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Roanoke Times readers share their memories of 9/11

Roanoke Times readers share their memories of 9/11

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In August, The Roanoke Times asked readers for their recollections of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States. Below are their stories:

I was a sophomore at the College of William and Mary sitting in a social psychology class when our professor gave us a preliminary report. Keep in mind that there were no smartphones and we were several years before social media would be invented. Initially we thought a missile hit the first tower. We were so confused. The thought that an airplane could hit the World Trade Center, even by accident, seemed unfathomable. Even then, our initial thought was "Oh it must have been a light aircraft like a small Cessna." There's no way a commercial airline could crash into those buildings. Our professor let us leave early because she knew there were many students from the New York and New Jersey areas. I went back to my dorm and my roommate was on his knees in front of the TV as we watched the coverage. Then the Pentagon was hit. Then the towers fell. We sat there for hours, and I don't think we said a word. What could we say? With a large number of students from the NYC and D.C. area, I remember the entire student body being in a state of shock.

— Nathan Libassi, Roanoke

I was at work. Remember the outfit I was wearing. After the first plane hit the tower, coworkers and I were gathered by a TV trying to figure out what had/was happening. When the second plane hit, you knew it was not an accident.

The sky was the most beautiful clear blue. When I see such a sky, I remember 9/11. Carefree approach to life changed forever. Traveled by airplane for work with precautions and concerns following the events at an increased level, red/orange rating. Will evacuate a building when fire/other events occur. You saw the best/worse of humanity on 9/11.

— Sue Gregory, Salem

My husband, Dean, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech, and I were at an international conference of his colleagues in Pittsburgh.

I had decided to spend the day at the art museum. I hadn't been there very long when a museum guard approached me and said our country was under attack and described shocking scenes. I remember thinking "This poor man must be bored silly to invent such a story" and wondered if I should report him to someone. He must have read my mind because he then directed me to a room with a huge TV screen where many people were watching planes fly into the World Trade Center over and over again.

Dean and I were lucky as we could get in our car and drive home to Blacksburg that day, but we worried about his many international colleagues, many accompanied by spouses or entire families, who were now stuck in our formerly safe country for who knew how long.

This is my strongest emotion about that day; Sept. 11th is the birthdate of one of the world's kindest, gentlest, most altruistic people ever born, my Grandma Magruder. That something so horrific happened on her birthday is painfully ironic.

— Sally Mook, Blacksburg

About two weeks we moved from Amherst, New Hampshire to Bedford County, I commented to my husband that I needed to go to church. Church had always been a part of our daily life. I recalled that there was a Disciples of Christ church on the corner of Bedford Avenue and North Bridge Street. I knew that was where we should attend.

Little did we know that Sept. 11, 2001, would become a pivotal point of need for us. Our new church family would be our support system in a terrifying moment. Once we realized the extent of our country’s terror, it became very personal for us. There was absolutely no way we could connect with our family in New Hampshire. The communication systems were gone with the towers.

We watched in horror the television replays of the towers collapsing, the report of a passenger jet exploding on impact in Pennsylvania, and the calculated crash of a jet into the Pentagon. All this happening in our country? How could this be? I personally still can’t find the words to express the fear that gripped us.

With the care expressed to us by our new pastor and the church members, our anxiety eased over the many weeks that followed. Finally we were able to connect with our family in New Hampshire. Our lives here gradually became the norm. We returned to New Hampshire for visits on a regular basis. But I’ve never forgotten how far away I felt on that sad day which now is twenty years past.

— Jacqueline Hull, Bedford

In the autumn of 2001, I was in my 30th year as a member of the Psychology Department at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. I had ended the department chairmanship which I had held for many years, and was just beginning a one-semester sabbatical. 

But I needed to access some materials in my office which I needed for the textbook project I was undertaking on my sabbatical, so on that fateful Tuesday morning I ventured forth to my office.

Having secured my materials, I decided to walk over to another building and drop in on a close friend and colleague in the Biology Department. As we sat in his office, his cellphone rang and he said it was his daughter, so he answered it. She told him that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. There was no television available in the Biology Department, so I rushed back to my office where I had an old black and white TV with rabbit ears. As I came into my building, I ran into another colleague and told him what I knew, as I fired up the old TV in my office. By then several other colleagues and a few students had crowed into my office as the word spread, and just as the picture came up, we all witnessed the second plane crash into the other tower. I recall vividly that someone said loudly “We are under attack — they are coming after us.” I called my wife to tell her of the news, since I knew she would not have the television on.

So for the next couple of hours, I sat at my desk as other folks came in and out to watch the morning unfold, with the plane hitting the Pentagon, and then word of the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By midmorning, most classes at the University had been canceled, and the TV lounges in the Student Center were crowded with viewers.

It took me several days to get back to the task of writing a statistics textbook — something that most folks would avoid with a passion anyway. The rest is now history.

— F. Samuel Bauer, Christiansburg

As I bicycled the last few blocks to my librarian position at Marshall School in South Orange, New Jersey, on Sept. 11, 2001, I clearly remember how the morning temperature was so pleasantly mild and the sun so gentle that I thought to myself "What a perfect morning!"

