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The September 11 Digital Archive

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Ashwini
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 19 July 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

The summer of 2001 was the summer I fell in love with NYC. I was 15 and my parents had started giving me freedom and allowed me to take the bus from my hometown in northern NJ to the city. It was my true getaway. I loved every moment of walking through the city streets and decided this was where I would spend my life. I go to boarding school in New Hampshire and planned to drive back to school on the 11th. I wanted to end the summer with a kick so I got tickets for a Yankees vs. Red Sox game on Sept 10 with my sister. We planned to stay with a close family friend in her apartment uptown after the game and take the bus home the next morning and drive to school fromthere. The night of the anxiously awaited Yankees game finally came, but it was rained out. I'd waited all summer to see this game and the skies had to cloud and thunder. I woke up early the next morning and the skies had miraculously cleared. Stepping outside around 8:15 I inhaled the unusually warm morning air and gazed at the birds flying so freely against the backdrop of the crystal blue sky. We said goodbye to our friend and headed downtown toward Port Authority where we would take the bus home. We reached Port Authority in about half an hour and had breakfast in the station. Being underground in the subway when the first plane hit, we had no idea of the horror happening above ground. We proceeded to wait for the bus near the gate. For some reason I picked up a pay phone to find it wasn't working. I tried the entire row, but strangely none worked. A strange feeling came over me then. As we boarded the bus, my cell phone rang. The caller ID read my home number. "Hi dad, we're fine don't worry." I said picking up the phone. "Something's happened." he said with his voice wavering in a tone unlike any other i'd heard from his mouth. My phone started cracking on me at that point and his voice started breaking up. "Disaster...p-ane....twin towers" Static....silence.... I tried calling back, but it was useless. I initially imagined some pilot in a tiny Cessna had lost control and crashed into the towers. The thought of terrorists and the enormity of the situation didn't immediately strike me. The bus pulled out of the station onto the ramp. It must have been around 9:25 or 9:30. As I looked toward the southward direction, the once crystal blue sky was marred by a giant grayish black cloud hovering ominously over lower Manhattan. A sudden queasiness seized me as I tried to connect everthing. My eyes didn't immediately register the image in front of me as real. We approached the Lincoln Tunnel and stood with several buses ahead for a little while. Passengers on the bus murmurred in confusion as the looked toward the lower manhattan area. The bus didn't move. Several TV crews were set up nearby in front of the tunnel. The driver finally turned off the bus and stood up. "I'm afraid we're not leaving the city. We've been attacked by terrorists. They've flown 2 planes into the twin towers. They've shut the tunnel, they think it's next." he said gravely. I stood numbly trying to account for all the information thrown at me. Several passengers shrieked around me while others stood quietly in shock. A redheaded woman in her fifties behind me cried out she had to make a phone call. The feeling and concept of terror was completely foreign, I couldn't quite grasp the enormity of the situation. I sat down and I tried to think of people in the area. There were many, I couldn't even start to name. My mind raced with what ifs thinking of all the people inside the towers. The bus drove in circles for some time and finally headed back to the station. My sister shouted my name and snapped me out of my daze. She kept a rational head while I had gone into shock like a deer facing headlights. Her extra 5 years of maturity really saved me from losing it. The driver told everyone to stay calm and remain on the bus. My sister ignored him and dragged me off and my legs merely complied and follwed her. "Listen, we can't be anywhere like a bus station where there are mass numbers of people." The phrase mass numbers of people really hit me. How many people were there in the twin towers? How many were hurt? How many were family or friends? I followed my sister to the street away from the station. Groups of people stood on the street. The line for taxi's was about 20 people long. This scene will be ingrained in my memory forever. The loud wail of shrieking sirens of ambulences and firetrucks blended with the wail of people around me in a horrifying atmosphere of pandemonium. Flashing lights and streaks of red whizzed by me downtown into the blackness. All the other cars raced uptown, never looking back. Not a single taxi would stop. The woman next to me frantically dialed a cell phone tearfully to no avail. A pushcart vendor nearby pulled out a radio and a group gathered around and sat down on the sidewalk together. I saw two strangers hug each other, it brought about a sense of calmness among the chaos. By some miracle, a cabbie actually stopped. Although we were at the end of the line, he saw two young girls alone in this terror and felt for us. He took us back uptown to our friend's apartment. The traffic was almost standstill. All the cars sat with their windows down as words of death and destruction blared from their radios. Many like our cabbie tried to get in touch with loved ones. He was one of the lucky ones that day who was able to get in touch with his wife to tell her he was ok and that he loved her. I didn't want to think about how many people couldn't anymore. An hour or so later we finally reached our destination. After thanking our good hearted cabbie we sat in our friends apartment most of the day watching the same terrifying images over and over. It didn't fully hit me till i saw the footage. Seeing the usually calm break into tears on the air struck me. And I saw the face of the man thought to be behind the attacks. I'd never felt such a hatred build up inside of me. It also brought about a strong sadness. Friends of my friend of middle eastern descent had been severely harrassed because of their ethnicity although they were nothing like the cruel heartless cowards that committed the attacks. It all felt completely surreal. The naive bubble of security I believed surrounded my country and those I loved had been shattered. Thankfully, by some miracle everyone close to me survived. Friends and family were out of town, had slept in, all somehow avoided being in the doomed towers. I heard the heartbreaking story of our friend's friend who called his wife to tell her he loved her before he had to jump. They had been married barely a month. I left the apartmentlater that day to go to the local grocery store. It felt like the Apocalypse had come with people hoarding bottles of water and other goods. Who knew if there would be a tomorrow? I didn't sleep that night. I lay awake listening to the deep roar of the fighter planes circling manhattan. The island was a deadbolted dungeon with no way out. The pain and loss was too much for me to take and slowly hit me after time. It took me an entire week to cry.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

I've realized the world isn't the place I imagined it to be and have awoken from my naivety. The terror and pain had been too much for me to handle. My head was in NYC and with the people trying to deal with the loss. Being in school in NH away from home was difficult. I had recurring nightmares of the day and would have flashbacks whenever I heard sirens. I couldn't sleep at night and spent the days as a walking zombie. My grades dropped severely. I wanted to be able to do something to help, and do something that would heal my pain. Seeing Ground Zero in November during my Thanxgiving break was shocking. The destruction was painful to see. I had a sense of deja vu from when I was 7 and visited Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. The rubble of Ground Zero reminded me of scenes of Hiroshima, a barren wasteland. I got the idea from there to fold 1000 cranes in memory of the victims and in hope of peace in the world. I started on my own during Thanksgiving and brought the idea back to my school. By the time I had returned home in mid December we had folded 1,500 paper cranes. I strung them and brought them back to ground zero and strung them along a fence. I recieved a letter from a man saying how deeply he was touched by seeing the cranes because he was reminded of his pacifist sister who died in the towers. It heartened me greatly to know I had helped someone who had suffered so much pain. To this day, I feel that I value even more how precious life really is.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

The heroism that emerged from the tragedy was astounding. The way people came together to rise above was truly an inspiration. The crew that has cleaned up Ground Zero in such a short time was truly remarkable. I hope the future generation can learn from 9/11 about true courage and bravery, as well as how devastating hate can be.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

Flags were flying all around in my house at home as well as being hung in my room at school. I do feel a stronger sense of patriotism with the image of the stars and stripes, especially recalling the famous picture of the firefighters and policemen at Ground Zero raising the flag. It's a symbol of the unity we've had in the aftermath of 9/11. "and our flag was still there..."

Cite as: Ashwini , Smithsonian Story #88, The September 11 Digital Archive, 19 July 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 1363 words, 7265 characters

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