“It was a beautiful sunny Tuesday,” recalled Leslie Miller of Duncansville.
And then all “hell broke loose,” readers said, remembering the anxiety, fear, sadness, disbelief, anger and, at times, hatred, they felt when al-Qaida terrorists used passenger jets to take down the World Trade Center Towers in New York and strike the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
They also recalled the heroism of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 — the fourth plane hijacked that day and believed headed for the U.S. Capitol — and how those 40 on board brought that plane down in a field near Shanksville, Somerset County, sparing hundreds of others from the same fate that befell nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
As the world marks 20 years since the attacks, the Mirror asked readers to share with us their thoughts and reactions on that day.
Disbelief was a central theme in the letters the Mirror received. Many questioned how something like this could happen in the United States of all places. Prayers, too, were issued then and now as the tragic events of that day are remembered.
While many echoed Miller’s recollection of a beautiful, nearly perfect September day, many people said they didn’t hear about the attacks until someone called them. Twenty years ago, social media was in its infancy, and cellphones were not as mainstream as they are today.
More than technology has changed in the years since the attacks, though. Airport security is heightened, the Department of Homeland Security was formed and the nation’s faith in the power and protection of being in the United States was sorely tested.
Readers reported they suffered panic attacks in the days following the attacks, and one reported going into early labor. Readers said that today, their memories of the day are as clear as if it all happened just yesterday.
In fact, Betty Campbell of Altoona wrote just that.
“I remember that horrific day like it was yesterday. I had just arrived at my beauty shop to work and put on the TV. The first plane had hit, and it was thought to be a small private plane. Then as it all continued, we knew how awful this was. My first client was an 88-year-old woman, and she was there watching with me, as my phone was ringing off the hook,” Campbell said.
“Every time she came for a perm after that, I would ask her, ‘where were you when the twin towers were hit?’ and as she aged, she still always said ‘right here with you.’”
That sentiment, “right here with you,” is an enduring theme in readers’ memories. If they weren’t with family when the attacks happened, they were gathered together later in the day as they watched and listened in disbelief.
“When the second tower was hit, my daughter called to say she was leaving work and coming to get her kids at the school, up the block from my shop,” Campbell said. “All the parents were scurrying for their children.”
“She and her boys came to my shop for the rest of the day. My son was working in State College at that time and had no internet or TV, so he kept calling me. When I told him about Shanksville, he said, ‘I am coming home.’”
After her son went to the day care to get his daughter; they, too, came to her shop.
“We all hung out there together, along with a few clients coming and going. We were all crowded around the TV. My husband was my mailman, and he stopped in for a while to catch up when he brought my mail,” she said.
Campbell said her daughter and her small sons stayed overnight, as she was a single parent and very shaken.
“Then we were glued to the TV for days,” she said. “I have watched the timeline every year on the anniversary, and it still hurts my heart and I can’t believe it all happened.”
In the days, weeks and months after the attacks, Campbell said “I loved how our streets were lined with American flags … I wish they were again. God Bless America!”
— — —
“I was sitting in my living room folding towels for work while watching (the) morning news,” said JoAnn Johnston of Hollidaysburg. “Matt Lauer was saying something when he was abruptly cut off to show video of one of the twin towers. There was black smoke arising from the impact of a plane and my first thought was that a pilot grossly misjudged his altitude to crash into that building.
My next thought was that everyone above that would surely die from all that smoke. Everyone thought it was a terrible accident until we all saw the second plane hit the other tower. Knowing we were under attack, I called my husband at work to ask if he was aware of what had transpired. As I started to explain, I heard the voices of PennDOT employees shouting to one another.”
— — —
“I was enjoying the beautiful blue skies that morning at our district church camp in Saxton,” recalled Lee Seese of Everett. “I was with about 20 other pastors for a retreat. A staff member had been watching television and told us we better tune in because something was going on. As the events unfolded, we sat quietly and prayed. We changed our schedule and just were in shock and yet crying out to the Lord for our country and the victims’ families. We left the retreat early and I was happy to be home to my wife, who was expecting our first child in a few months. I remember being concerned with what kind of world he would be born into.”
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Twenty years ago, Loretta Appleby Greaser of Duncansville was on a bus tour of the Odenwald (Hesse) section of Germany, she said, and heard about the attacks the same day they happened because a bus driver received a phone call and relayed the message to the leader of the group.
The group was in Germany to see where two Greaser brothers had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1831 and 1842. Those Greaser relatives settled in the Morrisons Cove area of Blair County, she said.
Once news of the attacks came, “I was in total shock and just numb with fear at hearing of the terrorist’s attack on our homeland,” she said, particularly knowing that one of the attacks was “so close to our home in Blair County.”
“Would we ever get back home safely and where would it all lead?” she recalled thinking.
— — —
“I was in Kosovo, serving in the Marine Corps,” said Timothy Clossin of Altoona. “We had just got done doing night missions over the Macedonian border. (We) came back to Camp Vanguard. I had first watch at the gate. I got relieved for some rack ops, when a fellow Marine came running in saying, ‘a plane hit one of the Twin Towers.’ At the time, all I could think of was the families.”
Clossin said as he was trying to sleep again, another Marine came running in saying “Another plane hit the Towers.”
At that point, Clossin said, “that’s no accident!”
“Now the whole camp was up and we were on full alert. My fellow Marines had family living and working in that area,” he said. He remembers that getting through to relatives was impossible as all lines were busy and that it was hard watching his brothers in arms deal with not knowing if their families were safe.
He also thought “We’re going to war!”
The next day, he saw mixed reactions from the local residents of Kosovo.
“Some attacked Camp Bonsteel, and some lit candles and prayed for us and our country, at our gate at Camp Vanguard,” he said.
