump at the sudden sound… I don’t think anyone felt safe that morning. Our science teacher, Mr. P, was retired military and still active in the reserves to some degree. The call was direct from his commanding officer and he was ordered to report, immediately, for duty at his home base for deployment. All he said was “yes, sir.” No questions, no retort. He told us all to be calm, but there was something about the look on his face that allowed it to finally sink in for all of us. It was real, and it was happening. Right now. Being 16, we used to think we could take on the world – but when our source of authority and order showed signs of collapse and outright fear, it was almost too much to bear. Thinking back, I notice that none of us were students or teachers that morning. We were just people, and it almost seemed like the adults were sad for us. Like they knew things would be different for our generation, and they felt pity for us.
Lucas DeSavino, 19, a sophomore at Bloomsburg University, recalled that his elementary school closed and they were sent home.
“We were too young, and they sent us home to be with our families,” said DeSavino. “My parents were both working so I went to a friend’s house. His grandfather was glued to the TV and I couldn’t understand what was going on. He said ‘We are under attack.’”
Some were crying, others were angry, and the rest were in shock. And it wasn’t even over yet… not by a long shot. By noon four planes had been crashed, the Pentagon had been hit, the twin towers (among other buildings in NYC) had collapsed, Manhattan was in lockdown and the FAA landed and halted all flights in the country. And that’s a brief rundown. Quite literally, our illusion of safety had been shattered. The story of Flight 93 and the heroes that stormed the cockpit and crashed the plane rather than let it be used to kill more Americans had begun to form in the facts and data that were being reported.
When asked to estimate the number of casualties, a tired-looking Mayor Rudi Guilliani sighed “more than any of us can bear.”
For me, it was a little difficult to write this. I saw people’s grief and sorrow firsthand. The death toll was finally set at 2,977 but has rippled through our country ultimately affecting every single American alive on that day. I am lucky enough to say that I did not lose any loved ones in the attacks, but I (and you) can name several people that were directly scarred by what happened on the morning of September 11 back in 2001.