Sunday will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Recognizing that most undergraduates were young children at the time and have learned most of what they know about that tragic day from history class, we invited faculty and staff to contribute to students’ understanding by sharing their memories of that day.
Here are some of their recollections:
Janice Reid, a recruiting and admissions coordinator with the Aerospace and Defense MBA program in the Haslam College of Business, was working as a United Airlines flight attendant based out of Washington Dulles Airport.
“I had completed a four-day trip the night before and could not get a hotel room that late, so I decided to stay overnight in the crew lounge and fly to Knoxville the next morning.”
The first Knoxville flight was full, so she had to wait for the next flight to Rocky Top. That is when the attacks began.
“It was on all the TV stations throughout the terminals. I remember thinking ‘This is just a movie.’ It just didn’t seem real at all. After the second plane hit the towers it was evident that this was all too real.
“After a while they evacuated us onto the tarmac,” Reid said, explaining that there was a false report of someone with a bomb in the airport. “While we were on the tarmac all planes were grounded, but there was a single aircraft just above us that seemed to be no more than five hundred feet above our heads. They said afterward that this was the AA Flight 77 plane that hit the Pentagon.”
Reid said she was shaken knowing that plane had originated from Dulles and the five hijackers had probably been in the airport with her that night.
“The FAA closed the airports for three days and nothing was flying out. You could not find a rental car or any way to get home. My children and my brother wanted to come get me and I would not allow them to come anywhere near that area.
“The airlines put us up in local hotels. After three days the airport opened and the planes started flying again. I was on one of the first flights to Knoxville.”
Robin Cabraja, student services coordinator in the Office of Disability Services, was in physical therapy after knee surgery when she saw reports about the plane crashing into the first tower on a clinic TV.
She suspected terrorism right away—something that was confirmed as soon as the second plane hit.
“I arrived home in time to see the North Tower collapse on the television and hear the news of everything else happening that day—the possible Pennsylvania crash being related, the heroes who fought back, calls from victims in the tower to family, the aftermath of the collapses with no survivors, and the bad news came and came, all day, all night, and into the next day,” she said. “It was, to me, in its own right a second Pearl Harbor.”
Hansjoerg Goeritz, professor of architecture and design, was leaving his job as professor at Dortmund University in Germany and had been packing up his office and studio when one of his assistants told him the news.
“Not anywhere near a communication device, I remember us freezing and staring at each other, dubious,” he said.
Even now, he said, thoughts of that day conjured up feelings of finality. He was leaving one chapter of his life behind at the same time the whole world was changing.
“Two moments of termination collapsed into one, to me inseparably connected ever since,” he said.
Sarah Curtis, an academic advisor in the College of Social Work, was in junior high in Fayetteville, Tennessee, that day.
“The morning began just like every other morning. However, we soon knew something was wrong,” she remembers. “Our teachers began talking together and eventually every classroom turned the TV on. The image of that second plane flying into the World Trade Center will forever be ingrained in my memory. I remember that we spent the rest of the day just glued to the news and debriefing with each other.
“Many of us were crying because of the helplessness we felt. The feeling of uncertainty can’t be easily described in words.”
Lynette Russell, an administrative assistant in the general counsel’s office, was at work when a friend called to tell her that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center̍.
“While I was on the phone with her, she screamed and said another plane had flown into the South Tower,” she said.
One of the attorneys found a small television and put it in the office kitchen.
“We watched everything unfold in that room with co-workers and friends. It also happened to be a co-worker’s birthday and that was one of the saddest parties I have ever attended as we watched the destruction on the television while eating ice cream cake.”
That night, at home, there was another moment she’ll never forget: “My nephew, who was only nine at the time, told my brother and his wife that they all needed to go outside to pray for our nation so that the prayers would get to God quicker.”
She remembers that word began trickling in about the attacks during her first-period English class, but no one was aware of the gravity of the situation.
“The next class was PE and it was not at all normal. We were told not to dress out, to just sit and wait on the gym floor. The principal came over the loudspeaker and announced what happened. He told us that they would be carefully releasing students only to their parents. He didn’t explain that this was because nobody knew where the third plane was.
“Kids were crying and using the pay phone in the hallway. Some people had parents who worked in the Pentagon and nobody’s cell phones were working, if they had one.”
Robertson was worried about her father, whose work often took him to the Pentagon. Luckily, he hadn’t gone that day; her parents picked her up a short while later.
“As a young person, never had I felt so much for my country in that day or the days to follow . . . . It’s sad how time makes people forget. I could never forget that day.”
Rob Lieberthal, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, was living and working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. He was home sick that day and, although he’d seen some news reports, didn’t realize the seriousness of the events.
“I actually had a doctor’s appointment, and decided to go despite what was happening. My doctor was sitting in his office taking phone calls and waiting for patients to come in to the hospital from the attack. As we sat there, and the patients never arrived, we started to realize the magnitude of what was taking place.”
Marie Parigin, an accounting specialist in Industrial and Systems Engineering, was a senior in high school.
“The morning announcements usually came on about 9:40 a.m. followed by the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. Instead, one of the school administrators said, “Let’s have a moment of silence for this awful tragedy.”
“Everyone was confused, but when the teacher turned on the TV, the whole class went silent. I saw the first tower fall, then the second. I was in shock and so was everyone else. We did nothing the rest of the class period or in any of my other class periods but watch the events unfold on the TV.”
Jennifer Flatford, executive assistant to the dean in the College of Architecture and Design, was a senior at Central High School in Knoxville, but was home sick.
“As I lay in bed, my mom called me to tell me about the attack. I turned on the TV and began watching the coverage on the Today show just as the second plane hit the South Tower. I remember how terrified I was then and how my feelings were minuscule compared to those witnessing it firsthand in their own backyard.
“Upon learning about the flight heading toward the Pentagon, I called my mother frantically because her boyfriend worked in the Pentagon. After several minutes of unsuccessful attempts to reach him, he called my mother to let her know he was safe. He had just left that side of the Pentagon minutes before the plane crashed.”
Alumna Michelle Mokry, a project coordinator for Smee+Busby Architects, worked at UT from March 2015 to June 2016 as a project manager for the Appalachia Grant to improve the health of people in Clay County̍ Kentucky. On September 11, 2001, she was a third-year architecture student and was in her History of Architecture class.
“When we got out of class everybody was saying something really bad had happened . . . . the architecture administrative office had pulled in portable TVs and were watching the news nonstop.”
Classes were canceled soon afterward.
“I did not live on campus but I did not feel like driving back to my apartment alone. I went back to Andy Holt Tower to my friend’s apartment and watched the news. We saw the second tower fall on TV. I just remember crying and crying and being in shock. ”
Andy White, director of the Aerospace and Defense Business Institute in the Haslam College of Business, was an Air Force major on active duty at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I was reviewing material I was going to use to deliver a lecture to military students at Air University about military media relations and wartime propaganda,” he said. “We had a TV in the open office area. With each development, we would get in front of the TV to see what was happening. By the time I delivered the lecture later that day, it was clear that war was upon us.
“I ended up deploying to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia a couple weeks later. I spent three months contributing strategy suggestions and combat information to leaders at US Central Command and the Pentagon.”