Where you were on that September day

Published 10:00 am Saturday, September 11, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Tidewater News asked people for their memories of where they were, what they were doing and what they were thinking on Sept. 11, 2001. These responses were solicited in the newspaper, on Facebook and on our website, inviting people to respond via the website, Facebook or email. Below are some of the responses we received. Responses have been edited for spelling, grammar, style and length.

In the timeframe around 2001, I instructed a class at Paul D. Camp Community College as an introduction for beginners to the use of computers. Over the course of several weeks, a group of about a dozen students learned how computers work and about how to use a computer’s operating system, word processing, email and Internet browsing capabilities.

Sept. 11, 2001, was the last day of class for one of my groups. We had completed the final topic of study (which was Internet browsing), and for the time remaining in class that day, I unleashed my students to explore the vast caverns of the Internet at will, as if it were a limitless encyclopedia.

There immediately ensued a series of one discovery after another — and another — ranging from interesting to amazing, when suddenly someone yelled out, “A commercial airliner just flew into one of the Twin Towers!” It was real-time coverage of the attacks, under way as live video before our own eyes, with several students browsing to their favorite news source to find more confirming evidence of what seemed at first to be an unbelievable, horrific accident. How in the world could such a thing be happening?

As we watched in astonishment, a second airliner slammed into the other tower. Suddenly our consideration of all this as a freakish accident morphed into a realization that there must be intentionality involved, bringing with it an additional sense of dread and anxiety. This sentiment sunk in deeper when I heard from someone on the staff at the College who, knowing someone who worked in one of the towers, was extremely worried.

As more news continued to unfold on our computer screens, it became difficult to close out the class. And in the hours after, the significance of what had happened began to sink in — that this was one of the few times that part of our nation’s homeland had been so viciously attacked, and without warning or provocation, and that we can be vulnerable to such an attack, terroristic in nature — as a humbling, horrifying, and angering kind of thing all at once.

This experience also served to refresh (on steroids) our awareness of and appreciation for “the goodness of America” — for the great number of everyday folks who, in the worst of times, demonstrate our capacity for courage — in the face of great danger — to help others in peril; for compassion and empathy regardless of demographic or political differences; and for an integrity of character that subordinates the contentiousness of the day in order to support and nourish the whole of our society. Perhaps we could call these three things valor, love and patriotism.

Thus it was that a computer class turned into such an unexpected history lesson — and one hopefully not soon to be forgotten.

— Howie Soucek


I remember that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Dr. Harvey Thompson’s dentist chair on Fifth and Main in Franklin when the first plane struck the first tower, and I knew nothing about it. Upon leaving, I walked across Main Street to see Jim Councill about a financial matter. Will was watching television, and I could see the second plane strike the second tower as I entered. After a few minutes of total disbelief, I drove to Emmanuel Episcopal Church to tell my pastor, Ed Pickup, about it because I knew he had no TV in his office. He was listening to NPR and as I sat down to listen with him, the third plane struck the Pentagon. I immediately told Ed it was Osama bin Laden, because I had received numerous terrorist briefings about him and others during my international airline pilot days. I am a retired Pan Am pilot. I went home and watched TV the rest of the day in a sort of trance of awe and disbelief. To this day I remember how many times I had seen the Twin Towers standing tall against the western sky as we landed on runway 31 Left or 31 Right (northwest) at JFK airport. 

— Ash Cutchin


I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing on the terrible day. I was a U.S. history teacher at Franklin High School and was in the middle of my first class of the day. Rose Parker, my colleague in the department, came to my door and told me something terrible had happened and I needed to turn on my TV. There was Bill Hemmer on the news showing where the first plane had flown into the first of the Twin Towers. We were stunned! Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day watching events unfold. I can remember the shock of seeing the planes fly into the buildings, the horror of the buildings collapsing, and not being able to understand why something like this could happen here in America. Students rushed into my classroom to see what was happening and were just as stunned as I was. That event took over and became the most important news from that point on. The father of one of my students went to New York as part of a rescue team from Franklin. Even when my husband and I traveled to New York, going to the site to see for ourselves where it had happened, I found it to be incomprehensible. I was so proud to be an American as I saw how this country stood up in defiance and told the terrorists that we would not be defeated and that we would fight against people who attack us no matter what. I wish that we had that same spirit of being a unified nation today. It’s a shame that that sense of One Nation only seems to appear when tragedy strikes us from those outside our country.