— — —
William McCommons of Altoona has not visited the Flight 93 Memorial, that’s because he was too close to the incident on Sept. 11, 2001, as he and a friend were enjoying a morning of golf at Oakbrook Country Club in Somerset.
The duo had the first tee time of the day, at 7 a.m. and the day seemed perfectly fine, until they reached the 18th hole.
“We got to the 18th hole and teed off and made our way to the green to finish up. We both heard a loud noise in the air. We looked up and saw a huge plane flying really low. … It seemed to be flying awful low to us and it was really loud. We thought it was going to crash into the golf course mountainside of the hill. It just seemed to clear the hill and moments later we heard a crash and saw a lot of smoke in the air. We loaded our equipment in the car and just as we were about to leave the parking lot, we heard a huge bang and saw what appeared to be black smoke and heard what we thought was a loud crash. We left to come back home to Altoona, where we both live. Once we got home, my wife was at home looking at me in horror and watching TV. She stood up and gave me a hug and told me our country was being attacked by terrorists. I still didn’t know what was going on. I started watching the news and saw the first tower collapse. They showed the second plane hit the other tower. I looked at my wife and I remember a news commentator saying that another plane just hit the Pentagon. At that time, my brother, Calvin, was in the U.S. Army military working out of the Pentagon. .. I prayed he was OK,” he said, noting that later they did find out he was safe.
McCommons said he and his friend had nightmares about the plane flying over their heads.
“It is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. I still have bad dreams about it till this day,” he wrote.
“I have not been able to go to the crash site in Somerset to this day because I get really upset about it,” he said, though he has visited the New York site. “I have listened to the audio of what happened on that plane in Somerset that day. It was horrific and it brought back bad memories. God please be with the family’s that were killed on that day,” he wrote.
— — —
Mary Grace Horton of Altoona said Sept. 11, 2001, started out much like any other and she was up and doing her daily routine — she did not have her TV on so she didn’t know about the attacks until after the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
“The phone rang around 11 a.m.,” she said. “It was my son calling me from Saint Francis University (where he was a senior).”
He broke the news to her that the World Trade Center was attacked and urged her to turn the TV on.
“I turned our television on and watched in horror at seeing the footage of the towers collapsing, parts of the Pentagon being hit and then the passenger plane going down in Shanksville,” she said “We soon learned that these were acts of terrorism and realized from those events that our lives as a nation would never be the same again. Insecurity and fear would fill our lives for many years to come.”
Horton said her family was bothered, as were millions of other Americans, “to know that there was so much hatred out there for us and this beloved country in which we live.”
There were “so many innocent lives lost through cowardly acts of jealousy and destruction,” she said. “As the anniversary rolls around each year, all we can do is pray for those who made that ultimate sacrifice and to know that we as a human race will never forget them or that fateful day.”
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Roberta Scott of Tyrone didn’t have her TV on either, as she was home on a vacation day.
“My neighbor came running in my front door — which he never did — yelling that we were being attacked,” she said. “I just could not believe what I was seeing. My tears, thoughts and prayers went to the people who were affected by this outrageous attack and prayed we would get the people who organized this attack against my country.”
Scott said she watched the television coverage the rest of that day along with her parents.“I don’t think we stayed up all night but the TV wasn’t turned off for hours,” she said.
— — —
“I am now, and was then, a self-employed archivist and historian with a home office. In that capacity, I was free to volunteer each week for my twins’ and elder son’s Baker School library period. Everyone remembers what a clear, beautiful day it was, and so do I — as I walked the couple of blocks home after that day’s library time,” said Valerie A. Metzler of Altoona.
“It was (and is) my habit to have WPSU-FM on the radio while I work. Normally, classical music from WPSU was what I would have heard when I got in the house at about 8:50 a.m.
Of course, I was shocked and scared for New York City when instead of classical music, I heard NPR’s coverage of a terrible calamity there. What on earth happened?”
“I turned on the television and saw live coverage and felt a figurative gut punch when, before my eyes, another plane hit the other tower! I was glued to the television for the rest of the day and soon had one eye also on the sky above Llyswen once we learned that another plane had been hijacked and was heading our way while yet another plane crashed into the Pentagon,” Metzler wrote.
“In brief, to answer your question about my memories of that day, they were utter shock, abject terror and deep, deep sadness. I felt vulnerable living in southern Pennsylvania. Some folks recall being confused and concerned about what to tell their children. That was not a problem for me; I just told the truth.”
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“A child of the ’60s, I practiced hiding under a school desk, awaiting nuclear attack,” wrote Sherry Robinson of Hollidaysburg.
“Sept. 11, 2001, dawned bright, blue, cloudless. My favorite kind of day,” she said.
After reporting early for work and getting tasks done by 8:50 a.m., she and another nurse met in a stairwell. “She told me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.
Minutes later, I entered an adjacent building as staff were rushing down the hall to the activities department. On the 90-inch TV screen, I witnessed the second plane exploding into the South Tower,” she said.
Her thoughts instantly went to her husband, who was at Dulles International boarding a flight. She also thought about her eldest child in Philadelphia and the youngest, a student at Syracuse University.
“Unable to reach them by phone, I was immobilized by fear,” she recalled.
“That was the day of my first panic attack. A previously scheduled routine medical appointment that afternoon (still not knowing if my loved ones were safe) resulted in a prescription for anti-anxiety medication,” she said.
Thankfully, the debilitating anxiety attacks with the attending mental anguish have ameliorated in the ensuing 20 years, she said.
As she was writing to respond to the Mirror’s question about 9/11 memories, Robinson was taken back 20 years.
