As the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches, members of the University community undoubtedly will reflect upon that day: where they were when they heard the news, their immediate thoughts upon seeing the shocking news footage, and how their lives changed going forward. Today, fyi is publishing the recollections of six members of the University of Iowa family.
“It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since 9/11. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
“I was in the Pentagon when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the building, killing 184 passengers, crew members, and military and civilian personnel. I was an Air Force lieutenant colonel at the time and had only been working for the Joint Staff Directorate of Logistics for 60 days. At 9:45 a.m. EDT, I was watching news reports of the World Trade Center attacks along with colleagues when we heard a distant “boom.” We weren’t sure what had happened until about a minute later when a reporter on the television announced, “We have a live report of an explosion at the Pentagon.”
“My initial reaction during the evacuation of the building was a sense of pride at how calmly and efficiently everyone went about the business of securing classified computers and safes and making their way out of the building. There was no panic, just a determination to put our military training into action.
“The individual acts of courage and bravery by men and women running into the building to pull people out of the rubble and flames are legion. Medical personnel conducted triage on the lawn surrounding the Pentagon, and wounded were transported to nearby hospitals in ambulances and any vehicles that could be pressed into service.
“One of my most vivid memories is holding the hand of a young man who had sustained a head injury in the blast. I was riding in a van with several other service members headed for the alternate national military command center when medical personnel ran up to us with the young man on a litter and told us there weren’t enough ambulances available to transport him. We immediately put him into the vehicle and got him to the hospital.
“In the days following the attack, local citizens were incredibly supportive of all of us serving at the Pentagon. When we exited the Metro to return to work in the still-burning building on Sept. 12, everyone clapped and cheered. In the following weeks, hundreds of letters, posters, and even commemorative quilts from schoolchildren, civic groups, and citizens arrived at the Pentagon thanking us for our service. They hung on the walls throughout the building, encouraging us and strengthening our resolve as we oversaw recovery operations. Seeing the letters and posters and the American flags flying throughout the city made me very proud to be an American and proud to have the honor to serve my country as a member of the armed forces.”
Megan McFarlane, UI alumna
“Sept. 11, 2001, changed the whole world around me, and it changed me.
“’If you want to humble an empire’ were the words printed above my face in the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of Time magazine. In some way we were humbled, as many of us realized that we did not exist outside of the world’s problems. Terrorist attacks were not just something that happened in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe anymore; they could—and did—happen to us. We were part of that same world now, not just a great beacon of hope shining above it.
“But today I want to remember the acts of courage, heroism, and, above all, compassion. I think of the firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and your average people on the street who selflessly did all they could to help and save others.
“I think of my friend Father James Martin, who is a priest at St. Ignatius Loyola, whom I met in New York only a year before 9/11. We shared a love for Elie Wiesel, a source of inspiration for both of us. I think about how on the morning of Sept. 11 he battled his way down to Ground Zero, because he knew people needed him and they needed faith.
“On Sept. 11, I was afraid on so many levels. I didn’t know where my dad was. As someone who regularly traveled to New York on business, he could have been on one of those planes. I called my mom for comfort, and soon realized she didn’t know what happened, and I was going to have to tell her. And I was afraid for my country, and what this would mean for us all.
“As it turned out, everyone I knew and loved was safe. And although my dad (once I got ahold of him) told me to stay away from the news that day, I couldn’t. Its cliché, but knowledge is power, and I had to know all that I could, so after my first class that day, I went to the IMU to get an update on what was happening. It was there that Danny Wilcox Frazier took my picture, something that I thought strange at the time. I wasn’t in New York—I was in Iowa, and how could my picture matter?
“But it did matter. It mattered to a lot of people. I have been told that it reminded others of what they felt that day. It reminds me, too. That’s why I don’t like to look at it. Every time I see it, I cry and I remember what the heartbreak and fear of that day felt like. It hurts because I’m not that girl anymore.
“Remembering is important; I also believe in the importance of doing. I wanted to be a person of action. Through a UI course, Law and the American Media, I learned about librarians—more specifically, the various ways in which they serve their communities. This led me to the American Library Association. I work on the Campaign for America’s Libraries, a public awareness campaign about the value of libraries and librarians. I am working on my Master’s in Library Science; I hope to become a school librarian with Chicago Public Schools, where I could help support the students of Chicago’s underserved communities.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, I started my morning with a run; 10 years later, I will start my morning the same way. I am running my first 5K as part of a fund-raiser for Open Books, a Chicago-based literacy organization. The lead car for the race is the former FDNY fire truck Rescue 4, whose eight crew members died on Sept. 11. It seems appropriate that I will be running along with a reminder of the past that has brought me step by step to a future I can’t wait to begin.”