That perfection was totally shattered about 45 minutes later when a parent walked into the library and announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Minutes later more parents began coming into the library to attend an orientation meeting I had scheduled that morning to train parents for library aide duties.

Thinking that the crash had been a terrible accident, I agreed to begin the orientation in a quiet corner of the library. Less than five minutes had passed when a cellphone rang. A parent answered her phone and immediately exclaimed, “OH MY GOD, THE SOUTH TOWER HAS JUST BEEN HIT!!”

“Go home,” I said to the parents. “We can’t do this today.” Now we all knew it was not an accident.

South Orange is just 15 miles west of New York City. There are high points in South Orange where the city and the World Trade Center are visible on a clear day. South Orange is one of many bedroom communities in Northern New Jersey where a large part of the population empties out of town every morning on the trains or buses to make their way to the city. That is exactly what had happened on that fateful morning.

Sept. 11, 2001, will never fade from my memory. So much more happened on that day and in the days to come. One of our families lost their dear father and so many others came so close. So many stories, so much sadness. There is not a person who was living on that day, who can’t tell a unique story.

— Arlean Hale Lambert, Blacksburg

A friend’s grandson, a recent Roanoke College graduate, was in the South Tower when it was hit, several floors above where the young man was attending a training session for Morgan Stanley, his new employer. The attendees were advised to begin evacuation immediately.

As he descended the stairs, the grandson encountered people who had fallen on the crowded stairs. He would help the person up and continue his descent. When he got out of the building, he knew nothing to do but start walking or running north. He managed to take the last train available headed for D.C. There he was stranded because he was under 25, meaning that he could not rent a car.

I have no idea how he finally got to Roanoke, but some time in the afternoon, his grandmother received a phone call informing her that Josh was OK. She told me that she had never been so scared in all her life. Josh later said that he planned to hang a picture of the devastation in his office to remind him that today was not the worst day of his life.

— Virgil Cook, Blacksburg

Let’s just say that before 9/11, Lee Greenwood had not exactly been in high demand as a concert headliner. In fact, Robins Air Force Base [where the writer then was stationed], celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2001, had been able to book Lee as our featured performer six months prior to the late September ceremonies. When “Proud to Be an American” exploded after 9/11, so too did Lee’s popularity. He was now getting myriad offers to perform all over, and at much bigger and better paying venues than the temporary bleachers set up in a parking lot at Robins AFB in rural Georgia.

I’ll never know the details, but in my mind Lee’s patriotism won out over any thoughts his handlers may have had about bailing on our concert in lieu of a much bigger payday. As one of the base’s leaders, my wife and I were fortunate to be at the pre-concert reception. Given that time and the events just prior, it was a thrill to meet and talk with him. But the highlight of course came when he closed the concert with his now signature song. We were a small crowd by design, but you could feel this great surge of patriotism welling up, along with the tears, as he performed. And the goose bumps I experienced on my trek two weeks earlier [to return to base from a symposium in Ohio] — they were there as well.

— Doug Anderson, Dublin

I was at William High School in 10th grade, and it was during class change, and I was standing under a tree with my friends. ’s campus had a different design then. Each hall was for a very specific subject. As we were standing outside, news started to come in that a plane has hit the Twin Towers. We froze, and a somber feeling started to kick in, that we are under attack. We started to go inside the hall, thinking that the building would shelter us.

And even with that age, I started to hope that military action would be taking to destroy the terrorists, and that our country would be united in response.

Fortunately we were united in that response, and I thank our military every days for keeping us safe

— Andy Huynh, Roanoke

I was working in an office in Springfield, Virginia, just outside the beltway near D.C. After a plane hit the second tower, everyone was glued to the TV in one office, and no one noticed Flight 77 zoom almost directly overhead on a fast descent toward the Pentagon. Several support staff had husbands working in the Pentagon, and our work day ended shortly after it was struck. One coworker just kept saying, "This changes everything." Another somewhat hawkish coworker began laying out his ideas for taking over the Middle East one country at a time, including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. I was able to make some phone calls despite busy circuits and headed back into northwest D.C. where I was staying. Humvees topped with machine guns were stationed at the bridges into the city. Adding to the surreal mood of the day, the power in our area went out that night. Eventually, we went to sleep in candlelight to the sound of helicopters and periodic fighter jets in the sky overhead. On my calendar for Sept. 11, 2001, a note about the day says simply, “Send in the Clowns.”

— David Garland, Roanoke

All the employees at the large home supply store I worked in gathered in the break room watching TV in shock. I popped out to help a customer with wallpaper, telling her "There are terrorists attacking New York!"

"Oh," she replied, "I wonder if I should go with pink in the bathroom."

Suddenly our secure, safe country was violated, and the things that once seemed important, like pink bathrooms, wouldn't matter again for a very long time. I didn't know anyone in New York, and wasn't personally affected, but everything changed. I remember how quiet and strangely clear the sky was after airports closed. Once they reopened I kept expecting a plane to suddenly veer into a building. I haven't flown since.

