In their words: Miami Valley residents reflect on fateful day

Many Dayton Daily News readers remember exactly what they were doing when they learned of the terrorist attacks 20 years ago and recall what they did next: check the safety of loved ones and try to make sense of the horror.

We heard from dozens of readers including some who were young when America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, but the day had no less of an affect on their lives.

Following is a collection of their reflections in their words but edited for brevity.

Philip Denlinger Sr., 60, Miamisburg

As I left Bob Evans in Miamisburg after an early morning breakfast meeting, I remember the weather being awesome. It was cool, and the skies were blue and almost cloudless. I headed to work in Franklin, and worked for just a little bit until everything started to unfold on this otherwise beautiful day.

Several of us at work began to watch the images of the first plane crashing into the first World Trade Building. And then 45 minutes later, the next building was hit. Then, the news came that all planes were being grounded and two other rogue planes were missing.

Shortly after, I received a call from my wife, reminding me that my mom and her husband were in Washington, D.C. on vacation. One of the planes was heading there, destination unknown. Capitol? White House? Or Pentagon?

What I didn’t immediately remember was that Mom and her husband had tour reservations of the White House for the first tour of the day at 8:30 a.m. Once my wife reminded me of that, I was glued to the news, waiting to hear something.

At this point in her life, Mom didn’t have a cell phone, so immediate communication was impossible. The White House tour was abruptly cut short, and everyone was quickly rushed outside. Mom and her husband had no idea what was going on; they were given no explanation. Within about 15-20 minutes, they heard an explosion followed by many sirens, which was flight 77 hitting the Pentagon.

Later that day, I thought about our own family trip to New York just five weeks earlier. We toured the World Trade Center with our three young boys. But 9/11 could have been any day, not just on September 11th. We never know the twists and turns that life holds, and what tomorrow will bring. I feel fortunate that we were not there on that fateful day, but often think of the families, who, just like ours, were there that morning, taking the same tour, and falling to their deaths. That could have been us, and the end of our young family.

Beverly Foresee, 77, Washington Twp.

The Saturday before, five women and I traveled to the Dominican Republic and stayed at a time share courtesy of my good friend Debborah. On Sept. 11, we went into town to shop. After a while shopping in a clothing store, one of the workers came over and asked if I was American. I replied in the affirmative and in a sad voice said he was, “so, so sorry.” I just looked at him and he said, “You don’t know?” He took me to a small TV in the corner and there the horror was presented.

I quickly found the others and we all stood on the street talking. We went back to the condos and talked with all the other people.

What was so amazing is when we went into town the next day, every single store, restaurant and bar was displaying American flags in all sizes and the ones who didn’t have flags had red, white and blue ribbons displayed. Everywhere we went people offered their heartfelt sympathy.

The manager said that all planes going into the U.S. were prohibited, however, the next Saturday they allowed us to fly. We could only get a flight from Florida to Atlanta and spent the night on the floor of the airport. The next morning they allowed us to fly to Dayton on an airplane that was only a quarter full.

I will always remember the compassion that the Dominicans displayed toward us.

Gail Forest, 68, Dayton

I was at work so didn’t have access to any TV at that point. But all-of-a-sudden, we heard about it. Folks started talking about one of the towers being hit.

We turned on the radio and computers, to get information. At that point, of course, no one knew what was really happening. But I do recall people that worked for me wanted to get home. And because I worked on base, we were in a situation where we were getting ready to find out whether we were going to go into a lockdown situation or not.

No one knew what was happening, but about an hour or so later, it was indeed something and the base started to raise the force protection con (condition) and made sure that we were safe and secure inside the base.

Everything changed as far as security over the next 20 years. It affected not only those I worked with, but affected everyone around the country, from traveling to becoming aware of your surroundings — to be more alert to what’s going on around you — not taking things for granted.

Linda Fuller-Cross, 71, Xenia

My husband, Gregg, and I were both social studies teachers at Beavercreek High School on that fateful day. My husband’s room was two doors down from mine. He taught advance placement government and was on his conference period. Another teacher met him on the steps and told him about it. He immediately turned on his TV in his classroom and saw what was happening.

