8 Moving 9/11 Personal Stories From Survivors Of September 11

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9/11 Personal Stories
Heartbreak

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, four coordinated terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Washington D.C. (ultimately crashing in Pennsylvania instead) devastated and destroyed lives throughout the United States.

Sadly, the attacks launched on 9/11 resulted in the deaths of 2,977 people, including 265 from the four planes (on which there were no survivors), 2,606 in the World Trade Center, and 125 at the Pentagon.

Thousands of others were injured, physically and emotionally, and over the nearly two decades since that day, hundreds more have died of 9/11-related illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Of course, the United States of America pulled together, forming a unity of strength and love that was unprecedented, especially among those living in NYC.

Out of the rubble and loss emerged hope and a promise for a better future. It's a future we’re still working on, but one we hope that is filled with peace and love as demonstrated by the personal stories of those who lived through 9/11.

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My own personal 9/11 story goes like this:

I was laying in bed deciding whether I should get up and go to my college class. I knew I probably wouldn't, but debating it helped my guilt. Around 9:15 a.m., my mother screamed from the other room, “Get in here! Something is happening!”

I thought maybe there was a kitchen fire, or maybe the cable had gone out, like it often did. When I walked into the living room, the TV was on, set to the news — and smoke was billowing from The World Trade Center.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I don’t know," she said. "They’re saying a plane accidentally hit a building.”

I asked if she had heard from my father, a teacher in Brooklyn. She said she'd tried calling but the phone lines were down.

The doorbell rang: It was our neighbor, crying. “They’re saying it was on purpose. Who would do this?"

My mother and I joined our neighbor on our Staten Island deck. Outside, as far from Manhattan as you could be and remain within NYC, the blue sky had traces of gray smoke. All of the neighbors were outside puffing on cigarettes, crying, and punching numbers into phones that had no connection.

Somehow, I was able to reach a friend who was able to make calls. I begged her to call my father and luckily, she got through. He said he may not be able to come home; they were shutting all the bridges and tunnels; that he had to close all his windows because his classroom was filled with ash and smoke; that his co-worker had climbed to the roof of the school building only to be consumed by bone fragments and the air of death.

Across the street, one of my friends, a young man on leave from the Army, walked out of his house in complete Army attire.

“All hands on deck," he said. "We’re being called in. My uncle... My uncle was in the building. I don’t think he made it out.”

Tears, screams, and devastation came over the entire block. His uncle was a kind man who often sat on his concrete steps with his dog, saying hello to all who passed. It was weeks before the dog stopped howling for his owner.

It may sound cliché to say that day changed our lives forever that day, but it’s the truth.

My father finally coming home from work went from being just another part of the day to a family reunited with tears, love, and gratitude.

As the day went on, we learned of the many people we knew who didn’t make it home — people who would never again fall into their beds and relax after a hard day or hug their families again.

My experience on 9/11 is just one of many.

I know there are other stories that had to be shared, and below are anonymous responses I received from a survey asking others to share their experiences from that day.

Below are anonymous responses I received from a survey asking others to share their personal stpries from that day.

8 Moving Personal Stories From 9/11 Survivors and People Who Experienced the Tragic Events of September 11, 2001 Firsthand

1. "A beautiful day turned into a tragic one forever burned into our memories."

"I worked two blocks away. My train would pull in to the Trade Center around the time of the first attack every day. However, I wasn't there. The night before I had decided to take a personal day from work because September 11th was going to be a beautiful day and my husband wanted to take our one-year-old to the zoo.

My office was destroyed by pieces of the plane landing on our small building. I watched on TV at home, while frantically calling coworkers."

2. "We were all confused, wondering if this was an accident or an attack."

"We realized by the time that the second plane hit, that this wasn't some sort of horrible accident. At this point, panic set in ... are we under attack?? Yes, we were. Should I get my kids from school?

Trying to remain calm was difficult. How many people did we know that would be down there?? Many many many. Our first thoughts went to our best friend Andy who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and our next thought went to our brother-in-law, an NYFD member who worked out of lower Manhattan. We heard through a phone chain that our brother-in-law had survived, however almost all of his coworkers did not.

Andy was still missing, so we went to our best friend's house by late afternoon. We all sat and watched the TV and cried and prayed and tried to remain hopeful.

Two days later the NYPD knocked on their door to say that they had found his body. He left behind a 37-year-old widow, a 7-year-old son, a 4-year-old daughter, and countless devastated friends. Every time that I think that it gets easier, I realize that it really doesn't. I kiss his picture all of the time and tell him that I miss him. As we grow older, he remains forever young."

3. "Everyone was glued to the news that day and the weeks following."

"I was homeschooled that year and I remember my mom grabbing my sister and me to watch the news. We saw the second building get hit. My mom thought it was debris falling from the buildings and then she realized it was people jumping.