“On this day, Aug. 8, 2021, I was in my gardens at 10:30 a.m. A large plane with four engines flew overhead. I looked skyward at the low flying machine … my heart lurched and sank into the pit of my soul as I remembered the many lives lost. America’s descent from perceived safety and security to that of terror and uncertainty. The plane made six passes over me in the ensuing 15 minutes. I told myself there must have been an air show nearby.”
— — —
For Leslie Miller of Duncansville, “The day will forever be burnt into my memory.”
“It was a beautiful sunny Tuesday,” Miller said, and she was an hour away from home working in Clearfield.
While some of the people were on break, they saw the attacks on TV and told everyone else what had happened.
“To watch the replay of the horrific accident when a passenger jet crashed into one of the World Trade Centers was just unbelievable. I instantly felt so sad and scared for the thousands who were in the building; of the terribly tragic loss there could be for so many,” she said. “Then, as we’re watching, a second plane hits the other tower! It was no longer an accident! I immediately said, ‘We’re at war.’”
Looking back on that day, Miller recalled thinking that someone had just declared war on the United States, and “we were watching it unfold right before our eyes. I was witnessing the beginning of something I’d never known.”
“It was awful; we were speechless,” she said. There was instant fear of what could be happening and what was next.
When the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., was attacked, “I could only think of my nephew who worked there. I didn’t know how to respond to this. I was beside myself and didn’t know what to do,” Miller said.
“All commonwealth offices were put on alert and closed. Employees were to return to their homes. The country was on guard for what we yet didn’t know.”
“When I left Clearfield for home that day, all I could do was watch the perfectly clear skies. I recall having an uneasy feeling while yet another plane slammed into a field near Somerset.
How many more are up there? I feel so much sorrow, I feel somewhat tense, I feel fear for something I cannot know. What is happening, what are we going to do?”
“All I could do was drive and pray for the best for all of us,” Miller said.
— — —
Steve Kleiner of South Lakemont was also working that day, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as were millions of others.
“I was a land manager for Blair and Huntingdon counties. The morning hours took me to southern Huntingdon County where the Waterfall crew was on Game Lands 67 working on a habitat project,” he said.
“It was a spectacular September day, crystal clear with the usual humidity and haziness of summer all but dissipated. The sky was virtually cloudless and you could see forever it seemed.
It was a great day to be a land manager, to be outside, to be alive,” he said.
After he checked in with the crew, he headed back toward Route 26, planning to swing by the Huntingdon office and then onward from there.
“As I got onto Route 26, my cellphone chirped. That meant there was a voicemail, probably from a phone call that I missed while in the “roaming” vicinity of Dudley,” he recalled thinking.
But a glance at the phone showed the call was from his daughter, Stephanie. “Curious, I thought, why would Steff call me this weekday morning? I pulled over and accessed the voicemail. It went … ‘Dad, where are you? You need to go home. America is under attack.’”
— — —
Gwen Black of Hollidaysburg was sitting at her computer desk reading email when a new one came in from her son in Houston, Texas. She found it strange when he asked how far away from Somerset she lived and asked him why he wanted to know.
“Then he told me about the plane that had just crashed in a field near Somerset because hijackers had been aboard,” she said. “Then I turned the TV on and saw what the other hijackers had managed to do by commandeering other planes. It was very frightening to know that they were so close and the many lives that were lost that day and then to learn of the heroic actions of the people on board Flight 93,” she said.
“It was a day of destruction, fear and wondering when we could fly safely again. The sky was silent for a very long time after that and when I did hear a plane, I would wonder if it was going to happen again.”
— — —
“On 9/11, I was oblivious, drunk on sunshine and mountain air high in the remote peaks of Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness,” said Steve Elfelt of Altoona. “By horse and pack animal an outfitter dropped us at a remote base-camp for a long stay to celebrate 50-year birthdays for two of our party,” he explained.
“One day we were strung out along the trail, descending from the summits to our base camp when I happened upon a backpack-camper, collecting water from a stream for her evening meal. When I told her how long we’d been up there she said ‘So you don’t know what’s happening in the world?’ At the time, I took this for a bit of friendly jealousy, so, with happy naivete I said ‘Nope!’ Then she asked, ‘Do you want to know?’ I could see something was wrong, but I shrugged it off thinking something bad is ALWAYS in the news, and what could I do about it if I knew? So again I said, ‘Nope!’ I had no idea just how bad the news would be. A day or two later, our outfitter arrived at our basecamp, with horses and pack animals to take us out. He swung down from the saddle, straightened up and grimly announced, ‘Well, our nation is at war.’ Looking back, my most enduring personal memory of 9/11 is that backpacker’s inspiring strength of character, because she somehow managed to not blurt out the horrible news. She asked if we wanted to know. Without such citizens, I fear our nation would only know vengeance, but not resilience.”
— — —
“While working at my federal job in Johnstown, my co-workers and I always listened to the “Today” show on our radios,” said Karen Koytek of Gallitzin. “On this day, when it was announced that a plane hit one of the twin towers, our first thoughts were ‘wow, how could a pilot not be paying attention to where he’s going?’ When the second plane hit, we were like this is no accident! A little later in the office, one of our college interns had just gotten off the phone with a family member and she told us that she heard that there was a plane with hijackers going right over Johnstown. My first thought was — ‘here come the rumors.’ We found out later that it obviously was true. They let us go home early. I went to pick my son up at school,” Koytek said, remembering Sept. 11, 2001, as “one of the most terrifying days I’ve ever lived through.”
— — —
“I was only 4 years old when the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred,” wrote Jordan Rhone of Altoona. “I was only in pre-school, but I do remember getting picked up early by my mother (Roseanne Rhone) at Mount Carmel School. She stopped and talked to the cafeteria workers for what seemed like an hour (to a 4-year-old) and that was about the only abnormal thing that happened that day in my young mind.”