I was in the middle of teaching my second period humanities class when he came to my door and called me out into the hall to tell me what had happened. I was in a total state of disbelief.

I went back into my classroom and told the students that we needed to turn on the television. Right after we turned it on, the second plane hit. It was absolutely horrifying and what made it even worse was that we had students from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who had family at the Pentagon. I don’t think that I’ve ever felt so helpless in my life in trying to keep my own emotions intact and also trying to calm the students down.

There was such a somber air when we did the Pledge of Allegiance the next week. Many tears.

I always told my students that patriotism is not something that you can teach, it is something you feel inside. I had learned that from my travels to Eastern Bloc countries, especially Poland. My husband and I witnessed a riot in Poland and got tear gassed while we were trying to take photographs. The Polish people were protesting against the Russian government right in front of our hotel in Warsaw. They brought in riot police and water cannons … very brutal and ugly. That experience made me realize that these people were fighting for something that I have taken for granted all of my life, which is freedom.

Marla Gamble, 72, Riverside

It was a normal morning in my Spanish III class I was teaching at Fairborn High School when suddenly it was not a normal morning. The principal came on the intercom and said we should turn on our televisions to see and hear something, which seemed alarming to me immediately.

There, my students and I stood watching in stunned horror as the unbelievable scenes unfolded and many of us began to shed tears. Due to the fact that many of Fairborn’s students have a parent in the Air Force and could be in the Pentagon at the time of the attack, the decision was quickly made to dismiss the students, and I stood there alone in my classroom watching the television show the horrors of those attacks. I could not move until I heard my name called to come to the office that I had a phone call. It was Karen Wilkes, a former student of mine with whom my husband and I were very close and who lived and worked in NYC. She wanted to let me know that she was alive but had almost been in the lower level of one of the towers running an errand, which she had decided to skip at the last minute as she was running late going to her office in one of the buildings close to Ground Zero. After just speaking to me for a minute, she said she quickly had to evacuate her building.

I went back to stand alone in front of the television in my classroom, still numb but glad to hear Karen was OK. I imagined the horror Karen must be feeling as she fled from the area where the towers were collapsing and people and office materials were falling to the ground near her. I was praying that she would be able to safely evacuate the area, and I later learned from her that she had hurriedly walked or run 35 blocks up Manhattan to a friend’s apartment.

After a while there was a knock at my classroom door. It was a former student of mine named TJ Jackson, who had joined the Marines and worked in military security. From time to time when he was home on leave, he would stop by looking so proud in his Marine uniform to say hello, and I would always stop what I was teaching to have him speak a while to my students. This time, with a stunned look on his face, he asked me, “Where are the students?” He had no idea what had just happened, and I had to tell him the sad and shocking news. He immediately got a serious look on his face, and said, “I must go now. I will be getting called back right away.”

I later imagined what duties he may have been assigned in the wake of the attack and then our invasion of Afghanistan. I never heard again from TJ, but hope he lived a productive life and is now maybe a retired Marine who remembers how he found out about that horrific day.

Dorothy Gilliam, 73, Clayton

I was at work doing employee payroll and the girl from the downstairs copy center came up and said that buildings had been hit in New York. I had a little TV, so I turned it on so we could listen and figure out what was going on.

What was going through my mind was: What was happening, and why was this happening? I didn’t quite understand why somebody would bomb a building. That wasn’t the first time that ever happened. They bombed the building in Oklahoma. But I just couldn’t believe that they would use a plane to run into a building and kill everybody on the plane and possibly everybody in the building. That just shocked me, and it was one of those things that affected all of us in the office.

At the time it happened, everybody came together as one. But that’s what started the decline, I feel, in the separation from different people. It also brought about some discrimination. People were mad about immigrants and just started treating them not correctly. And I don’t understand why we didn’t have a full warning about it.