Suddenly, we were patriotic again, even as our economy slowly collapsed. I lost my job when the store had to cut back expenses. But we survived, I got a better job. I was determined to be ready when the next big thing happened, and when it did, in 2020, I was able to take it in stride, helping to keep three organizations going and even increasing service without missing a day of work. I was never as secure again after 9/11, but I was used to it and even found myself spending part of the pandemic planning a pink bathroom!

— Jan Keister, Roanoke

I was a freshman in college at the State University of New York at Fredonia when the terrorist attack of 9/11 occurred. I get chills thinking about that morning to this day.

— Kristopher Hite, Blacksburg

I was traveling in the New York area on 9/11. I saw the second plane hit with my own eyes.

Watching 2,000 people being killed never really leaves one. I don’t know how to abbreviate it.

— Lee Fitzgerald, Fincastle

After regaining from the shock of what had happened on the morning of 9/11, I made my way to the American Red Cross Chapter House. As a disaster volunteer and CPR instructor, I was overcome with mixed emotions as I saw the line of humanity standing outside the building to give blood. I went inside and said, "Put me to work!" I continued in the next few weeks to serve at the Chapter House.

In October, I had the privilege of going to NYC and worked out of Floyd Bennett Field to provide disaster services at this crime scene, delivering primarily food and water to public servants, and in some cases, Secret Service personnel. The experience was humbling, uniting and insightful.

It was a privilege to meet and serve with so many ARC volunteers from across the USA and also the Canadian Red Cross who came from their close proximity. This experience changed me and at the same time reinforced by faith in my God, country and my fellow Americans who gave of themselves for the greater good of our country and world.

— Jennie Sue Murdock, Salem

While working at a now defunct community bank, I was at my desk when our internal mail associate stated "The twin towers have been hit." My reaction was immediate shock while processing what had happened. Everyone in the office felt the same. As other situations arose so did the concern of my coworkers.

Unfortunately, one of my most vivid memories was when the bank's executive vice president said we would continue with "business as usual and there was nothing to be concerned with in our area." Fortunately, our bank president, who was stranded in Texas, contacted the bank and told the executive assistant to turn on the TV and employees could watch during lunch, or their breaks and still take care of clients. There was certainly a feeling of emptiness during that day and the day following. I still have concerns about this day repeating itself.

— Kit Abell, Roanoke

I was at Lexington's then-Stonewall Jackson Hospital visiting my uncle, who was a patient there, when I found out about what had happened at the Twin Towers. A lot of the hospital staff and others were crowded in front of the main lobby television, raptly watching something that was apparently momentous. I moved in for a closer look, saw the dark smoke billowing in the picture, and asked someone what was going on. I was told that planes had attacked the World Trade Center that morning.

I was shocked, yet I wasn't. There had been the truck bomb that had destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. "Towering Infernos" were nothing new anywhere — not in movies, not in reality.

After I left the hospital, I went to Staunton. What struck me was the brilliant blue afternoon sky, with its cloudlessness and piercing sun. As I drove up the virtually trafficless U.S. 11, the morning's events seemed very, very far away.

But were they? My mother had gone to New York City in 1995, and had watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from inside the ground floor of the North Tower. What if the cataclysm had happened then? And, I later found out that a college friend, who worked in the World Trade Center, had missed her subway train that morning, and thereby lives. Could someone else I know from somewhere, be living because of plans changed at the last minute, and planes not boarded?

— Angela Watkins, Natural Bridge Station

It started as an ordinary day for me — a beautiful morning with bright blue skies and lots of sunshine. I was managing a cheese and specialty food department at a small natural food store in suburban Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. After a short motorcycle commute, I arrived at work around 9:30 a.m., completely oblivious to the terrible events unfolding in New York City.

After entering the shop, I was immediately approached by the owner, my boss, who nonchalantly stated, "Well Taylor, it looks like terrorists flew some planes into the World Trade Center ... so, how's the cheese looking today?" That's how I first learned of the attacks.

There were no TVs in our store, but my coworkers and I listened intently to the news broadcasts on a small radio in the back produce room. After receiving word of the nearby Pentagon attack, an overwhelming sense of dread began to settle in. I expected the attacks to continue and believed it could mark the beginning of the end for our nation.

That afternoon, I was talking with a friend outside when we heard the distinct sound of a jet flying overhead. I later learned that all commercial flights had been grounded by that point and realized that what we had heard was the sound of a fighter jet patrolling the airspace over our capital. It was a day I'll always remember.

— Jon Taylor, Roanoke

My husband, (James M. Warren III, now deceased) and I were in Atlantic City on a three-day bus tour. We checked out the boardwallk, upscale hotels, restaurants.

Next morning, in the dining room, we noticed people around the big TV’s We saw the plane had hit the Trade Center, the fire, smoke, and people frantically running everywhere.

Police and security guards were in our hotel. Our driver was in the office looking for the safest way to get us home.

Then the loudspeaker blared for us all to get our luggage and get outside. We were to leave as quickly as possible. Our bus filled and all accounted for. Told to fasten our seat belts, say a prayer, and hang on tight. It was unnerving being in a vulnerable location so close to New York that was known for large crowds of happy people. Would a place like this be a target?

We didn’t know what else might be happening while we were on the road. The bus was mostly retirees, no cellphones, not tech savvy as everyone is nowadays. A bond of strangers formed, we shared food, talked about our families, wondering what others were doing to stay safe.

