On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in a terrorist attack against the United States.
The attacks were orchestrated by Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden. Four passenger airliners were hijacked and used to create terror in the streets of America. American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:45 a.m. Minutes later, United Airlines flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:45 a.m. American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. The final plane hijacked was United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
With the 20th anniversary of these attacks just one day away, The Daily Nebraskan spoke with faculty of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to hear their stories of 9/11 and the following days, weeks, months and years.
Ted Carter, University of Nebraska President
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Carter was the executive officer on board the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier that had just completed its maiden voyage.
“I was in my office watching the news when the first airplane hit the tower. I called the captain to tell him to put on the news to see the unreal footage,” Carter said in an email. “As we watched together, the second airplane hit. We realized that we were effectively at war. We immediately went to General Quarters with all hands at the battle stations to begin preparations.”
Carter said that day defined his military career for the next 20 years and changed everything that we had known about national security and combat against a new enemy.
Looking back two decades later, Carter is optimistic about the future of our country.
“Twenty years later, 9/11 is still very much with us. My great hope is that as a nation we will once again feel a call to a common purpose,” he said. “I am optimistic watching our next generation of leaders who, as I told UNL’s Class of 2021, understand that it’s about ‘we,’ not ‘me.’ This is a time of solemn reflection for all of us, but also hope for our future.”
Justin Kirk, assistant professor of practice, Head Debate Coach
For Kirk, the morning of 9/11 is still clear in his mind today.
“I remember the morning vividly,” Kirk said. “I had just woken up to have my coffee and my grandmother called me and she said, ‘Turn on the television, they attacked us.’,” he said.
Kirk remembers having school canceled and watching the news coverage all day.
“The war on terror, 9/11, has literally been my entire adult life since I was 19 years old,” he said. “It's been every moment. My waking life has been living, breathing, thinking about the consequences of that day.”
Kirk remembers not only that day, but the events following, including when the U.S. began bombing Baghdad. Within a year, his stepbrother would die of an improvised explosive device in Iraq.
“It was absolutely devastating,” he said.
Kirk was living in Dallas at the time of his stepbrother's death, and flew home as soon as he could. His stepfather, who lost his oldest son, is still haunted by it, Kirk said.
“That's the thing that I remember, is just the look in my stepfather's eyes,” he said. “He still has that look today. He lost something that day that he will never get back.”
Barney McCoy, professor of broadcasting journalism
McCoy, who, at the time, was a reporter for the CBS affiliate in Columbus, OH, was preparing to go to northern Ohio for a story. When his videographer arrived, he told McCoy to turn on his TV set, where he watched the initial coverage out of New York.
As they were listening to radio reports while making their way to northern Ohio, McCoy said that it became clear this was an act of terrorism.
Before they could reach their destination, McCoy said he received a call from their news director, who told them to start driving to New York City.
“By the time we got to the Jersey side of the Hudson River, the sun was setting and you could see all the smoke and dust that was coming from the collapse of the World Trade Center,” he said.
McCoy remembered seeing lots of chaos, people trying to get off Manhattan and lots of rescue workers headed to the site of the attacks.
McCoy said he did his first live shot from New York at 11 p.m.
The magnitude of the events that occurred that day are still in McCoy’s mind.
“I’m still processing it. I’m not sure that will ever stop,” he said.
Maria Marron, professor of journalism
Marron was in Ireland at a local hospital when she first heard of the 9/11 attacks.
“Someone said, ‘A plane has flown into the World Fair in New York.’ I wondered about ‘the World Fair in New York’ as I knew there was no World Fair there at the time. Then someone else said, ‘It’s the World Trade Towers’,” she recalled in an email. “At that, images of the smoke arising from the Trade Towers appeared on TV. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to think.”
Marron, along with family, watched coverage of the events all night and the next morning she went out to buy every newspaper she could find. She tried calling friends back in the states, but couldn’t get through.
Marron said there was an empty sky in Ireland, much like the U.S.
“And what was really eerie in Ireland about the aftermath was that no flights were streaking across the sky over the Irish midlands—the usual route from the United States to Dublin airport or to other places in Europe,” she said. “There were no contrails, no noise. It was strange.”
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Peer, adjunct professor of military science
LTC Peer, who was in his college’s ROTC program and wasn’t yet commissioned into the Army, remembers getting ready to go to class at Kansas State University when one his roommates yelled for him to come look at the TV.
He remembers watching the first tower burning and the second tower getting hit.
“We just started talking about how we’re going to war,” he said.
Within the next year or two, he and his fellow cadets were commissioned into the Army and were sent to units being deployed.
“That was kind of my experience. Watching the attacks unfold knowing we were going to be entering a different army than we thought we were going to be entering as new lieutenants,” he said.
Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for Inclusive Student Excellence
Foster had been working for Counselling and Psychological Services at UNL for about a month when the attacks occurred. She was in her office, when her husband called her to turn on a TV.
When she got to the TV, she saw the second plane hit the tower. She was surrounded by staff and students who were all overwhelmed by what they were seeing.
She and the CAPS team went out into the campus to provide emergency services for students, many of whom were walking around dumbfounded trying to get in touch with their family.
“We had one student come in and he was in tears and he said, ‘Why would they hate our country so much’,” she said.
Making sure she could care for others on that day was very important, Foster said.
“The reality of the work of folks who deal in mental health is that we always put our stuff away,” she said. “It was very much a traumatic day, so thinking of how to care for others in that moment was important,” she said.
Joe Brownell, director of the Military and Veterans Success Center
At the time of the attacks, Brownell was working for the Air Force Personnel Center and was visiting MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida at the time.
Brownell was giving a presentation to leadership about the personnel center and how the center can help individuals advance their careers in the Air Force. In the middle of his presentation, the executive officer knocked at the door, came in and said an aircraft had hit the tower.
Brownell and others moved into an auditorium-like room where they began watching coverage of the attacks.
“We went in, and on the big screen they had the TV up, and we could see the first tower smoldering, and we hadn’t been in there very long when the second aircraft hit tower number two,” he said. “From then on, the world as we knew it changed.”
At the time, he and his colleague were living in San Antonio. Due to the stoppage of all aircrafts by the Federal Aviation Administration, they ended up renting a van on day two and drove all the way home.
20 year later, he still feels sadness for all the people that were killed on that day and for all the people who have been killed since due to the conflict in the Middle East.
“I think about the families, I think about the children who don’t have a mother or father due to those incidents,” he said. “There’s definitely a sadness and a little bit of an empty feeling.”