In the summer of 2002, Rhone and his family visited the temporary Flight 93 memorial. (More of Jordan’s story and photos can be found in the special 9/11 remembrance edition inserted into today’s Mirror.)
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“Early that morning, my 17-year-old son, Ben, was picked up by a National Guard recruiter and driven to Harrisburg for testing and to enlist. After he was to return and our other three children got out of school, we were scheduled to drive to Pittsburgh and leave the next morning on a flight to Disney World in Florida for a week,” said Therese McCloskey of Altoona. “This would have been the first time flying for all of us. My family included my husband, Dave, myself, Ben, daughter, Becky, 16, and sons, Ethan, 12, and David, 11.”
McCloskey said she dropped her two youngest at Juniata Gap Elementary and was headed to AAA to pick up the tickets when she heard the news of the first attack.
“All day we sat and watched the news. I actually prayed that my son would NOT sign up. He did tell us that the recruiters informed them what was going on and gave them the option to back up. He ended up signing and serving six years in the Army National Guard,” she said.
The Disney trip was canceled and their tickets refunded, McCloksey said, adding “we did get our trip to Disney the next year after Ben graduated from boot camp.”
— — —
“On the morning of 9/11, I was at work when my sister called and informed me that one of the twin towers was just hit by a plane. As we were discussing the incident, we found out the other tower was hit by a plane and at that moment I knew it was a terrorist attack,” said Rosemarie Carlheim of Altoona.
— — —
“My husband, Walter, and I were on our annual September vacation trip in Ocean City, Md., with our two best friends, George and Darlene Emigh. We had just gotten up for the day, were eating breakfast, and turned on the TV for the latest weather — news came on. And — oh my!
Never had we ever heard or seen such news — people running through the streets, people racing down staircases in the tower and, most horrid of all — the fact that one news station actually showed people jumping for their lives from the tower,” said Linda Piper of Roaring Spring.
“Then, hour after hour, the news went on from the towers in N.Y. to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to the field in Pennsylvania to the towers collapsing.”
With planes grounded and America glued to the news, “the usual beach view changed for that whole day,” she said, noting that very few people were out fishing, swimming or relaxing.
Their group’s biggest thought was of making contact with those at home to make sure each was OK.
“We visited the Flight 93 site early on and have made several donations to the completion of the memorial there,” Piper said, adding “so sorry for all the families changed forever, because that happened. We can only pray — never again!”
“It was a terrible, tough day for everybody.”
— — —
Ray Lenz of Cambria County will celebrate his 89th birthday Saturday, Sept. 11.
In 2001, he was in Washington, D.C., with a group of American Legion members.
The group was scheduled to be in the city for several days and Lenz was to have a flag fly over the Capitol for his birthday, he said.
What he remembers most is how a trip to Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 10 was “so peaceful and quiet and in 24 hours, all hell broke loose.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, the group had breakfast with some of the officials before he went up to (Rep. John) Murtha’s office to see if a flag was flying for his birthday.
“I was told to come into the office and see what had happened and while I was there, we saw the second plane hit the tower, … Then the pentagon was hit,” he said. “We said a prayer and they evacuated the building.”
Getting back to the group’s hotel was difficult as the “subway was filled to the gills,” he said.
His wife, who had taken the trip to D.C., too, “was sitting in the hotel knitting. She didn’t know what was going on. She heard the sirens” but she didn’t have the TV on, he said.
He was to meet a friend for lunch but that friend told him “Ray, get out of town as quick as you can.”
Because the airlines were grounded, two of his Legion comrades who had flown to the city ended up riding back to Pennsylvania with him
“It was a day I’ll never forget,” Lenz said. “I thought ‘oh my gosh. We’re having our own Pearl Harbor,’” he said.
“It was a very sad day; we didn’t know what was going to happen to us.”
Lenz said he did eventually get his birthday flag, it flew on Sept. 26.
— — —
“The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was at Penn State University talking to a customer about their furniture needs for the office,” said Mary Beth Schmidhamer of Altoona. “We walked into an office where the occupant had turned on the TV and was watching the news. We stood there watching with them as the events were unfolding.
“I can remember watching in horror and just started praying and asking God to intercede and stop it. We decided to reschedule our meeting and I was driving back to Altoona, listening to the radio. They were asking us not to use our cellphones to keep the lines open. As soon as I got in the office, I ran to one of my co-workers. Her daughter usually went into her office on the metro and would have been getting there at the same time as the first tower came down. That morning, she didn’t feel well and didn’t go to work. I thanked God for that. The following year, I participated in the living flag at Shanksville in honor of our nation and the volunteers who responded to the crash of Flight 93. The memories of that day will live with me for the rest of my life.”
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“On the morning of Sept 11, 2001, myself and two business partners left the Orlando airport to fly to New York City (World Trade Center) for a business lunch,” said Robert “Bob” Gutshall of Altoona. “We were over Atlanta when we started to get the word that the north (and then then the south tower) was hit, we turned around and returned back to Orlando,” he said.
“It was a clear day and very strange to see no plans in the sky except Military F-16 jets flying overhead. It was this way for several days,” he said. “After returning home to Kissimmee, my wife, Sandy, said ‘you know you dodged a bullet by not going up the night before and being in the north tower when it was hit.’”
“Sept 11, 2001 was the same day I retired and we decided to move back to Altoona,” Gutshall said.
“Every year on Sept 11, our radio club has a special “NEVER FORGET” ham radio operation and to date we have communicated with “hams” in over 250 different countries in the world. Never Forget.”
Read more about Gutshall’s Never Forget project inside the Mirror’s 9/11 remembrance edition, inserted in today’s paper.
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Randy Stager was in his office at Stager Chevy Portage. His office faced the customer waiting room where the TV was on. He didn’t know anything was amiss until he saw “customers standing up in front of the TV watching intently” and he went over to see what they were watching.