Finally home, this was the most scared we had ever been. And for days, we did what everyone else in the world was doing, watched the news, and prayed for those lives lost.

— Maruma Warren, Roanoke

I'm a CPA and was returning from a client's office on the morning of 9/11. Listening to the radio, the announcer indicated that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I assumed that it was a small plane. By the time I reached my office, the second plane had hit. I was in shock and disbelief. Trying to begin the workday was fruitless. My thoughts of shock turned into incredible sadness of all the lives lost-hearing stores of people leaping from windows at WTC unable to escape the fire.

What made me pause even more was the fact that my family had been in NYC in July of that year. We stayed with a friend in New Jersey, took the ferry from Hoboken and went up to the Observation Deck in one of the towers. For July, it was a gorgeous day with low heat and humidity. My wife is afraid of heights so my two sons ages 11 and 6 plus our friend went up on the roof. After the kids had seen "Home Alone 2," they couldn't wait to see what Kevin had viewed.

Not a productive day at work and also torn about calling & waking up my wife who had worked the night shift. A friend had called her.

My son had a Roanoke city rec soccer game that night. Some normalcy for a truly awful day.

— Jimmy Whitney, Roanoke

Heard the breaking news on National Public Radio while driving over Windy Gap to work. Spent the rest of the day with Bishop Neff Powell and the staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, watching, praying and deciding how to respond.

— Christine Collins, Moneta

Four days after 9/11, so overwhelmed with it all — all the anxiety, sorrow, fear and anger — I needed to get away, so I went into work and asked for Friday off so my wife and I could go backpacking in the Weminuch Wilderness and find some peace and solitude for a little while. Hours into the trip, we stopped, dropped our packs , sitting quietly on a rock, we noticed the total silence for the first time. All commercial flights had been grounded so there were no jets crossing overhead, no contrails cutting across the sky — just quiet. It was eerie knowing why the empty skies, but it was beautiful too. The world was as quiet as I've ever heard it.

Being alone in this wilderness and seeing that life goes on out here, despite the insanity elsewhere was reassuring. The quiet, the beauty of the natural world help heal us a bit. We didn't want to go back but just those three days alone in the San Juan Mountains helped us cope. It didn't change anything; all our angst and sorrow was still there, but it was a little more bearable.

— David Muse, Roanoke

I was at a National Green Industry (nursery/landscape) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. We were leaving the hotel, several blocks from the Capitol, to scheduled meetings with our members of Congress. The news was on the lobby TV and everyone was stopping to see the first videos of the first plane's damage to the World Trade Center. The hotel setup TVs and an unscheduled lunch in the conference room, and let us check back into our rooms. We watched in disbelieve as the towers came down. Outside, we could see the smoke from the Pentagon fires. The streets were filled with sirens and traffic leaving the city. We heard that the airports were shut down along with Interstates 95 and 66. Other colleagues, who had flown in, were chartering buses and any vehicle they could to travel home. I had driven from Christiansburg, but drove two friends from Richmond, and two from Atlanta, to Richmond by U.S. 301. The cell signals were overloaded and it was early afternoon before I could let family know we were OK. The event created a unique bond between my conference friends that day. The day's afterward were so eerie with the skies so quiet, not realizing how many planes flew over our home.

— Jeff Miller, Christiansburg

On 9/11, I worked at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Crystal City. Each mornng, I rode an Express bus from Reston, which stopped at the Pentagon at 7:45 and at Crystal City at 7:55. By 9 a.m. everyone was talking about planes flying into the Towers.

While we were monitoring the news from our computers we heard a very loud boom. Everyone rushed out of the buildings and saw black plumes of smoke coming from the Pentagon. By about 11:30 we were orded to go home which caused gridlock. Fortunately, the Metro was still running and as we passed the Pentagon station, we could smell the acrid smoke. It took almost four hours to reach my home in Sterling that afternoon.

Unexpectedly, we were orded to report for work the next day, Wednesday. The Express bus which I rode never stopped at the Pentagon again until a platform was erected some distance away from the back side of the Pentagon.

During my lunch hour on Wednesday, I walked about a mile to an area where I could observe Reagan Airport. It was eerie to see it completely quiet. While there, a small plane was allowed to fly out which I believe was the last plane out until it reopened.

Security in government buildings was never the same. From that day on security guards, badges and bag searches were standard. Never again could an "inventor" walk into our buildings with his bow and arrows as once happened.

— Eileen Bartels Hadden, Roanoke

After my first class of the day in the Virginia Western Community College radio and TV program, classmates and I heard rumblings of what happened. A few fellow students and I went into the walking bridge over Colonial Avenue to watch the TV hanging in the corner. We watched the second plane hit the towers and none of us could figure out if it was a replay of the first or a second attack.

When we figured out what had happened we all decided to cut classes for the rest of the day to watch what unfolded at a friend's house. I remember the fear of realizing that this could be the start of many attacks all across the country. If a few commercial flights could be hijacked, 10, 20, 50 could be and we could be at the start of a day that included thousands more deaths. The feeling that none of us were safe filled the day. I was 19 years old and I was certain the draft would be reinstated. I thought we'd be going to war immediately. It became obvious at some point that life would never be the same ... and it wasn't.