— Margaret Mackan


Twenty years ago, I had a group of travelers in Kennebunkport, Maine, staying for two nights at The Rhumb Line, a really special place about a mile beyond Walker’s Point, the Bush family’s summer home. That morning as we were having breakfast, the news came on TV that a plane had hit the World Trade Tower in New York City. How could that be? Shortly thereafter, we saw the second plane hit the other tower, and breakfast was over! Our plans for the day were a leisure morning since we had been on tour for several days, then lunch in a waterfront restaurant in this charming town and an afternoon boat tour of the area which included catching lobsters and educating us about this wonderful delicacy planned for our evening meal, a scrumptious Maine lobster roast! Because of the Bush connection to this town, everything near Walker’s Point and all activity on the water came to a halt. We had to go another way to get into the downtown area. It was a solemn time as we watched TV in the restaurant. No boat tour, for sure, so back to The Rhumb Line we went. It was during the afternoon that I received a call from my office informing me that our hotel in New Haven, Connecticut, was trying to locate me to inform me that Route 95 was closed and I would probably not be able to get there that next night. After much help from my office in Franklin and other hotels making calls, I was told that I would have to go as far north as Albany, New York, as all hotels/motels in a huge area around New York City had been ordered not to rent to anyone until further notice. What would I do? I decided to wait until the next day, maybe stay where we were, or maybe I-95 would open. 

That evening, we had the famous lobster roast, but it was a solemn gathering. I could not imagine how I was going to get these 38 people home, and home was where we all wanted to be. Lots of prayers were offered up that day and night. The next morning I received a call from the hotel in New Haven. One big prayer had been answered. I-95 had just opened, and we could get to our downtown hotel that afternoon. I had a scheduled tour at 3 p.m. to see Yale University. That was where President Bush had attended school. I don’t remember much about Yale. I just remember being so grateful to be at that hotel for the night and that I could make it home the following day. There were no cell phones, so on our way home the following day, we had only the radio on our bus. I can remember seeing the smoke from the Twin Towers area as we looked at the skyline of the city. I don’t think there were any dry eyes on the bus. In fact, there were sounds of muffled sobs. Not a word was spoken as we looked across at that horrific sight and tried to comprehend the drastic change in the beautiful skyline of this great city. At that time, we didn’t think about the drastic change that would come in our lives from that day forward.

It was a long way home. We saw flags everywhere. In that short time, every overpass, every bridge, buildings, homes, cars and trucks had been adorned with American flags. Sometimes we would see flags that just touched our hearts so much that tears would just roll from our eyes. It was a momentous trip down I-95. Arriving in Franklin at Paul D. Camp Community College parking lot late that afternoon, there were lots of folks to greet us. Our families were as eager for us to get home as we were to get here. There were lots of tears and hugs and meaningful farewells, as we had truly endured three unforgettable days together. Home, family, new friends and our beloved America were all treasures indeed, and we were and are grateful. We have never forgotten our experience. We have never forgotten what happened that day in New York, at the Pentagon and on that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We have never forgotten how our country was drawn together, how patriotic everyone became and how crowded our churches were that next Sunday and many thereafter. What has happened in 20 years? Can we rekindle that love of God and country and of each other like we experienced in 2001? We must if we are to remain “man’s greatest hope on earth.”

— Gaynelle Riddick


It’s noon and I’m sitting in my temporary office at the IPMC paper mill in Detroit, and I’m trying to wrap my brain around the tremendous tragedy that has occurred today in New York and Washington. A few hours ago, an American Airlines plane bound from Boston to Los Angeles was hijacked, and flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact caused a huge hole in the side of the building, and a large fire resulted. Shortly after that, another plane was flown into the second tower with similar results. I went into the main office where a television was on, and I watched a live picture as that second tower collapsed to the ground. The first tower collapsed shortly thereafter. Additionally, a plane crashed into the Pentagon just outside of Washington, and a large fire is raging there. At this point, it is presumed that Bin Laden’s terrorist group has brought about this cowardly act. All air traffic in the U.S. has been grounded. Our mighty nation has been brought to its knees (literally and figuratively) by what is thought to be a small and extremely cowardly group of zealots.