“On 9/11, I was sitting in the freshman hallway, finishing up Spanish homework, when my friend who lived across the street from the school told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We went into a classroom and turned on a TV just in time to see the second tower get hit.
“The attacks felt personal to us, probably because of our age. My time at high school was spent in the first years of the ‘post 9/11’ world. All of a sudden there were armed soldiers in the airports during family vacations, and we spent our study halls watching the invasion of Afghanistan and nighttime surgical missile strikes of Baghdad.
“My senior year I was selected to give a speech during our homecoming coronation ceremony. I recalled crazy teachers and sports accomplishments, but I spent half the speech talking about the impact 9/11 had on the class of 2005. No one ever forgets seeing bodies in free fall as the towers burned.”
“When I think of all the memories from that day, tears actually come to my eyes—the emotions of that day and the days afterward are hard to forget. So many experiences in a short time. I think about how we were worried in Norfolk, where I was working at the time at Old Dominion University, that we would be attacked after the Pentagon, as the Norfolk area is the largest area of military bases on the East Coast. I remember frantically looking for the business card of a former student who had just visited me and was working for an international accounting firm in NYC, as his employer was just the type of employer in the World Trade Center, but, thankfully, he wasn’t located there.
“I can still see Mehdi, the president of our Muslim Student Association, sitting in my office with tears running down his cheeks after realizing that his deeply held faith had been so corrupted—and then the next day working with him when the mosque on campus had every window broken. And then two days after the attacks, I had a visit from six federal agencies checking out information on a student whose identity had been stolen by Mohamed Atta.
“Sadly, so much misinformation resulted in targeting international students as potential terrorists. As the events of 9/11 unfolded, I had no idea how this would impact my professional life. Although 18 of the 19 hijackers entered the U.S. as tourists, there was a popular impression that they had all used student visas—suddenly international students, and the schools that enrolled them, were seen as security threats.
“A few years after the immediate clampdown on all student visas, which resulted in an impression that the U.S. was unwelcoming, balance did return to the process. But even now we continue to fight the impression that students can’t get visas to come to the United States. There are more monitoring and reporting requirements; that also has become more reasonable over time. But a lot of our naïve views about international students being above political backlash ended that day.”
“I was sitting in my sixth-grade math class. We didn’t turn on the TV until another teacher came into our classroom to tell us what was going on. The rest of the day the TVs were on in every classroom and half of our attention was constantly focused on the news.
“Like many people in Iowa public schools, my classmates were predominantly white. One of the most immediate consequences I faced was dealing with racist comments directed toward me. I distinctly remember a young male student in front of me who turned around and commented that I ‘go back to where I came from.’ I had been going to school with these students for many years but for a few days after 9/11 I became an outsider.
“A long-term consequence that still affects my family and me is going through the airport. Especially when I have relatives visiting the United States—it always seems to be that one of them is selected to go through the physical search at security.”
Sept. 11 was the second cataclysmic day in American history that Jude West lived through. He was 11 years old and growing up on the West Side of Chicago when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I don’t really remember many specifics about Dec. 7, 1941. I can remember my parents and me sitting around the radio and we just plain listened, thinking, ‘Wow, we’re really at war.’ And I can remember asking, ‘Where’s Japan? Where’s Hawaii?’ That’s one big difference between the two attacks—I feel like I was a part of September 11 because I saw it happening live on TV. On Dec. 7, the only media we had was the Tribune and Edward R. Murrow on the radio. It was weeks before we saw what Pearl Harbor looked like in newsreels at the movie theaters and finally got a sense of what had happened. I felt like a far-off observer on Dec. 7.
“Almost immediately, my parents started pulling down the shades in our apartment at night to keep the light from getting out. The government told us to do that so the Germans couldn’t send a bomber over and see Chicago from the sky. I didn’t think the Germans had a plane that could get to Chicago. If they did, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t make it back home.
“We had rationing for so many things those years. Meat, gas, rubber, nylons. Ladies don’t wear nylons anymore, but they did back then so it was a big deal that they couldn’t get any. My father saved the foil wrappers from his Chesterfields—he’d roll them up in a ball and save it because the Army needed tin.
“A popular gift for kids during those years was war bonds, instead of toys. We had a box in the house that we put our bonds in, and so did I. It didn’t seem like much fun for the kids, but we were unified in spirit back then. This was our war—we had to fight it and we had to win it. I don’t get that same sense of purpose today, after Sept. 11. When are we getting out of Iraq? Why are we still in Afghanistan? There’s no clear-cut will to win.”