— Elliot Broyles, Roanoke County

I was in fourth grade, sitting in the back row of Miss Scott's class. I had just been to New York City the previous year, so friends were asking me about the World Trade Center. My mom came in at lunchtime just to sit with me and my friends. I don't remember if we talked about anything related to what happened, but I know that's something that has stuck with friends of mine to this day. As someone who doesn't have a ton of firm memories pre-9/11, I see 9/11 as a key point in my development. It taught me that nothing is guaranteed, not even our basic safety, and that you should appreciate what you have and who you have.

— Alex McCarthy, Roanoke 

My office was located 20 minutes from Newark airport and planes flew over the office all the time. Some employees I worked with going to the trade center to move coin vaults. I heard on the radio that the trade center was hit by a plane. I called my guys not to go there but they went. They helped all day and night and couldn't leave New York City. They said they have never seen something so devestating. The FBI came and my guys brought coins from the vaults to my office. The coins were bellowed and the ashes were all over them. I still have copies of the drawings of the vaults and a container of the coins that we were given. I have them sealed in plastic bags because I don't know the contents of the dust covering them. I went to the site the next day with my boss and just couldn't believe what I saw. The odor was awful and I had to go sit in the car it was so bad. Each year on 9/11 brings back all those awful memories. We lost one of our part-time workers who was on the last fire truck going over. Still have his T-shirt with 911 on it.

— Mary Ann Goderstad, Daleville

I was the director of a large early childhood program in suburban Indianapolis. It was a beautiful day of sunshine and blue sky when parents and children were arriving. One mother stuck her head in my office and said, “Turn on the news. Something terrible is happening.” We crowded around a TV watching that terrible event. (Fortunately, we had team teaching so the young children were not left without teachers!) One of my young teachers cried out “My dad is in the Pentagon” and became hysterical. Others rushed to comfort her and eventually drove her home. (Later her father called her and was OK). As the reality and the feelings of horror hit me, I began to worry about our children and the impact of this event on them. I NEEDED work to do! I went to my files of articles for parents and located several on the subject of explaining disaster to children, fired up the copier and made copies to send home with each child that day. Mr. Rogers’s articles were a great resource.

Some of my staff wanted us to lock down the school. I vetoed the idea believing that it was necessary we have a normal calm day for the sake of our young children.

Many parents picked up their children early that day.

Some children in our school, when they came the next day, built block buildings and flew toy airplanes into them. Young children process trauma in their own way.

— Chris Landon, Roanoke

I was headed to WVTF where I volunteered once a week to read books and newspaper ads for the blind. When I arrived, someone told me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I remember thinking, “Man, how could someone not miss an obstacle like that?” As we stood glued to the television, we watched in horror as another plane hit the second tower. I immediately stepped into another room and called my brother who lived in Brooklyn. His wife answered and told me Clay had walked down to the Promenade, to see what was going on. She said they felt a ‘thump’ and worried their 4 month old had rolled out of his crib. I then called my parents and told them to turn on the news, and told them I’d reached my sister-in-law and they were OK in New York City.

Honoring my commitment to my volunteer duty, I went in my recording room and worked for 90 minutes. When I came out, the Pentagon had been hit and the fourth plane had crashed in the Pennsylvania field. On the way, I had the radio on and I distinctly recall turning from Brambleton onto Garst Mill Road and hearing the announcer say, “Both towers have now fallen.” I took one hand off the wheel and covered my mouth, my eyes blurring as tears formed. Despite all the unimaginable things that had happened that morning, never in my wildest dreams did I think those towers could collapse.

— Anne Travers, Roanoke

I was living in New Jersey. I had come home the day before Sept. 11 after a three-month trip to explore a new lifestyle. For a variety of reasons I needed to leave New Jersey. I was going to sell my town house and travel the country in my RV. I hadn't reconnected my cable yet so I didn't have a TV on. A friend called and told me what was happening. I immediately went to her house and we watched the the events unfold.

It changed my life. It took some time — a little over a year — but I reevaluated my motives for what I had planned and the choice to travel. I wanted to have easy access to my family and friends. I decided to give up my dream of traveling. It wasn't worth the price. I wanted to at least be on the East Coast and have a permanent location in a place I could afford. I wanted community. I started looking for a location where I would be able to stay for the rest of my life. A place with the things I loved. I wanted a small college town, nearby mountains for hiking, culture and good health care.

The next thing I knew I was in Roanoke! I have built the best life possible here. I wouldn't change anything. But it took a tragedy of monumental proportions to help me see what had value for me.

— Caryl Connolly, Roanoke

I was living in New Orleans and on 9/11 was in a New York City Marriott. I was getting ready for a meeting, had the TV on and as I stepped out of the shower I heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The burning building was shown live and within seconds the plane flew into the second tower! I knew it was no accident! My meeting broke up since wee couldn't concentrate. A third the plane hit the Pentagon where my friend and Jefferson High School '65 classmate, Gen. Dan Hogan was (uninjured) and the heroes took down the plane in Pennsylvania.

