Everyone is often asked where they were and what they were doing at the moment when they heard about several hijacked commercial airliners crashing into the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania on this day in 2001. My story is about as unremarkable as anyone else’s but it is worth sharing in this space or in any online platform for the first time.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was 12 years old and just started 7th grade at John Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles. At the time, I was living with my biological father in the Koreatown neighborhood of the city. It was during the 6 a.m. PT hour when I was awoken to audio from our television set in another room. It was morning and tuning in to local news seemed like a customary thing to do. When I came over to see what was on the television, it was bad. It wasn’t like a live aerial footage of a traffic accident on one of L.A.’s many freeways tying up traffic somewhere or a wildfire breaking out in the hills. By the time I saw what was on the television set, one or both of the hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers. Being more than 2,000 miles away from where this and the attacks in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon happened, I saw no reason to feel scared about what was going on and neither did most around me in this West Coast city where I grew up.
I went to school shortly after. Coincidentally, the Los Angeles Unified School District scheduled in advance that very day to be a half-day for students at JB — what students often referred to the school. There were certainly discussions among the students, faculty and staff about the events that occurred earlier that morning on the East Coast although nothing else seemed out of the ordinary about the day. No stepped up security or anything. All the students including myself were still trying to process what was going on while being somewhat gleeful over the fact it was a half-day anyway.
Using my LACMTA student transit pass, I took some buses around the city to see how this second-largest city in the nation was responding to the morning’s terrorist attacks on the other side of the country. At least from my own recollection, the Starbucks near my school closed its doors for the rest of the day. The Metro Red Line subway service was shut down and stations shuttered (I specifically remember going to the Wilshire / Vermont station where the gates draped over the portal to the station).
Later that day, I came back home to watch more of the television news coverage. All the major broadcast stations were still on this story — reporters and anchors from their network news divisions helming the nonstop coverage with occasional local news cut-ins to update viewers on local responses and reactions to the terrorist attacks. Even a local broadcast affiliate of the Home Shopping Network at the time (now a Spanish-language network affiliate), which normally didn’t air any news or local programming, was feeding in live rolling coverage from either CNN or ABC News. Then-President George W. Bush gave a televised address to the nation that night, vowing to hunt down and bring to justice the individuals responsible for the attacks.
For that day, that’s all I could recount. Again, nothing remarkable.
Nine years later on Oct. 18, 2010, I would find myself visiting the first of the two 9/11 memorial sites on the East Coast. While on a trip to Washington, D.C. for a PRSSA Conference, I took the Washington Metrorail with some friends to the Pentagon. While we didn’t go in the facility, we visited a public space outside of the Pentagon that included a memorial for the victims killed at that site.
Two years later on Sept. 29, 2012, I visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. I also captured a shot of the One World Trade Center tower, which was still under construction at the time.
On this day back in 2001, after the nation realized what just happened and began to process it all, I still didn’t know what to make of the morning’s events. I also never expected that years later, I would find myself visiting two of the three sites that collectively came to symbolize the worst moment in our nation’s history. Having visited the memorials at the Pentagon and World Trade Center, it puts a lot into perspective. Being at those sites in person to observe what these places look like, what they feel like and picturing the sheer loss of life that had taken place years before, I felt that I finally understood the true impact 9/11 has had on the country as a whole. Even though I didn’t know anyone that died in these attacks, I can better empathize with the families and friends of the victims who did.
These visits in 2010 and 2012 aren’t anything remarkable either. It’s also just like any other story you might hear from anyone else. However, the main takeaway is that I finally can make something of all this — 15 years to the day since I began to process what just happened.