John Carroll, 69, Oakwood

I was getting ready for my wife Louise’s funeral scheduled for noon at Woodland Cemetery Chapel. She had died Sept. 7, after a long bout with cancer.

My friend Mike, here from Florida to give the eulogy, called me from his hotel to tell me to turn on the TV, that we were under siege. We didn’t’ know if we’d be able to have the funeral, but it took place and actually there was a nice crowd.

Later that afternoon, about 5 p.m., after everyone had left and I was home alone, there was a huge sonic boom. I wondered if we were under attack but thought that would be OK. I was ready to go and be with Louise.

Judy Hamilton, 79, Englewood

I lived close to the airport and I remember how deadly quiet it was as all air traffic had been grounded. The silence was very eerie. I honesty never really felt safe again.

Michael Jayne, 25, Washington Twp.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was a young kid in my hometown of Waverly, an hour and a half southeast, naïve to the horrors about to take place a few hundred miles away.

I remember my teacher being brought a note from one of the school secretaries and a few hushed words were exchanged. A little bit later, I remember the same secretary returning with a second note. My teacher left the room crying and shortly afterwards, my classmates started leaving early as their parents rushed to pick them up. My parents were unable to pick me up early, and I was one of the last students left at school that day.

My mind couldn’t comprehend in the slightest what had happened and I didn’t even have a second thought about it. Later that day while at home, my parents sat me down and tried to explain to me what happened. They had both been in New York City a few weeks prior for a business trip — on top of the World Trade Center even — and had brought me home a snow globe with the towers inside.

They told me that the buildings had fallen down and that “some very bad men did some very bad things and a lot of people went to Heaven.” A child, of course, does not fully understand what that means. I could tell that something bad had happened, but I didn’t understand the impact of that day until many years later.

As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of this tragic event, a question to consider is this: How has this event impacted those individuals who are too young to remember a world before 9/11?

I’ve come to realize that I’m part of an age group that exists as the youngest Americans to have any memory of the attacks, even if it is not a clear or vivid memory. Those who were adults on 9/11 tend to remember exactly where they were when they saw the news footage or heard about the attacks. Those who were older children or teenagers might have memories similar to mine, but their memories are clearer, as they understood to an extent what was happening.

Many younger Americans have grown up in a post-9/11 world, where developments like stricter airport security measures and the U.S. War on Terror have always been a reality. They are unfamiliar with the ways that 9/11 changed the world and everyday life.

When I myself became a teenager with a passion for history, I started to notice this. Having always been fascinated with the events of that day, I’ve discovered many connections, even locally, such as a woman from Mason who died in the World Trade Center - only there for a one-day business meeting; and that Flight 77 and Flight 93, were both hijacked in the skies over Ohio.

Now as an adult, I live in Dayton and work for PSA Airlines. I was forced to see the events of that day through a slightly different lens. Originally hired as a flight attendant, I worked on Sept. 11 of last year with a captain and flight attendant who knew many of the crew members working on the four hijacked planes that morning. Through their stories, as well as my initial training, I developed a greater respect for the eight pilots and 25 flight attendants who died that day — who worked with passengers and ground support up until the very end to protect the civilians they served, and to thwart the hijackers’ plans.

Recently I was promoted to inflight training specialist and teaching new-hire flight attendants about the events of that day is now part of my job — from discussing the heroes of Flight 93 to explaining the creation of TSA and Homeland Security. While some of my students are older than me, many were born after that defining 21st century moment, so while the attack may seem like yesterday to those old enough to remember it, to many young adults, it’s history. 9/11 changed our lives. It changed how we live, how we travel, how we regard foreigners, how we feel about one another. It changed our beloved country and the rest of the world, too. I think it’s important to talk about it and to educate young people about that day because no matter how much time passes, even 20 years later, 9/11 still remains personal.

Jeff Lane, 62, Kettering

The members of my team, Siemens Airports USA, were doing their jobs at airports across the continent. I was working at my computer, with the news on the television, when the first tower was hit. I stopped to watch as the newscaster explained what appeared to be an accidental crash.

