The National September 11th Memorial and Museum is the most moving place I have ever visited, and I can't encourage you enough to go there yourself. Words cannot describe.
My Own 9/11 Story
Everyone alive for 9/11 has a story. It is this generation's watershed moment, joining the ranks of WWII and JFK.
I was young. I was in middle school; 8th grade Spanish class. The teacher had given my class a large amount of workbook assignments to do in class, and left the room - I took the opportunity to put in an earbud for a small radio I'd been sneaking to listen to on the bus. I remember being annoyed that I couldn't find music - every single radio station was playing news, frantically talking in voices fueled by panicked adrenaline. I didn't listen to the words though. Not yet. The teacher came back just in time to see us out the door at the bell, not bothering to take the pages from our workbooks.
My next class, English, had a similar vibe to it. The teacher left the room after class began, leaving the TA, who didn't move from the TV - I now realize she was protecting it from being turned on. Protecting the children from seeing images of the Pentagon in flames - in the DC area lots of kids' parents work at the Pentagon. My Dad still had regular meetings there. I'd later learn that he'd had a meeting scheduled at the Pentagon which was relocated to another building early that morning before the attacks even began - I didn't know it at the time, but my Dad dodged a bullet, and at this exact time was outside his evacuated building watching the smoke plume and sheets of paper fly from the Pentagon. Although I was in the dark at that point, I knew at that point that something was going on. Something wasn't right.
It wasn't until lunch time that I learned what was going on - the cafeteria workers had a radio on in the back kitchen louder than they probably should have. I'd already heard the words "fire" and "crash" around my 9AM Spanish class, but hearing them again, and now paying attention to more of the accompanying story as I slid my pink tray and cardboard pizza down the line is when I learned the basics. As I sat down in the squeaky cafeteria seat, I pulled out my little radio and started listening to all the voices. "New York." "Pentagon." "Explosion." "Attack." "Who did this?" There were no lunch monitors around to stop me. The cafeteria was spotted with empty seats - a lot of kids must be out sick today.
My next class was half empty, and we were allowed to do anything we wanted. Play paper football. Do homework for other classes. Anything but watch TV. I listened to my radio - the teacher was probably so distracted about the attacks that he thought I was only listening to music and didn't process that I could get news... or couldn't get anything except news anyway. I don't remember if we were released early that day or not.
On the bus ride home I found a few other kids who were talking loudly about how buildings in New York were being blown up with planes, and the Pentagon too - apparently their teacher had just outright spilled the beans, and turned on the TV. Most of the kids, hearing this for the first time, didn't believe it. One boy in the front was bawling uncontrollably - his Dad worked at the Pentagon he was mumbling.
When I stepped off the bus my Mom was waiting on the porch, clearly worried. "What's going on?!?!" is all I said as I ran inside - she told me that the Twin Towers, the buildings we'd seen in person just one year earlier, and the Pentagon, had been struck by planes. As she turned on the TV she told me that both buildings in New York, and that entire side of the Pentagon, had all collapsed. Then I finally saw what I'd been hearing about all day; I joined the rest of America, gasping speechless with my jaw wide open as I saw the replays from every angle of the towers collapsing.
Until seeing the footage on TV, I didn't know which building in New York was hit - I thought it was just one, and I didn't know any of them had collapsed. Certainly not to the extent the Twin Towers had.
My Dad arrived home late that afternoon. He didn't say much; you could see the fear and anger on his face - he knew we were now at war. He talked about everything he'd seen, heard; how his building evacuated, then un-evacuated, then evacuated again. He made phone calls to find out who he knew at the Pentagon was safe, and who might not be.
My family had gone on a trip along the Eastern seaboard just one year earlier. One of the stops was New Jersey to see The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - we never went into Manhattan proper much to my disappointment.
This was WAY before I knew anything about photography - I just liked taking pictures on my little Kodak Advantix.
This is a picture I shot at age 12 in the year 2000 from the Northern side of Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey - now the current site of the Empty Sky Memorial. I remember my parents bickering over whether "those two tall buildings are the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center." I said I thought they were both; the same thing. Fast forward a year, and everyone in the World knew the answer without a doubt.
It's incredible to me that I even have this picture, that I shot it myself. I was 12. The majority of my life has been post-9/11, working at IAD and DCA. My entire aviation related career arc has directly resulted from that day in 2001. This photo is a relic of a time before that.
Take a look.