By: Mary-Ellen Davis, News Editor
It was 8:46 am on September 11, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). In the next 102 minutes, two planes hit the south tower and Pentagon, another plane crashed into a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and both towers of the WTC collapsed. 2,977 lives were lost.
History Department Chair Christian Koot was a graduate student at the University of Delaware at the time, studying for his Ph.D. in history. Koot remembered first hearing about 9/11 on the radio.
“I was actually on my way home from CVS having picked up photographs, back when you deposited film and go back a week later to get the pictures,” Koot said. “It was first thing in the morning. I don’t remember why I needed the pictures but I remember hearing it on the radio and getting back to my apartment, which I shared with another graduate student, and we spent six hours essentially watching it happen on TV.”
Koot’s initial reaction was one of shock.
“I think [there was], like many people, a sort of wondering where this came from,” Koot said. “Not understanding very much about the Middle East, not understanding very much about al-Qaeda, I think it was something I had read about. I could remember the Clinton attacks from whenever that was ‘96, ‘97 but only vaguely. Osama bin Laden was one of those people you read about every once in a while but had no context for.”
University President Kim Schatzel also recalled the event, saying it started while she was at the gym before going to work at University of Michigan-Dearborn.
“I was on a treadmill and they interrupted the Today Show saying… a plane had struck one of the towers,” Schatzel said. “Initially everybody didn’t realize it was a large domestic, they thought it was a small aircraft, so they were talking over the fact that it was a small aircraft and then they finally cut to a helicopter shot showing the tower on fire and they were still getting news and they still thought that it was an accident that a plane had run into a tower. And I’ll never forget as they were doing it the second plane hit and the commentary people were just like ‘it can’t be that,’ and then everybody realized that it was an attack, that New York was being attacked.”
Dena Allen-Few, a student and veteran at Towson, was part of the Army Reserves at the time. She was at Fort Belvoir making up for missing drill when her sergeant called her into his office.
“I am doing preventative maintenance checks on my excavator, and my battle buddy and I- he was a mechanic- he and I were just there doing maintenance work on the construction equipment, and my sergeant comes running out of the office at the motor pool and was like ‘you need to come inside, you need to see this,’” Allen-Few said. “We were just completely dumbfounded as to why he was wanting us to stop what we’re doing to come inside and watch something, but he had the news on, on a TV in his office and when we got in they were doing replays of the first plane hitting.”
Her initial thought was that she was watching a movie trailer.
“I was not quite 21 at the time, I was 20, and my first initial thought was like this can’t be real,” she recalled.
Then, according to Allen-Few, a plane hit the Pentagon, forcing the base into lockdown. Allen-Few stayed on base for two days, missing her civilian job.
“We had MRE’s [meals ready to eat], like we didn’t leave our little compound waiting for us to be called up,” Allen-Few said. “Then, after about two days, they were like ‘we don’t actually need you so you can go about your lives.’”
Allen-Few’s unit was deployed to the Middle East about a year later.
Koot believes that the decision to invade Afghanistan was “hugely significant.”
“What is it, 16 years now we’ve been at war with Afghanistan with seemingly no end in sight, the Taliban just recently intensifying attacks. I mean I think that’s hugely significant,” he said.
Koot explained that 9/11 defined a moment in American history.
“9/11 has become one of the sort of touchstones in American cultural memory,” Koot said. “Even for people who weren’t alive and didn’t experience it, it never the less defined something of who we are, and we can sort of see these moments in American history that are so traumatic that they become this new inflection point, this new reference point.”
Student and Veteran Rachel James was 18 years old when 9/11 occurred, and recalled it feeling extremely surreal.
“I was visiting in Virginia, we had been down there for the weekend, for the week actually,” James said. “The day before was when it happened, and I was driving home on the 12 and I saw the USS Mercy go up the bay.”
“Nobody was allowed to stop on the bridge and look at the ships and take pictures and anything like that. And you know, you were listening to the news and radio going up and it was a little surreal because nothing like that had ever happened before to that extreme in my lifetime.”
James remembered watching the footage of the event over and over again, feeling bad for the families affected by the tragedy.
“They were showing some of what I thought was kind of inappropriate,” James said. “People falling out of buildings and bodies and things like that. These are people’s family members that they were showing on TV, and I thought it was a little heartless.”
She was made to watch the videos again when she went into boot camp for the Navy. The videos, she said, were meant to help get her to put her heart into everything she did, but that watching them again was like making her relive the events later in life.
Koot believes that the videos from 9/11 help us maintain an emotional connection to the events that transpired, despite a disconnect that may begin to occur as we start to see a generation grow up that wasn’t alive or has no recollection of that day.
“There are lots of narrative accounts of horrible things that have happened in the past, or good things, that people can emotionally connect with, but video is different. I think the way we see video is different,” Koot said. “Now I think one of the interesting things about 9/11 is that almost all the video we see is news video. It’s not the kind of viral video we see today even that has changed with the smartphone, there is no smart phone in 2001 one, and thus it’s still mediated through the media. In a way that’s different than today, so in a way I think that some of that immediacy isn’t quite there in the way that events that happen today might be captured.”
“There was flip phones,” Schatzel said. “There wasn’t iPhones, people couldn’t text, you had to call and it was a whole different kind of thing. You weren’t able to go on the internet and say well what were they saying about this. You were kind of stuck watching the TV, and people had started making calls because everybody started to realize this thing.”
Schatzel said that in the time since the event, strides have been made to better protect school communities so that educators are prepared in the event that something happens.
“We’ve made, and not just us but Baltimore County Public Schools and all public schools, have integrated active shooter training into everything that we need to do in terms of safety in our communities,” Schatzel said. “To sort of be prepared is something that educational institutions, whether it be universities of K through 12, is a part of what we need to do to keep our communities safe and have them be able to respond if in the very, very unfortunate event that something like that would come through the campus.”