When the second tower was struck, my mind began to race. I was the physical security representative on the team and immediately began to run things through my mind. How could this happen? Who as involved? Were my teammates in danger?

The images on the television were horrifying, then the Pentagon was attacked. Airspace was locked down and I immediately began to call the members of the team. I listened as they explained another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. As the towers crashed to the ground my heart was in my throat. So many lives impacted, the sense of helplessness, how can this be happening?

It was a slow, methodical path back to reality, back to capturing my thoughts and beginning to act. We lost one individual in the towers that day. When the ban on flying was lifted, I started making visits to airports to assess security measures in place and make recommendations.

Shortly after 9/11 I began to have physical problems. What I thought was a minor problem turned out to have been a heart attack, I went through a triple bypass at 42 years old. I have a family history of heart issues, my doctor felt that the events of 9/11 escalated the impact. After my release from care, I dove into my work.

Every airport in the country was upgrading security and I was in a position to have a front-row seat.

Richard Mercer, 69, Beavercreek

I was in my office at Wright State University. At the time I was in the habit of daily going to to check on the news. When I did so on this day the response was very sluggish. Then slowly a photo began to fill in of an airplane embedded in the side of a tall building.

At first I struggled to understand how such an accident could have happened. When the second airplane strike was reported, it became clear that they were not accidents. I thought “Oh my God! There are 40,000 people in those buildings,” which was fortunately an overestimate. But I thought that most of them were safe as the planes struck the upper floors, and the buildings appeared structurally sound. It hadn’t occurred to me that large quantities of fuel would ignite, set the buildings on fire, and burn them to the ground. I recall video of people leaping from the buildings. I had not anticipated that the buildings would completely collapse, as I hadn’t thought the fires would be intense enough to melt the metal superstructure.

I do remember that before 9/11 it was very common on airline flights to be able to see into the cockpit, as flight attendants would enter and leave and often talk to the pilots.

Our family had plans for our first visit to Disney World in December 2001, less than three months after 9/11. Airline flights had returned to normal, and although many had cancelled travel plans, I decided we would still go. My thinking was something like: “They can’t kill all of us!” But there was no real danger. I knew that on any day other than 9/11, flying 500 miles was safer than driving to the airport.

Gail Moddeman, 78, Beavercreek

I was at a faculty meeting at WSU and the secretary came in and announced the tragedy. Our son is a commercial pilot! His phone was shut down. At 3 p.m., one of his friends from Carroll High School got through and called us. Mark had to set down in Memphis not Houston Bush as planned. What a terrifying experience not knowing where our son was.

Mary Nielsen, 64, Franklin Twp.

It was a few minutes after 8 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk with my head spinning. I had just gotten off the phone with my sister. She called to tell me that my dad was dying, and we needed to get Hospice involved. The doctor said he may have three to six months to live.

Being the director and a teacher for a nursery school/preschool I had a job to do. So I tried to put my feelings aside for the time being. It was the first day of school for my incoming Nursery School class and class would start at 9 o’clock. I would be working with one of my regular staff members and a substitute, as one of my instructors had a death in the family and wouldn’t be working for the first week of school. I took a deep breath and went about preparing to welcome my new little ones to their new school.

As expected, lots of parents arrived early with their children. The classroom was abuzz. By 9 o’clock our class was underway. A few minutes later the executive director came into my classroom and pulled me aside to tell me of a tragic incident at the World Trade Center. A plane, presumably a small one, had hit one of the towers. What a horrible accident, I thought, but I had a room full of 3-year-olds that needed every bit of my attention.

What seemed like just a moment or two later, he came into my classroom again, with the news of the second tower being hit. Now I had an entirely different thought. Those two events couldn’t possibly be co-incidental accidents. Yet again, I had students who needed my undivided attention so the director left.

Normally, the first day or two of a nursery or preschool class there are usually a student or two shedding some tears, but my staff and I marveled at the fact that we had no children who were crying. They all seemed calm.