I am struggling with my feelings. I’m away from home, and although I feel no threat is aimed at my family or me, at this moment I want to be in Columbia with Janet, and I want to gather all my children around us. I realize this is an irrational reaction to the situation, but it’s how I feel right  now.

Our country will change because of the events of this day. Mothers will fear to let their children go to school. Parents will rain overprotection on their children. Business people will avoid airplanes. Life will become totally and irrationally disrupted. This is so very much different from the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is not a military action, but a total act of cowardice. The many plane trips that I have been making to travel to Detroit in recent months will probably come to a halt. There will be a huge interruption of American commerce while security efforts are devised and implemented. The local news broadcasts are bordering on obscene overreaction. It will be a long time before people are ready to step down from the heightened security measures that will turn our lives upside down over the next months. Sometimes, I yearn for the days before mass media could come on the air and speculate about things not established as fact.

My thoughts, too, are with the thousands of people whose families have been robbed of loved ones by this act. Though I have questioned my faith on many levels over the last 10 years or so, right now I have a strong feeling that God will have to play a large role in helping to heal the wounds from these acts. I wonder how many thousands have lost their lives in the acts today. I wonder how many hundreds will die while trapped in the debris of the World Trade Center. I wonder if those on the hijacked planes had any idea what was happening to their lives.

I have called and talked to Janet, Joanna, Elise, Jason, and my Mom. I’ve also talked to Janet’s sister, Phyllis and her husband Bill. All of them are physically fine. All of them are emotionally wrecked. I feel better for having talked to them all.

God be with us in the upcoming days, weeks, and months. God bless America and its leaders. Give them the strength and vision to handle a situation unlike any this nation has ever faced before. May the full strength of this nation be focused on retribution to the lowlife skunks who have wreaked this havoc. May God and we show them no mercy.

— Doug Marks


I was talking to my friend. He told me two planes just flew into the World Trade Center. I turned on the television just in time to see the third plane going down in Pennsylvania. That is where my husband was at the time. All I could do after that was cry and pray. When my children came home from school, I had planned on talking to them about all that they had seen and heard. I was glad their teachers had brought a TV in the room to show them what happened and they talked to them about feelings. I stayed worried about my husband being a truck driver and being up north. He made it home safe to Franklin. I will never forget, and my heart still hurts for everyone. It’s something I’ll never understand and I don’t understand to this day. Why were they not stopped before this happened? It’s just so sad, pure evil. I hope we’re all holding our families closer.

— Deborah Gray


I was at the library at J.P. King School with Ann Thomas. We turned on TV in the auditorium and kept the door closed so staff could see what was happening, but not students! Thank you to Don Soengeman for your leadership!

— Frances Presnall


I was in seventh grade at Southampton Middle School. I might have been in either first or second period at the time. I don’t remember much about that day at school until I got home that afternoon and saw everything on TV. An absolute heartbreaking day in history that no one will ever forget!

— Nikki Robertson


I was at work and heard about it on the radio. We all stopped what we were doing and called our families and prayed for everyone. It was like the world just stopped turning, and we felt so helpless. We prayed a lot.

— Vanessa Coggsdale Vick


I was pulling into a parking deck at a hospital in Atlanta. There was a patient I needed to visit, and they announced the first plane hitting a tower as I arrived. While I was still in the patient’s room, the morning news on her TV broke the news that a second tower had been hit. I knew then that this was on purpose and we were under attack. She invited me to stay, and we continued to watch the coverage together.

— Charles Qualls


My husband at the time and I were on a breakfast date celebrating my birthday when we first heard of the attacks. As we were paying our bill, the hostess announced in disbelief to us that the South tower had been hit. We looked up and saw the horrifying images of both towers with black smoke pouring out of them on the TV behind her. We shared a flurry of emotions. I remember sitting in silence on the front porch of our babysitter’s house with a very surreal and somber feeling. My birthday was never quite the same after. It is definitely a day I will never forget.

— Jennifer Bernocco


I was working at Obici Hospital for Dr. Purchase, a general surgeon. I had just opened up doing some charts and saw it on TV. No patients showed up that day. It was a sad and awful day for our country. Many prayers go out to everyone.