My cousin worked in one of the buildings so we called my aunt to see if she had heard from her. It turned out that my cousin's boss was on vacation that day so my cousin was going into work late. She wasn't there and had no idea what was happening at the time.

I can still picture sitting on my mom's bed watching those people jumping from the building and praying for them. I joined the military 4 years later."

4. "When the attacks began, we had no idea where the next target would be."

"I was on Broad Street at work when the first plane hit. I remember my dad calling me (he was a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force at the time) and he asked where I was. When I told him my address he told me to get up and go home immediately — at that point the second plane hit, my building shook, and all communication was cut off.

They evacuated my entire building onto the street and locked us out. I ended up in Battery Park, watching the events unfold. I saw people jumping; a sound I will never be able to erase from my head, the screams, then silence, then the crash.

I remember thinking of an exit plan in case I needed to run and at that point I did. I watched the first tower fall, it seemed to fall in slow motion, floor by floor. I took my jacket, wrapped my face, and ran for the ferry terminal. The cloud that filled the air hurt. It felt like I was getting burned like tiny little cuts from whatever was in that cloud. I was still on the ferry when the second tower came down.

When the boat came firefighters, cops, EMTs, doctors, nurses all came off the boat. We got on and were told to get down. The captain did not want any people visible on the ferry because he was afraid we would be a moving target.

I never really got over it. I still get anxiety going into the city, I haven't been able to watch any memorials on that day and I still cry when I hear of any terror attack. I get nervous in any crowds if I see any "suspicious person" and I think it all stems from that day."

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5. "So many people knew others who worked in or near the Twin Towers."

"I was at work at Roosevelt Field. We heard that something hit one of the towers on our radio so rushed to get a TV working. We were horrified at what we were seeing and I quickly pulled my team together to let them know what was happening.

One of my coworker's fiancé worked across from the tower and she was panicked trying to reach him. I comforted her as we waited to hear back and process what was happening.

In the days after we learned of friends we had lost. As well as a friend they were searching for, a firefighter who went in right before the 2nd tower fell. We lost him; they found his helmet.

I was lucky my brother was on the runway at JFK, his airplane was not a chosen one. My coworker's fiancé was fine. But the overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss I feel anytime I think about that day and all those precious lives we lost."

6. "All those people who overslept that day had no idea how it would change their lives forever."

"I was living in NJ and had woken up to a friend messaging me asking if I was watching the news. I turned it on as the second tower was hit. I couldn't believe what was going on. I called my then-boyfriend because his uncle worked in one of the towers, but we found out that, luckily, he had overslept and had been on the train heading into the city when it happened.

I would come to read similar stories of people oversleeping that morning. I drove to a nearby country club that overlooked the city from a distance and watched with many others as smoke billowed into the sky. Everyone was just quiet and some crying, as we stood there helpless.

There were many city commuters in my area, and many of them never came home that day. I thankfully didn't know anyone directly that lost their lives, but knew friends of friends that did. I didn't travel to the city until about a month later and it was such a sad experience. Posters, memorials, and candles filled the streets. We got as close as we could to the site and there was still smoke coming up from the debris.

It was the first time in my life I realized that there was evil in the world. I would have never thought something like that would happen in my country. Flying out of airports was never the same and NYC would be forever changed for me. I still watch the TV specials every year on the anniversary of 9/11 and it's still hard to believe that it happened."

7. "The smoke could be seen for miles."

"I had just gotten to work. I worked in an office building off Bay Street on Staten Island and our conference room windows faced Manhattan, some of my coworkers on the higher floors actually saw the 2nd plane hit. It was horrible, we all stood there in disbelief.

They closed the office shortly after. When I left work, the drive home was so surreal, the highway and streets were empty. I remember crying and thanking God my husband was off that day and wasn't in the city. For so many days after, we could still see all the smoke across the water in Manhattan from my office. Truly one of the most devastating things I have ever experienced."

8. "You didn't have to be in NYC to be affected by what was happening."

"I'm from Vermont, with an Aunt and Uncle in New York City. I was living in Texas, pregnant (and almost due) for baby #3. I turned on the TV first thing in the morning just in time to see the second plane hit. I thought it was some cruel 'joke' so I changed the channel. There it was again ... and on every channel. I was appalled — horrified! My heart raced.

I thought about my aunt (who is a doctor) and uncle (an architect). My mother called me to ask if I'd heard what happened. My uncle had just stepped out of the subway and turned around in time to see the 2nd plane hit. My aunt was MIA for 2 days until she called to say she was OK and she was flooded with patients at the hospital.

Being both sensitive and in a raging hormonal state, it pained me to be so far away from home — I wanted to be near my family, and if not pregnant, be in NYC to help render aid in any way possible. I didn't know anyone who was directly impacted by the loss of loved ones, but I'm a very 'feeling' person, and that was a day of emotions I'll never forget!"

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Liza Walter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to YourTango.