As we settled the children down with their snacks, the director called me into a conference room. Another plane had hit the Pentagon, and another plane came down in Pennsylvania. My head started spinning again. My husband worked in the aviation industry. Our daughter was four hours away at college. Our son was at his high school. My Dad was dying.

I’m not quite sure how anyone got through that day. I do know that without the kindness, caring, and professional attitude of the two women working with me that day, we did make it through — together.

By the end of the week, I was able to put plans in place for me to be able to leave my classes in very capable hands. I drove to join my parents and siblings on Saturday, Sept. 15th.

My Dad spent his last few days, his last few hours at home, on this earth, watching what seemed to be the world crumbling around him, and us. I think it was just too much for him.

He died on Sept. 18.

Michael Nugent, 58, Huber Heights

I was living in Beavercreek at the time and was a fulltime volunteer with the Red Cross … I got assigned to Shanksville and they booked a flight the next morning, the 12th, but of course there were no flights going out. So I got an Avis rental car – the second to last one out at the airport.

One memory I have is we were flying down I-70 and there was nobody except (Ohio) Task Force 1 and myself. There was really nobody in the sky and nobody on the highways

The plane in Shanksville went straight into the ground. When we got there, it was still smoking.

I headed up all the computer operations at Shanksville, disaster computer operations they call it. That was a unique operation. We had a lot of mental health people there trying to support the families that had people on Flight 93.

After that, I got sent to Connecticut to support the explosion at the World Trade Center, because they had families in operation centers in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. After about two and half weeks there, they asked if I could come down to the Pentagon to support that operation. We supported mental health, logistics, foods, the shelters — everything that goes with an operation. There’s lots of integration involved. We’re feeding disaster workers, we’re feeding families. Fundraisers, we helped out with the call centers for that.

Down in New York, some of the smells you don’t forget. Twice in D.C. we had bomb threats and got evacuated. For me it hit home because my father’s grave is at Arlington. We’re a Gold Star family. There is a picture by my father’s grave with smoke coming out of the Pentagon. I think it’s the second-closest grave to the Pentagon.

Red Cross had a maximum three weeks out on site, doing 12 hours on, 12 hours off, 10 days working and one day off … Right before Halloween was the first time I’d been home since the whole thing started.

I believe you should live your life like you want your epitaph to read. Nobody wants to say, “I have the most gold or money.” It’s what you do for your fellow man. It’s that simple.

Jenni Phillips, 52, Brookville

My husband called me at school where I work as a high school Secretary crying so uncontrollably that I couldn’t even understand what he was saying. Finally I got him to calm down enough and heard him say to turn on the TV, we’ve been struck by terrorists.

In the office we attempted to keep as normal a day as possible for the students, but it was hard to keep a brave face on. Later that evening as we were home, we were outside watching the skies not knowing what could be coming and talking to our neighbors and we heard a sonic boom which scared us all being so close to Wright-Patt.

In the coming days, I saw people come together in a major wave of patriotism. Flags flying, neighbors gathering, and many more people facing their own mortality and questioning their beliefs and going to church.

It made me appreciate the freedoms and blessing of being a free country: making sure I honor our veterans and service members who sacrifice their lives and bring with their families to not only protect our freedoms, but the essence of democracy for others around the world; how we as Americans in spite of our differences can come together as a nation; and it made me rely more on the Lord as my Savior knowing I am not in control, He is.

Mark Striebich, 71, Fairborn

I was a special education teacher at Trotwood Madison High School. It was a hot day which got hotter. My fellow Vietnam veteran teacher and I were running our classrooms when an assistant principal came to our room to tell us what had just occurred and to not turn on the TVs. He did not want to alarm the classes.

As a proud American and even prouder Vietnam vet, I felt anger. I went home that day, passed the VA cemetery, experienced a myriad of emotions to include: “How is this possible?”

When I got home I called the local recruiter to see if there was a need for a veteran who would again be proud to answer the call. Because of age and such, the answer was no.

I will never forget that ghastly day.