New York was eerie. All the subways, trains and buses were shut down. By early afternoon the first of the people from the WTC were walking home. Many were covered in soot and smoke and all were in a daze! 

We can never say enough about the first responders and military who ran to not away. To this day it is still a vivid memory.

— Anderson Stone, Roanoke

I was in my office at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Salem in the accounting dept. I kept a small 5-inch TV there to watch the news when I ate lunch at my desk. I may have watched the morning news before I started work that morning but had the TV on at my desk with no sound. I saw something strange happening and I called out to my coworkers as we all crowded around and watched everything unfold. I called my husband to turn on the TV at home.

Being a federal facility, we were immediately in disaster mode. I recall us ordering concrete barricades for the front entrances to the medical center. Not sure why, as anyone could have driven up through the grounds from the main road at that time. We had no idea what to expect, who was the next target and why this was happening. We prepared for any incoming trauma patients that may have resulted from this unknown attack that seemed to never end. My college age daughter called, upset, begging me to come home as she felt I was unsafe at work. I did stay as I knew we were needed to prepare for the safety of the patients and employees. We all felt helpless and scared, not knowing what to expect next. Would we be a target? Thankfully, we were not. It was an exhausting, traumatic and tragic day in our history.

— Sharon Stanley, Roanoke

On 9/11, I was about ready to go back to my classroom and begin my next social studies class. Saw what was going on in the guidance office. Went back to my classroom where my students and I watched in horror as the events unfolded.

Middle school students are not known for being quiet, but on this day they were truly in shock and weren't sure what to do.

It brought back memories for me of the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was sitting in a classroom that day too, as a student. Just like my teacher then, I was at a loss for words how to explain this to shellshocked students.

— Margaret Fleming, Roanoke

I was at work on the campus of Virginia Tech that awful morning and for several hours communication (email) was still open. Work and classes had stopped. Everyone was watching the events unfold. An email popped up in my box from a cousin asking "Where's Janet?" Janet, my sister, spent one Tuesday a month in meetings with the large insurance company she worked for whose headquarters were located on one of the top floors of the North Tower. She was based in D.C. Was this her Tuesday to be up there? No one knew for sure and, by this time, email had stopped. It was chaos and I was in a panic. Not only were the horrors of that day becoming clear for me and everyone around me, now I wasn't sure if my only sister was a victim. Was she safe at home? It would be another two hours before the lines opened up again and I got an email from her saying that she was fine but 250 of her coworkers in New York City were not.

— Susan King, Salem

I was at work in downtown Roanoke and went to a coffee shop on the market and stood with other folks and watched the reports on the first plane’s impact on the tower. It was a quiet moment. When I got back to work, we stood around and listed to the reports and tried to understand. I left work at noon and headed to Jacksonville, Florida, for duty with the Navy Reserve Seabees. My orders had been in place for a couple of months and the drive to Jacksonville was unreal with very little traffic and no contrails in the sky. I listened to the news for the entire drive and tried to understand it all. Whenever I stopped at a gas station or at a rest stop, everyone was talking about the attack.

— Dan Motley, Franklin County

I returned to my CPA office at about the time news was coming in about the first plane. I quickly went to my office where staff had already gathered watching my TV. We were talking about how big the plane must have been to do that much damage, and then watched as the second airliner hit the other building. Everyone quickly realized we were under attack and fear spread quickly. We talked about how surely those buildings wouldn't fall down, they couldn't could they? I received a call from a client asking about her consultation appointment and I agreed to continue with it if she so desired. So I was at a client's office working on a new software program and watching the TV when the first building fell. We were both in tears, and I was so glad when she said she couldn't do the computer stuff anymore and I left. Instead of returning to the office I picked my son up from school and we watched the rest from home. He was 11 years old and vowed to kill the people responsible. He is now a major in the Marine Corps, and has worked overseas doing what he promised that day as a child.

— Kathryn Fox, Roanoke

I always remember that day. I did not turn on TV so I did not know about it until I picked up a friend to go to Bible study. With our pastor we all watched TV and prayed a lot. One of our group had a son working from at the Pentagon. She could not get in touch with him. Later she found that he was on a business trip. Due to planes being grounded he could not get home for sometime.

On the same day we were having our pictures made for the church directory. We went ahead with tearstained eyes but several people were too sad to go.

Every time I see that picture, I remember that terrible day.

A friend had several firefighter friends who died that day.

— Gerry Minter, Daleville

I was working close to the Pentagon that morning — perhaps a mile and a half away. Didn't hear or feel anything but my radio told me the bad news, and I ran out of my office building to get an unobstructed view of the Pentagon. Then I saw the billowing smoke and the hole in the Pentagon. I worked in the section of the Pentagon where the plane hit back in 1994 as a Naval Reserve officer.

I know the Middle East and our involvement there very well — the good and the often untold bad. I was surprised about the scale of the attacks but not surprised that an attack had occurred on American soil — it was only a matter of time after the first attempt to knock down the Towers back in 1993. Not surprised at all.

— Mark Pando, Roanoke

I was at my apartment in Old Southwest when a friend telephoned and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Of course I thought it was a small plane and turned on the TV to watch in horror as the second plane crashed into the other tower (I can’t recall if it was actually shown in real time of later of the second plane).

