CLEVELAND RESIDENTS REFLECT ON HORROR OF 9/11 ATTACKS

By TIM SINIARD and KAITLIN GEBBY
Posted 9/11/19

We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001.Some of us were working; some of us were in class. We learned of the event from a frantic phone call from a relative or a grave message from a …

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CLEVELAND RESIDENTS REFLECT ON HORROR OF 9/11 ATTACKS

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We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some of us were working; some of us were in class. We learned of the event from a frantic phone call from a relative or a grave message from a co-worker. 

If we were near a television, we saw plumes of smoke rising from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Both attacked by terrorists who flew hijacked passenger jets into both towers? Unthinkable. Both towers collapsing? Unimaginable.

Our horror continued when the Pentagon was also attacked and when we learned  a plane had plummeted into a field in rural Pennsylvania. We did not yet know that a group of heroic passengers on that doomed flight had most likely saved countless lives when they banded together to overtake the hijackers.

The awfulness continued the rest of the day, with most of us collapsing that night from exhaustion and anxiety. Some of us had trouble falling asleep. 

Although most of us lived far away from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, a sense of unease enveloped us. What's next?

Before the 18th anniversary of the attacks, the Cleveland Daily Banner posted a message on its Facebook page asking Cleveland residents to share their memories of that day:

Scott Allen said he was living just north of Dayton, Ohio, close to Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton International Airport and was accustomed to planes flying around.

“When I went to lunch that day at work to sit and listen to everything on the radio … it felt so eerie with no planes overhead," Allen said. "Even my coworkers were quiet. I guess we were all in a state of shock.”

Billy Massingale had just arrived home, exhausted from his bartending shift. 

"I just wanted to sleep ... my phone was going crazy, and finally I answered a call from my old Army roommate,” Massingale wrote. “He said, 'Turn on the TV.' I said, 'What channel?' He said, 'It doesn't matter.' I watched the following war on TV for a little while then realized this was long-term.'”

Massingale re-enlisted in the military shortly thereafter. 

“I re-enlisted and spent five straight years overseas (three in Iraq and two in Afghanistan),” he wrote. “But that day, Sept. 11, was a beautiful day, not too hot, nice breeze ... and still … how eerie it seemed with no planes in the sky. Roads were dead, people left work and schools to be with families. We crowded around TVs and tried to comprehend the scope of what had transpired that morning.”

Brian Law, who was in the military and stationed in Germany, said his workday was nearly over when the attacks began.

“Our leaders called us into the dayroom to watch the news instead of releasing us,” he recalled. “We were all in a state of disbelief. Within a very short time we received our new orders and the military bases went into complete lock down. We were only allowed to briefly call our immediate families to tell them we would not be coming home until further notice and immediately started 24-hour guard rotations and increased security measures at our gates and perimeter fences.”

“I cried that day,” Massingale said. “The world changed forever.”

Some compared the attacks to other infamous American tragedies. 

“It was horrifying,” Carrie Silvers wrote. “I remember my dad saying that we were under attack. He compared it to Pearl Harbor. I think that period of not knowing what was happening was the scariest thing I've ever personally experienced.”

Many Clevelanders today recalled witnessing 9/11 from the classroom. 

“I was in my second-period history class,” Bud Kinches, a senior at Cleveland High School, wrote. “We didn’t have cable at the time because there was work being done. Our school resource officer popped his head in the door and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and they thought one was going to the White House!” 

Kinches then rushed to his computer class to get online.

“It was so slow, but then I saw the first image!” Kinches wrote. “I rushed home and was glued to the TV all night! 9/11 for my generation was what JFK's assassination was for our parents!"

Brittany Nichole Ramirez was in her seventh-grade math class when a teacher walked into the classroom and turned on the TV.

“I sat there, frozen but crying uncontrollably, she wrote. “I just kept thinking, ‘That’s someone’s dad; she’s someone’s daughter.’”

Randa Retzlaff said she was a fifth-grade student at Black Fox Elementary.

“Teachers were informed of the event and turned on the TVs,” Retzlaff wrote. “We watched the towers fall. That's how I remember fifth grade.”

Kaila Shoemaker was in her seventh-grade reading class when she learned of the attacks. 

