Special to Sidelines:
Fifteen years have passed and America’s wound from 9/11 remains just as fresh as the blue sky September day the twin towers fell in New York City. Time, it seems, does not heal all wounds.
As America approaches this anniversary of the worst acts of terrorism this country has witnessed, citizens are still coming to grips with what we lost: 2,996 lives on that horrific day, the subsequent sacrifice of more than 6,000 servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting 12 terrorists and the loss of the USA’s invincibility.
“This was such a big shock to me because this was on our soil and not over there,” said Shannon Brown, a clerk at the campus Veterans and Military Family Center. At the time the planes struck, Brown was taking classes at MTSU and working part-time doing data entry work in a lab. She remembered her boss reported that a plane had struck a building in New York. She was thinking a single engine into a low-rise apartment building.
“By the time I went to the break room, I realized it was something much bigger and horrific than that.”
Others on campus expressed similar themes of disbelief and fear.
Rick Kurtz talked to a reporter from behind a desk at Walker Library, the same desk where he was working on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Upon hearing chatter from students and co-workers that something had happened in New York City, his first thought was to log on to the websites of cable news channels, but they were clogged with high traffic.
“I had to go through the BBC,” Kurtz said, referring to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
After learning the scope of the day’s events, his thoughts turned to the safety of his brother. “My brother was on a missing flight out of Lexington, Kentucky, and me and my fiancé spent all day trying to contact him.” He eventually learned his brother was safe and sound. When he left the library to go home, Kurtz, like many others, took note of the empty skies. Used to seeing the single-engine planes used for flight lessons by the Aerospace Department, Kurtz said their absence was odd.
“It was the only time I stood out in the courtyard and couldn’t hear the instructional planes.”
Fall semester 2001 at MTSU had begun as usual. Students struggled to find parking spots. By the third week of classes, freshmen were still finding their way around campus and three days before the fateful 11th, the Blue Raiders trounced their arch rival, Troy State, in a 54-17 rout.
That normalcy changed at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, just before the start of first period, when American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Eighteen minutes later, at 8:03 a.m., United flight 175, also a Boston to Los Angeles flight, rammed the South Tower in full view of millions on live television.
The terror continued. At 8:43 a.m., American Airlines flight 77, traveling from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, struck the western face of the Pentagon, followed by the downing of United Airlines flight 93. Bound for San Francisco, flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers tried to overtake the hijackers.
At 8:40 a.m. the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all flights in the air to land and prohibited any takeoffs. By 9:28 a.m., both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, sending a gray-white cloud of ash and debris over much of Manhattan.
Parker Steigler, 20, a concrete management major and a member of the National Guard, said the horror of that day remains with him, even though he was in kindergarten. His father is a United Airlines pilot, operating out of the Washington, D.C., hub.
“Before they announced the names in the aircraft (his family) didn’t know…so it was a really big scare for us,” Steigler said. “I see what happened here and I never want that to happen again. I knew the freedoms I grew up with that I want and hope my kids have that freedom also. It is what pushed me to not only be in the military, but wanting to make a difference.”
Amanda Womack, 23, a history major from Yorkville, Tennessee, was 7 on 9/11. While the events of that day made an impression, the loss of the 2001 attacks really became meaningful after meeting her boyfriend of eight years. “He lost a cousin,” she said and each anniversary is a reminder “of the sadness and pain that this event will always cause.”
A social work major, Malcom Dorsey, 21, of Murfreesboro, was in kindergarten. “I was walking into Erma Siegel Elementary…and it was on TV and I just see people standing around and that’s when we learned of the impact,” he remembered. “Both my parents are in the military. At that time my mom actually just enlisted, so of course she thought she would have to go to war.”
Gil Costello, 25, a music business major, calls northern Virginia home, just a 45-minute drive from Washington, D.C. He was in Spanish class at elementary school when news of the plane strikes in New York filtered to his classroom. “It was the first time I heard my teacher speak in English because she was so terrified,” he recalled. “My school was on total lockdown when it happened.”
For Christina Hankins, 19, an English major from Nashville who was 3 in 2001, the sight of her crying mother remains with her. “It’s because my aunt had gotten on a plane to New York that day,” Hankins said, noting hours passed before the family learned her aunt was not on one of the crashed flights. “I remember my mom being absolutely manic and inconsolable.”
Chris Austin, 28, an audio production major from Virginia Beach, Virginia, said he was in 7th grade. His most memorable image of the day came when he arrived home from school. “Mom got home early and was waiting on the front porch,” he said. For the rest of the afternoon, Austin and his mother watched the television reports, all the while worried about his father, who was in the service.
History professor Amy Sayward, 47, said she was at the dentist’s office during the attacks. She put her career focus, foreign policy, to use the following day when a “teach in” was quickly organized to offer information on Islam, Osama Bin Laden and American foreign policy. “We had probably 120 people show up who were looking for information on why did this happen and what did it mean,” she remembered.
For Paul “PJ” Jones, who turned 6 on Sept. 11, 2001 and turns 21 on Sunday, the passing of time has changed his feelings toward his birthday. He said he’s learned to respect the loss and sacrifice while also celebrating the day of his birth without guilt. “I grew up hating my birthday, but I feel better about it now.”
Contributors to this report were the following student journalists: Mallory Burysek, Tyler Channell, Ashley Coker, Elizabeth Davis, Nick Hardin, Barbara Harmon, Garrett Hinners, Katrina Johnson, Khaila King, Nathan Mitchell, Andrew Nation, Alexa Neff, Aundrea Paredes, Jonathon Pointer, Daniel Scroggins, Andrew Williams, Jessie Williams and Trevor “Fen” Wilson.