I’m a lifelong aviation person, having grown up next to National Airport in Arlington where my Father worked for United Airlines.

Prior to moving back to Roanoke I managed an Antiquities Store for Aviation artifacts in Alexandria, my favorite items being models of commercial airliners. I worked for American Airlines in New York’s LaGuardia Airport and then Washington National Airport.

When it became known that the plane that hit the Pentagon was American Airlines Flight 77 it hit even further home with the sadness of the death and destruction. I had flown on AA 77 and anytime a plane is lost many of us airline aficionados take the loss the same as if it had been a best friend.

It was and still is a profound sadness that these magnificent flying machines were used as weapons to kill and cause so much death and destruction and the loss of so many lives. I in no way mean to imply is the slightest that the plane loss meant more more to me that the toll of hundreds of humans.

— E. Duane Howard, Roanoke

I had just come home from Hong Kong to be with my father while he wasted away from cancer. We'd crammed our entire lives back into my parents' spare room. He yelled for me from the living rm, and I'll never forget the timbre of his voice. Or walking out and seeing an empty sky.

— Tiffany Trent, Blacksburg

We turned on our office TV to see breaking news coverage of a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. We were watching the live broadcast when the second plane crash occurred, and I was riveted to the TV before having to drive to a planned meeting at the Hotel Roanoke.

As the outgoing president of the Virginia Court Clerks' Association, I was to host our annual convention at the hotel later that month. Weeks earlier, a small group of us from around the state had scheduled a 10 a.m. meeting on Sept. 11 to finalize those plans.

Soon after I arrived, the WTC’s South Tower collapsed, and people in the lobby were gathered in small clusters, shaking their heads, hugging one another, crying and speaking quietly. Less than 30 minutes later, we watched the Pine Room's wall-mounted TV in disbelief as the North Tower also collapsed.

We considered not holding the convention — with hundreds of preregistered attendees — the following weekend, but we converted it into an event that also honored first responders.

My wife’s parents, both World War II veterans, had a huge American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol, so we mounted it above the speaker's podium in the Conference Center, and retired Congressman Jim Olin led us in a somber Pledge of Allegiance.

Such vivid memories remain with me from an event that redefined America 20 years ago.

— Steven A. McGraw, Roanoke County

I was in my 19th floor office in the Empire State Building Looking due south I could see the the Twin Towers. I saw the UA flight (gun metal grey) hit the Tower and burst into flame. I was scared as we were the next highest bldg. We took the elevators down before they were stopped. We watched from the street as the second tower fell. I can still see the UA flight as it sliced into the bldg. A slight I shall never forget.

— John Whirney, Bedford

I was 8 years old when this happened. My single mother and my brother and I were moving into our new home on 9/11 and the first thing that got moved was the TV set and cable hook up to watch the news. Every house in our newly developed neighborhood had American flags in their yards and a stern patriotism was rampant. Although I was quite young to understand the severity of what happened, I’ll never forget the feeing of unity we all had as American citizens and I hope our country puts our current issues to the side and we can be united once more like that in my lifetime; we will truly never forget.

— Josh Sayers, Roanoke

I was working at The Roanoke Times when Sherrie Yates in Human Resources got the call. We quickly found a TV and were in shock watching.

My children were working in Northern Virginia near D.C. I was extremely worried until I could speak with them. Thankfully they were fine. My daughter could see the smoke coming from the Pentagon.

I met friends for lunch and we went to St. Philip Lutheran to pray.

My husband was on his way to Floyd and took a wrong turn. He stopped at a country store for directions and had no idea what the owner was talking about.

I have been to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon Memorial.

Sobering …

— Carol Goad, Roanoke County

I had left Virginia Tech to drive to a conference. I stopped by my house to pick up a suitcase right after the first plane hit one of the World Trade Center's two towers, and no one knew if it was anything other than an accident. So, I left Blacksburg in Tech's motor pool car. While I was passing Radford on Interstate 81, NPR said a second plane had struck the other tower. Without hesitation, I turned around at the next exit and came home, I knew the conference I was going to had to be canceled. It was the national meeting of the Radio-TV News Directors Association in Nashville. Unsurprisingly, most of the attendees canceled their reservations. That evening, my wife and I were in the backyard, and I saw no jet contrails in the sky. All commercial U.S. air traffic had been groundedI think that's when it really hit me.

— Paul Lancaster, Blacksburg

Just another morning at work, where a small close knit group of sales guys mill around in coffee sipping mode. The boss, boasting the only TV set said, "C'mere, look at this". And there it was. A skyscraper engulfed in flames that drew our gasps. "Where's this?" I asked. The answer drew more gasps, & commentary. "Seems a plane hit it", "Big plane? "That's the World Trade Center, ain't it" ? "Jeez" "Let's hope it was an accident" ......And, then plane number two hit building number two. And, then we knew. A feeling hit me like the weight of a heavy wet shawl. I had the same reaction when I was into week number two of Uncle Sam's Planet Fitness program called basic training. The year was 1963, & Sgt. Landin burst into the barrack, & blurted, "President Kennedy's been shot!" I immediately thought - "We're gonna' go to war..,.the Rooskis, no doubt. It wasn't, & we didn't. This time.... "the middle east". It was, & we did. We closed up shop, & all went home. I remember calling my daughter, then a 28 year old enthusiastic career type living in California. I remember saying, "Life as we now know it will change"......Into what I can't say". I think she muttered something like, "Oh, Dad!" Later I went back to watching TV's endless devastation footage, & subsequent destruction. Well, life DID change. We stagger shoeless through lines just to board a plane. "Any liquids"? And, it still wasn't the Rooskis.