“I was in disbelief. The news with the two jets in the WTC was incomprehensible, then later when the news reported the crash at Shanksville, I went upstairs and climbed on the roof to see if I could see any smoke, but none was visible,” he said.
Stager said he “was in the same office talking to a customer on the phone, when I looked at the TV and saw the Challenger explosion.”
“Also, my brother-in-law’s son, Dan Pfeilstucker, was working in the Pentagon for a building contractor, and walked into the office to watch the news. Then the jet hit and he was knocked into a closet by the explosion, coming to, he made his way out through the smoke. He climbed over the four-lane highway barrier and someone picked him up and took him home to Frederick, Md.”
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“Just like the Kennedy assassination, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing regarding the 9/11 attacks,” said Mary Perdew of Bedford.
“I was working in an office and talking to my general manager when we heard low flying planes flying over and we questioned what was going on. It seemed strange. Soon we heard on the radio that a plane had crashed somewhere in central Pennsylvania. Not long after that, the news broke saying planes crashed into the twin towers and the Pentagon. My thoughts at the time were ‘our country is at war, but with who,’” she said.
— — —
SMS Retired Air Force Robert H. Robinson, 92, Hollidaysburg, had the same thoughts as many people did that September morning. “How could the airplane have just crashed into a large visible building?”
“I was in my woodshop when my wife called to me and said that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center tower in NYC. Immediately I came from my shop to our television … What I saw was an aircraft stuck in the tower,” he said, remembering that during WWII a B25 accidentally flew into the Empire State Building and there were no survivors.
“Then another plane was flying too low away from the city. My thoughts were, ‘is this pilot trying to show all those on his plane what had just happened?.”
When the second plane hit the towers, “quickly I recognized this as a planned attack and the awful tragedy we were seeing live. I saw people jumping from the buildings, knowing they would not survive. As career Air Force retired, this event was not a complete surprise,” Robinson said.
— — —
“An Altoona Area High School teacher, I was consulting with a vice principal whose TV was on,” Nanette Anslinger of Altoona recalled. “Together we watched the twin towers fall as the first plane struck. Then the second. Horrified, we cut our meeting short, and I went to my classroom next door to greet incoming students. School was locked down. I didn’t change the TV channel,” she wrote, noting that not much book learning took place that day.
“Sadly, we were learning from real life. Computer-connected, I checked on friends in New York City and helped our pastor locate her daughter who lived there. Thankfully, no one I knew was hurt.”
Twice since that time, Anslinger was out of the country on the anniversary of 9/11.
“Both times the realization came as a shock, and I felt more distance than simply the geography of being away,” she wrote. “In Portugal, I was greeted at the Lisbon train station by newspapers displaying horrific photos of the burning towers. In Morocco, we’d spent wonderful weeks in the company of gracious Muslims — tour guides, shopkeepers, teachers and natives who invited us into their homes — and experienced none of the hatred demonstrated on that unimaginably awful day.”
— — —
“On that fateful morning, I was attending a Labor Management coalition meeting in Johnstown, which always wrapped up at about 9:15 a.m. at the latest,” said Bob Kutz of Dutch Hill, Altoona. “As a business agent for the IBEW, I would always pay local job sites visits at either coffee break or lunch break and I did that day as well. On my way out of town on Route. 56, as I was cresting the hill to merge with 219 to go back home, there were two very swift F-16 fighters that swept over the road only 200 feet up. Naturally it frightened me as they were really traveling fast, and they disappeared from sight heading due southwest. I didn’t think much of it, but as I traveled toward Ebensburg, I saw state trooper after state trooper literally flying in the opposite direction from which I just came. Not until I returned to my office in Whenwood and came inside, did I discover what had happened. Everyone was watching it on TV, then I realized the fighters were scrambled for the plane that was near Shanksville,” he said.
— — —
Lucy Wolf was the law librarian at the Blair County Courthouse when she had to take something down to the prothonotary’s office, she said. “They were gathered watching TV. They told me about the plane crash,” she said, noting that when she walked in, her first thoughts were “What’s going on?” and “Why aren’t those people working?”
Wolf said it wasn’t until much later that she found out her son, Jay, was at the Pentagon during the attacks. “He never told me,” she said.
Wolf, who has visited the Flight 93 memorial, said it’s hard to believe 20 years have passed.
— — —
Karen Haslett of Altoona said she “felt like I would never feel totally safe again.”
Haslett was visiting her brother in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Early that morning, I was awakened by his phone. One of his friends left a message asking if he was OK. I thought that was odd, but went back to sleep,” she said.
“Not long after that, the phone rang again — it was our father. Dad and I had a preset time that we’d check in with each other, but this was too early for that call,” she said. “When I answered the phone, he asked if I was watching TV. I told him no, I had still been in bed. He told me about the planes hitting the World Trade Center buildings and that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. I turned on the TV just in time to see the south tower collapse. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. … Then for hours, I watched the coverage of the Towers, the Pentagon and the Pa. plane crash. I sat there unable to believe what I was seeing. … I watched numbly as the hours passed. My brother was safe; and when he got home, we watched more of the television coverage — still stunned by what we saw — the fires, the collapses, people jumping out of the burning towers, and the bravery of the first responders.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I continued to see the images of the day.”
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“I worked at Altoona Area School District as a teacher assistant/nurse in a special needs classroom,” said Joyce Villani of Saxton. “The day before, Sept. 10, was a beautiful clear day. There was a certain calm in the air. I had an uneasy feeling in my gut. Had flashes of fire in my mind as if something was going to happen. As I arrived at Juniata Elementary, the morning was just magnificent with beautiful blue skies. As Mrs. Wenzel, staff and I were performing our duties, a co-worker from the classroom next door entered our room announcing that one of the twin towers collapsed in New York. As we learned of the other tower’s collapse and events taking place at the Pentagon and Somerset area, we were in shock and disbelief. The school district had an immediate lock down. Everyone appeared scared and worried as we kept the students calm and comfortable. We all had friends and family in the military or at the Pentagon. “Such a sad and very tragic day that we shall never forget. May God Bless America!”