Dr. Abdul Wase, 65, Centerville

We are doing a test for the patient called a tilt test where we’re lifting the patient up so we really want quiet in the interest of not affecting the patient’s test. And all of these people are kind of loud outside and they were almost shouting. And I got annoyed and I opened the door and I was gonna scream at them, “We are having a tilt test.” And then I look at the TV and then I saw the plane hit.

It was not live. It had happened 10 or 15 minutes ago.

So at first I thought this probably is an accident, because the whole picture was not there. And then they showed the second plane hit some minutes later, and of course I knew that this was an act of terrorism.

And that day, a couple of other things happened. One was, I think the President’s plane flew over Dayton or something and there was a sonic boom, there was a huge loud noise. And also, there was a fire at the VA hospital totally unrelated. But it added so much fear and chaos. Literally, people are thinking that this is the end of the world.

I tried to calm down some nurses. I said, “I don’t think this is related to it.” And one of the nurses she really was mad at me for that. She said, “You don’t know what we are going through.” I said, “I am also going through the same thing.”

And one thing that personally I felt, which brought tears to my eyes was when the firefighters, they knew that the building is going to collapse, and they risked their lives and they went upstairs to rescue people.

Jim Widner, 74, Bellbrook

On the weekend before Sept. 11, 2001, my family was gathering in Washington D.C. to celebrate my oldest brother taken his final vows as a Jesuit priest. The celebration was held that weekend, but several us were staying over into the following week for various reasons. I was with my wife and a close friend.

My friend and I were interested in history and planned to do some research at the Library of Congress building next door to the Capitol building. I was specifically interested in Pearl Harbor Day and events that unfolded and how Washington among other cities handled the events.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11th, my friend and I arrived early at the Library of Congress archive building so we could maximize our time while in the federal capital. This would have been at 8:00 AM. I was well into my research on the LOC’s microfilm machines when one of the librarians mentioned later that it appeared a plane had struck one of World Trade Center buildings. I didn’t think too much about it at the time especially since there was no public access to television or radio inside the building. Later, I recall he came around again and mentioned that another plane had hit the second tower and there were some stirrings about Washington being on alert. But so far, business continued.

Once again, he came around and said that it appeared there was something burning near the mall area and the talk about evacuation might be a real possibility. It turned out the burning he saw was actually the Pentagon on fire.

News was still a bit spotty as events were still unfolding. Finally, he returned and mentioned that one of the towers at the World Trade Center had collapsed. I was incredulous…buildings like that don’t collapse. But we were told to gather our things as the building was going to be officially evacuated. At this time, we were not aware of the fourth plane that was intended to crash either into the White House or the Capitol building. As we exited the building, we were not allowed to cross toward the Capitol to get back where we needed to go to try to take the subway out of the city center area.

My friend, whose wife worked in what was then the Sears Tower in Chicago then the second tallest in the U.S., was growing concerned that his wife might be in the building, and he tried to call her on his cell phone. Due to the chaos and confusion, the cell coverage was virtually non-existent, and he could not get through to her. I was able to get connected to my workplace in Columbus to leave a message, but it was, as I found out later, a message that got cut off. My wife who was with me in Washington D.C., had planned on going to the art museum and I was concerned about her whereabouts, but we had no way to touch base.

Meanwhile, as we exited the LOC building, I noticed that the Capitol police were hand in hand surrounding the Capitol building to keep people away from entering the premises. We were forced to turn the opposite way from where we wanted to go. It was a chaotic scene as vehicles with occupants were attempting to exit their workplaces to evacuate the area. People were getting out of their vehicles to direct some traffic so they could move. It was total gridlock. People were walking and mulling around unsure as what to do or where to go. I was reminded about what I heard of the newscasts on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked and the chaos that ensued then. I began to understand what I had heard about on that terrible day as citizens then began to wonder about the repercussions of those events.

As my friend and I were walking along hoping to get to a subway (they were all temporarily closed), we luckily ran into my wife who was just sitting on a border around the art museum. We eventually were able to get back up to our hotel near Dupont Center and spent the next couple of days watching the events in horror. As we saw the repeated footage of the collapse of the towers, my friend was in tears worrying more and more about his inability to check on his wife back in Chicago. Eventually, later, he did get through to find she was fine.