— Ronald Mummert, Shawsville

Was working downtown with about 800 or so employees on five or six floors in our building. Our suite had a conference room with a TV. A couple of minutes after 9 a.m. someone came flying into our suite and went to turn the TV on. They told all of us to come into the room. For the rest of the day we mostly went in and out watching. Others came all day from other offices. Everyone was numb. How did I feel? I think sick and shocked, By end of day there were flags everywhere, I soon got one for my car window like thousands. Even today it seems unreal. The next morning I remember the "Today Show" and Matt Lauer waking through the smoke and ashes. Have never taken my life in this country for granted again.

— Judith Harrison, Roanoke

On the road to work, when all I could see was cars pulled over on both sides of the road. This was in New Jersey. So I too pulled over to see what everyone was looking at, and saw the second building collapsing. I had seen the first one hit by the plane on TV while I was dressing for work. I thought it had to be an awful accident, never guessing it was done on purpose. I didn’t know if I should go to work or not, so I just got in my car anyway. No one went to work that day. We were all in shock.

— Sandra Ruggles, Hardy

As I was participating in a work conference call, the muted "Today Show" on TV showed a plane had crashed into the tower. After the second tower was struck, I informed everyone on the call that our country was being attacked. We all began crying and the meeting was ended. My husband who was in Australia waiting to board a plane for home, called to say we were being attacked and that all flights were canceled. My children were in school safe. The world grew quiet as the skies became silent. Fear and anxiety sat in as we waited to see where the next attack would happen. We hugged and called love ones. It would be another 10 days before my husband could fly home. The world had changed.

— Sandra Friedlander, Roanoke

Our sales manager, Brian, and I were in Los Angeles exhibiting the company’s products at a hotel trade show. Across the aisle an attractive young lady was giving ties to hoteliers; wouldn’t give me one. But as the show ended she gave me an American Flag silk tie. The date was Sept. 10, 2001.

Next morning returning the rental, we heard a plane had hit the Trade Center. All LAX flights were canceled. We booked the next day’s flight to Roanoke, checked into a hotel, and learned both Towers had been hit. All U.S. airports were closed.

We couldn’t reach Amtrak or Greyhound. I convinced the Hertz agent to provide a one-way rental to Roanoke. We drove across the desert to Las Vegas spending the night of 9/11.

Driving South, we picked up Interstate 40 to I-81, sleeping two nights at customer’s hotels. Brian had to stop at K-Mart to buy underwear. Having recently seen Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man”, Brian’s nickname became “Rain Man”.

At a November 2001 New York hotel show, I took a taxi to Liberty Street at Ground Zero, walked past police in my suit, new American Flag tie, and 35mm camera. I took photos at Ground Zero, atop the Empire State Building, other New York scenes in memory of events two months earlier. After the Reflecting Pools and 1776 Freedom Tower were built I returned to NY in 2011 … always wearing my special 9/11 American Flag silk tie.

— William Fizer, Roanoke

My mom died at 5 p.m. Sept 10, 2001.

My wife, Meg, and I were getting ready on the 11th to go to an appointment with the funeral home, and watched in horror as the jets slammed into the towers.

When we got to the funeral home, the greeters did not know we had been attacked.

My wife and I did not know about the other attacks until we got home, and we were both devastated from what had happened.

It is a day I will never forget.

— Rick Johnson, Roanoke

I was in New York for a rehearsal for my piano ensemble group, "Carole Edwards and Friends" and drove home a day earlier than planned, on Sept. 10. In my kitchen in my home at The Water's Edge on Smith Mountain Lake, I was watching the "Today Show" when I saw the first plane hit (assumed it was an accident like the plane that hit the Empire State Building years earlier) and then the second plane. Immediately I called my Staten Island friend who was a part of my ensemble, calmly asking "Are any of your family members in the "city" today. I told her to put on her TV, as she looked out the window, seeing across the Bay at the horrific scene unfolding.

Many New York City firemen and policemen live on Staten Island so I knew many of their family members who ultimately lost their lives. All bridges and ferries were instantly closed down due to the fear of terrorists — from that day on, no automobiles have been allowed on he ferries — in fact, the ferries designed since then have no car lanes. A few fortunate workers in lower Manhattan ran to the S.I. ferry (a hefty distance on foot) and got some of the last ferries to leave Manhattan. Cousins of mine ran over 50 flights of stairs down in adjacent buildings and continued running uptown, getting on ferries across the Hudson River to New Jersey, then fought their way to relatives' New Jersey homes on any transportation available.

I have since visited the 9/11 Museum, mostly below ground and it is like being in church — visitors from all over the world whispering in total reverence — quite moving. 

— Carole Edwards, Daleville

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