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Lloyd C. Sorge of Altoona thought World War III was on the horizon after a plane hit the Pentagon. “I remember being at our new funeral home in Hollidaysburg; the borough was hooking up water and sewer lines,” he said. “We must never forget the thousands of lives lost that day and that the United States of America had entered a new era of global terrorism,” he wrote.
A few days after the attacks, Sorge was at a burial at Arlington National Cemetery where a cemetery guide told him he watched the plane crash into the Pentagon. It was a scary feeling to see the black hole in the Pentagon, Sorge said.
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With “so many recollections from that day,” Judy Coutts of Altoona said she wanted to share three takeaways from the days and months that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“First, one of my college friends lives in Manhattan. She is estranged from her family. The day after the attack, I emailed her to make sure she was OK. Of course, with the collapse of the towers, the cell towers collapsed with them. So, I sent her a postcard, inquiring as to her safety. She called about five days later, so relieved that someone cared enough to check up on her, and she let me know that she was OK. She works in a skyscraper in midtown, and she told me that she and her co-workers sat by the windows and watched the sad events of that day as they happened.”
Coutts said she heard from a Muslim friend about 10 days after the attacks. After studying in the United States in the 1980s, he returned home to Ethiopia, she said. When she asked him if he heard about the attacks, he said “Judy, the whole world has heard about September 11.”
“I then asked him if the attack was consistent with his Muslim beliefs, and he referred to the hijackers as, ‘those so-called Muslims,’ which answered my question perfectly,” she said. “However, he explained to me — as he had when we were friends when he was in the U.S. — that years of U.S. foreign policy had contributed to a hatred of the U.S. and its institutions by many people in the Middle East.”
Several months after the attacks, Coutts, a university graduate, said she received a print copy of the school’s alumni magazine. “There were page after page of obituaries of alumni who had perished in the Sept. 11 events. I wept with grief and sadness that so many fine, well-educated, young people, with full lives, from all over the world, were killed that day.”
— — —
“Sept. 11, 2001, was very memorable for me. You see, I was 8-months plus pregnant with my son, Kristopher, and was struggling to get my shoes on prior to walking to my then-job at Knisely and Sons, Hollidaysburg, said Karen T. Diehl of Hollidaysburg.
Just as she was ready to turn off the morning news and head out the door for the 2-minute walk to work, the report came on about the first plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers.
Shocked, Diehl said she turned off the TV and “walked up through the yard clutching my stomach and thinking ‘oh great, the world is about to blow up and I am about to give birth.’ What about all those poor people in the towers, just simply going to work just as I am?”
She stopped at Clair Knisely’s office door and told him what she saw before heading to her post at the front desk. He turned on his TV and then came out and told her about the second plane, and then the third one into the Pentagon and the fourth that crashed in Shanksville.
“At that point, I started to sweat thinking ‘oh why today? Why now and gosh is it terrorists or Armageddon?’”
With support from a friend who was also pregnant, Diehl managed to get through the day.
But, the next morning, when she got up for work, she went into labor — three weeks early.
Her son was born at 2:45 p.m., “just a little over half day late to be a ‘9/11’ baby,” she said.
“My doctor later told me many women went into labor early as a result of the constant news reports of the 9/11 events.”
“I saved the Altoona Mirror front page for my son and have shown it to him a few times over the years. All that worry was for naught as my son turned out OK with a big heart and a very good work ethic, working since age 15 at the Meadows, Duncansville, and he is also a student at Penn State Altoona. He will be turning 20 years old (wow) on 9/12,” Diehl said.
— — —
Nancy L. Snowberger of Hollidaysburg was at her daughter’s house, getting her grandson ready for kindergarten.
She turned the TV off right before news broke of the attacks.
“At 8:45 a.m., I turned off the TV from Regis and Kathy Lee to leave for the half-mile drive to Frankstown Elementary School. My next duty was to drive to Altoona to the Station Mall to Hill’s to buy a pair of pink tights for my granddaughter’s dance class that night. Upon leaving the parking lot from Hill’s and going toward 17th Street to exit near the A&P grocery, my cellphone rang. It was my daughter-in-law checking to see if I heard the news about the towers. I had not as I was jammin’ to an Elvis cassette as usual instead of listening to the news. She wanted me to be aware of what was happening so I would be available to pick up both grandchildren in case the schools dismissed early. They did not dismiss early, so at 11:30 a.m., I got them and we three were glued to the TV the remainder of the afternoon until the parents arrived after work. By this time both towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville had all been struck. Surprisingly, the kindergartners grasped what was going on, but not the terror that the act brought to adults,” she said.
— — —
Marea Mannion of Logan Township, who taught broadcast journalism at Penn State’s University Park Campus, was in Washington, D.C.
“In the very early morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I had a police escort from my hotel on the Washington Mall to the nearby D.C. Metropolitan Police Academy,” she wrote.
“I was there as an expert media instructor for Penn State’s Justice and Safety Institute, which was teaching two weeks of executive decision-making for about 40 MPD ranking officers.
This was my second and final day of training them in how to work with the news media.
At 8:30 a.m. we were doing mock press conferences focused on their latest big story: The disappearance of Capitol Hill Intern Chandra Levy with connections to a U.S. Congressman.
I had a large overhead television tuned to NBC’s Today Show and was talking about how the national media was covering their high-profile case.