Since all flights were shut down for the next day or so, we were lucky as we had driven to D.C. from Dayton. We left the next day and while we were heading home, we noticed how few cars were on the road and even more so, how quiet the skies were with no plane allowed to fly.

It was all a series of events I hope to never witness again.

Verne Wiese, 80, Beavercreek

It’s a little long, but somewhat humorous story.

On that day I was scheduled to go from Indiana back to Nebraska to help my sisters prepare my Mom’s belongings (who had recently passed) for auction.

Since I’m a pilot, I would normally have been flying our small plane, but a couple weeks before I had tripped over a garden hose and broke a bone in my right thumb and had a cast on my arm, so that was not an option.

So I had taken United Express from Ft. Wayne, Ind. to O’hare where I would change planes to Lincoln, Neb. While at O’hare, out of the corner on my eye I saw a TV with the image of the first plane hit the Trade Center. As a pilot, my first thought was, how could someone screw up that bad?

A little later I made a pit stop in the restroom when an announcement came over the loudspeakers that the airport was closed. Huh? Must be talking about some other small airport, couldn’t be O’hare! Talked to a gate agent who verified it was O’hare. Finally dawned on me, TERRORISM!

After a couple hours, it was evident there was to be no flying. People said best option was to take a bus ...

Finally got a ticket and got on the bus. Talked to people on the bus about how terrible things were — they hadn’t heard and didn’t know a thing about it!

After a couple hours, the bus stopped at a small café for supper. The café had a black and white TV with rabbit ears covered in tin foil, which provided the bus passengers with their first images of the disaster ... As we approached Lincoln, I asked the bus driver if he would consider pulling off the interstate at an intersection, letting me off, then getting back on the interstate, and he agreed. This would save my sister and brother-in-law a 40 mile drive to pick me up.

Finally got dropped off at the intersection, called my relatives on a pay phone, and they drove the five miles to get me. We spent most of the rest of the night watching TV with the images over and over.

As a retired military veteran, it changed my perception of the world, and how dangerous things had become.

Lauren Woodruff, 40, Riverside

I had just started my study abroad in Salamanca, Spain. I arrived in Spain on Sept. 8 and had only just begun to adjust. Classes hadn’t started but I was learning my way around the city. A friend and I had plans to explore more during siesta (around 3 local time, 9 Eastern) time, when the streets would be less crowded.

She was running late and called to let me know. Just before hanging up, she said, “Have you seen the TV? The Twin Towers are burning.” I stepped into the living room where the mother in my host family put her arm around my shoulders and guided me to the sofa.

The TV was running news reports where I saw the towers burning, and I sat there with tears streaming down my face struggling to understand the rapid Spanish reporting. Later in the afternoon I met up with my group and study abroad coordinator, who had cancelled our plans and instead led us to a plaza where we could sit on benches and simply be together.

Salamanca is a university town with a number of foreign students, and every American and many non-American students who heard us speaking English stopped to grab our hands and desperately ask what we’d heard. I emailed my parents instructions on how to call my house — we hadn’t gotten cell phones yet — and phonetically wrote out how to ask for me in Spanish. Although they didn’t have much new information for me it was a relief to hear their voices.

Being abroad at that time meant that I didn’t experience a lot of the things the people I’d left at home did. I didn’t see a lot of the iconic images and videos, I didn’t hear what American leaders were saying. But I was surrounded by a people who had in the past experienced terrorism in their cities — from ETA (Basque Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) — and who were uniquely qualified to understand my feelings. It’s a terrible thing to have in common, but was something that gave us greater empathy for each other

I also felt much less secure. Twenty-year-old me had left on Sept. 7 with a cheerful wave to my parents as I walked down the jetway. The me who came back on Dec. 17 was anxious, frightened by all the changes in airport security, and unsure how other things might have changed.

Despite my worries, I continued to travel abroad, but now with my eyes opened to the problems of the world.

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