— Sandra Deel


On Sept. 11, 2001, I was 13 years old. I was vacationing with my dad and sister at the Grand Canyon. On the morning of the 11th, we were on a charter bus headed to go white water rafting on the Colorado River. We were told we had to turn around because all national parks had been closed because of a terrorist attack. The rest of the day we all sat glued to the TV in shock. Three days later when we had to fly home, there were no words spoken at all while flying, and everyone was on high alert. I remember praying most of the way that we would make it home safely.

— Christine Morgan


I was living in Boykins at the time and working in Conway, North Carolina. I had gone to work already, having to be there at 6 a.m. I was doing a test on a sample resin when the news came across the television screen that one of the towers had been hit by a plane. It continued to follow suit with each structure that was hit. All I could do was cry and pray for those that were being attacked, and wondering why anyone would do those things. Never, ever in my heart did I think that could happen in a place I knew of or could possibly be. It was definitely traumatic.

— Joyce Lundy


I was a police officer in Franklin and had worked the midnight shift and had just gotten home and turned on the TV as I undressed to get some sleep. I watched as “The Today Show” aired the planes hitting the Twin Towers. I knew that day that the world was about to change.

— Tommy Potter


I was working at the front desk of a hotel near Washington, D.C. There had been a huge softball tournament for firefighters who were scheduled to check out that morning, so we were slammed with a lobby full of people. Everyone was joking around and loud as we were checking folks out. All of a sudden, the lobby went silent and all eyes turned towards the TV. We were silent, watching the news as the phones rang. I couldn’t answer them. Everyone just stood. Finally, we all started moving again. Trying to make sense of what we had seen. We all turned to one another for support, for answers no one had. Several of the groups began making plans to leave immediately and head to New York instead of their home locations. Then an hour later, the plane hit the Pentagon. We were far enough away that we didn’t feel the shock or hear the noise, but the chaos that ensued was real and right there. Flights canceled. Highways closed. The Metro shut down. People in limbo. The firefighters tried to make it down to the Pentagon to help but were turned back. They couldn’t get through. They went to donate blood, as they thought it would be needed in the aftermath. There weren’t enough survivors for it. The people trained to help couldn’t get in. We all felt helpless and lost in a world gone. We spent the day canceling reservations, re-checking in guests who had just left, in between fielding calls from everyone’s relatives checking if we had seen their loved one. “They were supposed to be in D.C. for a tour, have you heard from them?” “Do you know if my husband’s flight landed yet?” “Do you have any rooms, I can’t get home?” Calls until the phone lines were so full we had to get extra people just to answer them. People wandering in and out of the lobby, the TV on news constantly. The TV became an addiction and a lifeline. Hoping some sense would come soon. Days on end of everything closed, people trying to figure out how to come back.

— Sharon Bay


The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working a volunteer shift at Franklin Fire & Rescue Department. At 8 a.m., I began equipment checks and started washing the apparatus. Capt. Ronny Griffin came outside to tell me that I should come inside the day room, as a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Being from Jersey City, I grew up seeing the World Trade Center towers daily during my childhood and teen years. I reasoned to myself that it must have been a small plane or helicopter that hit the tower and continued to complete my task of washing the trucks. I finally finished and walked into the day room and was overwhelmed to see the hole and fire in the North Tower (from the impact of American Flight 11). Just a short time later I, and fellow members from FFRD, watched in horror as United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. I will tell you we were all in shock at what we witnessed.

— Don Wilson


On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was on my way home after dropping my kids off at school. I was listening to a radio station waiting to hear a new song release. The radio station was FM99. As we all know, FM99 was and still is full of jokes and playfulness. This day I heard them say something about the Twin Towers being hit, my first thought was it was some part of their daily prank. I didn’t notice the seriousness for a few seconds. The remainder of my ride home was spent listening to what was happening. I felt numb yet I felt “stung.” Once I got home to turn on the television to actually see what was happening, I immediately started crying. I remember thinking “they’re here, the terrorists are here. God please help us.” I called my parents to make sure they were watching. I couldn’t wait to get back to the school to get my kids and bring them home where I knew they were safe. I still feel that same numb/sting when I think about that day. God Bless America!

— Candy Baines