At 8:46 a.m. we all saw what looked like a small plane fly right into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Even those seasoned commanders thought it was an accident. Then at 9:03 a.m., as I explained how New York media would be covering this story, we watched a second plane hit the south tower. From that moment on, everything in that room dramatically changed.
While a class of police cadets and instructors came running in to also watch, I was up front explaining how national news organizations were scrambling to cover what was happening.
Then just before 10 a.m., police pagers started going off as another plane hit somewhere in downtown D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey radioed to say training was over and I heard dispatchers report possible fires on the Washington Mall, and smoke at the Executive Office Building. But it turned out to be a plane crashing into the Pentagon.
Like everyone, I was very shaken, but knew I had to get back to Altoona where my mom was alone. Yellow acrid smoke filled the air and with the Beltway blocked near the Pentagon, a police unit escorted me to a beltway entrance toward Baltimore and I was finally heading home.
It was a very frightening trip as radio broadcasts reported a fourth plane possibly headed for Camp David was missing. It was Flight 93. Meanwhile, with the Metro and other transportation shut down, I witnessed hundreds of D.C. workers carrying briefcases and walking home on the sides off the beltway. A huge flashing highway sign warned ‘Major Trouble in New York. Avoid New York.’
It took me a very long time to finally call on jammed cell networks to both Penn State and my elderly mother, Bea, to say I was safe. Even hours later, I finally got back to Altoona and that evening we went to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament to pray with hundreds of others. Being with others we knew was very comforting during such a terrible day and night in our Nation’s history.”
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“It was a beautiful early Fall morning in the Washington area. I was working as a Procurement Analyst contracted to the U.S .Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, about 30 minutes from the Pentagon, said Monica Flinn of Hollidaysburg. “Everyone was settled in with their coffee, reading emails, starting the tasks of a normal workday. The first inkling of trouble came when I found our budget analyst barreling down the hall, purse under her arm, headed for the door. Surprised, I asked if she was ill. She did not stop to talk, just told me to ask our sergeant. I found the sergeant and several co-workers around a computer watching a replay of the first plane hitting the north tower. Thinking that this was just a horrible accident, I wondered how the air traffic controllers over New York could have misjudged this so badly. Then we learned the Pentagon was also attacked by a plane, and we knew this was clearly a terrorist situation. At once the lieutenant colonel ordered us all to exit our buildings and get home as soon as possible. At that point, the military thought that all bases in the Washington area could be terrorist targets. By shortly after 10 a.m., I was at home in Woodbridge, Va., frightened by our vulnerability as residents of the Washington area and watching TV with horror and disbelief at the events in New York and at the Pentagon. I immediately decided to call my mother in Cresson and let her know I was safe at home — I was in my 35th year of residing in the Washington area, and my mother was always concerned with my safety. I called from my landline to hear not her phone ringing, but a message stating that due to an emergency in Western Pennsylvania, the call could not be placed. I was totally alarmed and very mystified. I could not imagine what incident could have national significance in such a rural area. I tried my cellphone to no avail … all cell towers were jammed. I finally reached my sister in Winchester, Va., who told me about the plane crash in Shanksville. My first thought was ‘Why?’ What could have possibly caused a large plane to go down in such a rural area?
The aftermath in the days after 9-11 was startling and scary.
Fort Belvoir pre 9-11 was an open base. We had no ID cards, no guards at the entrances, no way of screening workers from visitors.
The following day, armed soldiers attempted a 100% search of all entering vehicles — mirrors under the chassis, all four doors and trunks open. Because of this, traffic came to a complete halt on all arteries leading to the base. After trying to go to work and progressing only 3 miles in one hour, our Lt. Colonel called our cellphones and ordered us home until the base could regroup.
When we finally returned to work, many entrances to the base were closed, soldiers in huts with rifles guarded the remaining entrances and almost every day saw new security devices in place.
One of the most vivid memories of that time was a business meeting two weeks later with a GSA co-worker who worked in downtown Washington. He was a young man whose family had just adopted a baby from Taiwan. I was very excited to see him and find out about the trip to Taiwan. We agreed to meet before the main business portion and catch up. When he entered, he seemed very subdued, and I asked if something was wrong with the baby. He shook his head no, and then started sobbing. Totally shocked, I held him in my arms while he told of passing the severely damaged Pentagon on his way to Fort Belvoir, and thinking of all the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who were killed, and how much more sensitive he was now that he had a child of his own. That meeting remains one of the most vivid memories of that time.
So many stories circulated for weeks and months after that day — narrow escapes from the Pentagon, traffic jams of 8 hours on 9/11 and 9/12, people who survived only because they had a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment, etc.
And the saddest of all, the pictures in the Washington Post of those who were lost forever at the Pentagon.
During the pervasive gloom of the aftermath, there was a hopeful and uplifting sign — our U.S. Flags. Flags flew everywhere — from apartment building roofs on I-95, from front yards of homes, from backs of trucks, from windows of cars, from balconies. But most heart-rending of all was the huge flag hanging within days of 9/11 from the roof of the Pentagon over the side of the damaged building.
The USA survived, but that day created a country changed beyond imagining in early September of 2001.
— — —
“Twenty years ago I was sitting at my kitchen table having my morning coffee and watching the news,” said Judy Wise of Duncansville. “I was terrified when I heard this.”
Wise said that a few days later, her daughter wrote a poem about the events. “I cry everytime I read it,” she said. The poem, “One Nation Under God,” talks about the attacks, the terrorists responsible and pays tribute to those killed. It includes the refrain — “God please give us the strength we need, A country knocked to its knees to plead. Take a look now, look and see, just how strong we all can be. No matter what, hand in hand, as Americans united we stand. I think the moral is plain to see, just one nation we all should be. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The author, Paula Mosel, is now 46 years old, Wise said.
— — —
“It seems odd when, after 18 holes, Lewis Ewart of Martinsburg (now deceased) and I strolled into Down River Golf Course’s clubhouse at lunchtime. No one was at the bar. No one was at any of the tables, but at least 12 guys crowded around a television set in the far corner of the clubhouse,” remembered Jim Caporuscio of Martinsburg. “It was then, after being told of the events that had transpired over the past four hours, I realized Lew and I were part of 9/11 history and memory.
While idyllically hitting golf balls on a scenic, sunny day in Everett, our world was being turned upside down with terroristic acts of destruction and death. On our return trip to Martinsburg in utter silence, I contemplated the fact that, in only a matter of minutes, Flight 93’s flight path might well have descended on that course where we had just been golfing.
It seemed surreal and still does, even after 20 years.”
— — —
“We all remember what a beautiful morning it was,” said Gina Zabinsky of Hollidaysburg. “I was out for a walk and waiting to cross Route 36 near the YMCA. A complete stranger pulled off to the side to tell me what happened. The first tower had been hit. I ran the rest of the way home to see the second tower hit on TV.”
“Like every other mother that day, I wanted to make sure my children were safe. I called my son, who was a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics at the time. Later, he told me that within hours, FBI agents were at his school to question some of his classmates, three of whom were students from Saudi Arabia.
Though they were cleared, only one of them stayed on to graduate. The others returned to their homeland as their families feared for their safety here in America.
What a sad day for all of us.”
— — —
“I had just taken my aunt to Altoona Hospital for surgery,” Liz Leach of Altoona wrote. “I stayed with her until they took her in and then walked down the hall to the waiting room. As I walked in the door, the TV was on. I saw the plane hit the towers. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A man walked in and he asked ‘Are you watching a movie? Oh no, I said, a plane had just hit the towers in New York. We both were speechless. I stood there for hours watching the TV. I never did sit down. My aunt was brought to her room, so I went over to her room. She asked me what’s going on? I told her about the plane hitting the towers. Turned on her TV and she said, ‘Oh my God, let’s say a silent prayer.’ And we did. I left her room to head home, let my dog outside and hit the couch watching what was going on. Isn’t it ironic that they picked 911? I will never forget what I saw. Never.”
— — —
“I vividly remember Sept. 11, 2001, every time I experience a September morning with a deep blue sky and clear, sunny air and a sense of optimism about the world,” wrote Sheila Flinn Stone of Duncansville.
“That was what that September day was like 20 years ago. I had just taken a job in Providence, Rhode Island, for the Providence city schools. I was getting back into the teaching game after a big change in my life precipitated by the economic events of the late 1900s when most of the East Coast companies went under a stock market decline. Many successful people had lost their jobs in the tech crash and real estate collapse that followed. Family breakups followed.
Rhode Island was to be a positive step and I entered the old city school building with enthusiasm. By 10 a.m., I had a break and stopped in the teacher room and I could not understand why some of the teachers were ranting about going to war. I thought I had happened upon some really right-wing political activists. Only when I looked up at the TV did I realize what had really transpired one hour earlier.
I went back to my classroom hoping to see the day get back to ‘normal’ but a fog came over the building and word spread quickly and eventually the loudspeaker told us to bring all the students in the middle school to the auditorium.
I can’t describe enough what it felt like to have assumed one small plane had crashed into one of the trade center towers in New York by mistake … and then see on a big screen TV a huge jetliner slam into the second twin tower on purpose.
Seeing the horror on the faces of the people on the streets of New York below mirrored the horror within our hearts. Even the TV news announcers were in shock. We all knew how many lives had just been lost in that small metal container called an airplane.
Junior high students could not be kept in the dark and I think it was wise to have them witness what was going on not that far away from them in New York City.
Later I heard from much younger elementary students in Virginia that their principal kept everything secret while they heard fire engines whizzing past their school all day long. Some of these children had parents who worked in the Pentagon. They later felt that they were lied to and disrespected by not being told the truth.
My brother, George, who was the rector of St. John Gaulbert’s Cathedral in Johnstown saw a low-flying plane above his church. He wondered why is was flying so low — that was Flight 93. That flight would’ve been the third plane .. had it not been for the most brave Americans I have ever heard about … who purposely acted on their impulse to think of others before themselves and crashed that plane in Shanksville.
I have another brother living in New York City, who was on the street below the World Trade Center watching it collapse as he knew one of his friends was inside the building. They were to meet for lunch later. Ed was covered with dust and is in one of the photos on a street called John Street in New York City.
My son was in Boston, Massachusetts where he was working for a pharmaceutical firm. The planes took off from Logan in Boston headed for Los Angeles with a full tank of jet fuel. The perfect bombs to slam into buildings not far away in New York City. I had no idea if he was flying that morning.
A first cousin, Monica Flinn, was working as a government contractor at Fort Belvoir outside of Alexandria, Virginia. Suddenly they were told to pack up their belongings and leave immediately. I tried calling her on my cell phone and realized that all phone lines to New York and Washington were inoperable and tied up — for a long 24 hours. Another cousin in Syracuse did call me. She was 8 months pregnant with twins. She wondered aloud what was the connection between New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania. (Those twins, Molly and Brendan, turn 20 next month).
And so, you see, this was a family affair. Everyone in the U.S. suddenly felt tied to everybody else in the U.S.
This was an attack on all of us.
That Thanksgiving when I drove back to Pennsylvania, I recall all the cars were flying the American flag, including mine. When you are going 70 mph the flags are ripped to shreds, but we didn’t care. We wanted to be identified as American. We wanted to support the U.S. We supported “us.”
It was the worst of times but also “the best of times” as the saying goes. We were all victims but we were all heroes, we were all survivors and we were all one.”