“I remember the teacher turning the TV on without telling us anything,” she wrote. “I didn't fully grasp what was happening at first, but we all watched the news in silence. Class dismissed early and there were so many people crying in the hallways. One kid’s dad was a pilot, another teacher’s husband worked in New York, and it seemed like everyone at my school knew someone who may have been there when it happened."

Another commenter, Tiffany Shafer, said she stayed home from school and watched the events while on the phone with her boyfriend, who is now her husband.

“We were watching the news together, although he was at his place, but I was so scared that Cleveland was next,” Shafer said. “When the towers collapsed, I totally lost it. I ran into my parents room and hugged my mom and told her I loved her.”

Others, like Lisa Evans, were just getting home from work and going about their daily routines. 

Evans worked nights and said she would watch the morning news when she arrived home at 7:15 a.m.

“I would always shower, then set the timer on the TV and usually go to sleep watching Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America,” she wrote. “I will never forget the look on his face when they announced that the first plane had gone into the tower. Confusion is an understatement.  I remember him trying to stay calm, but they would cut away to live shots at the towers and he couldn't keep it together.” 

Evans said she wept when she saw people jumping from the burning buildings. 

“I called my mom and dad and stayed up most of that day,” she wrote. “(I) was so sad and confused as to how this could have happened in my country! I will never forget that day as long as I live ... nor do I want to.”

Debbie Stamp Bates recalled how she felt while watching the events unfold on a TV.

“I felt helpless to be watching and not being able to help in any way. After I left that day, I went home to my family (and) we all discussed what happened and what we could expect after that. Would there be war? Would there be more attacks?”

Cleveland resident Siema Bailey Swartzel was visiting her ill father in Ohio when she learned of the attacks.

“I was standing in my mom’s kitchen on 9/11 when the second plane hit,” Swartzel wrote. “I looked at my brother and said, 'The world just changed.’”

Melissa Davis, who managed a fast-food restaurant, was on duty that morning.

“We put a TV on the front counter and watched the coverage all day,” she wrote. “I remember customers coming in, ordering something to drink and standing at the counter with us for extended periods of time. I don’t think we sold any food at all that day. People just wanted to be together and take in the horror that had just occurred.”

Jason Gibson wrote he was stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and had planned to paint his house that fall morning.

"I had dropped my infant son off at the sitters in the morning and was on my way home on State Route 97 when the news broke that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center (towers),” Gibson wrote. “As I was pulling into my house, the second tower was hit. I immediately called back to the office and asked they follow up on this and to let me know if I needed to report in."

Gibson said it was difficult to communicate via phone calls.

"The phone lines were taxed; my command at Walter Reed could not call Fort Meade in Maryland and vise-versa,” he said. “However, both could reach me. I spent a large part of my day relaying messages from one hospital to the other. When I wasn't relaying messages I was glued to the television for updates. I will never forget the surreal silence of not having planes fly overhead.”

Kafir Katy lived 15 minutes away from Manhattan at the time and said she will never forget that day. 

"Had just dropped my eldest off at school and was driving home, when the call came in one hour later that planes had hit the towers,” Katy wrote. “Lost a few close friends that day.”

Janice Neyman, executive director at Cleveland's Museum Center at Five Points, was living in Pennsylvania at the time of the attacks.

"We were just settling into our new home south of Pittsburgh, Penn., at the time, less than 10 miles from the United Flight 93 crash site. We were getting our Pennsylvania driver's license when someone said a plane crashed in the Washington Mall. We were confused, being new to the community, we thought it was in Washington Township!”

Dianne Davis and her coworkers were part of what would become a wave of American flag purchases that could barely meet demands after Sept. 11.

"I was an office manager in a doctor's office in Knoxville," she said. "One of the physicians came through and announced that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. In a few minutes the ugly truth became known. Our nutritionist went out and purchased 50 small American flags and placed the flags throughout our office.”

J.R. Baine said it was the first time the Whirlpool plant had ever been shut down.

“We all gathered around the flagpole and said the Pledge of Allegiance,” Baine remembered.

The Sept. 11 attacks changed everything from air travel to what it meant to be an American. Citizens of 78 countries were killed in the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, and the world mourned together. In many ways, the grief unified people, whether they were in classrooms, restaurants, coffee shops or business offices. People offered their support for the nation with flags flying from front porches and pins and ribbons pinned to lapels. 

Now, 18 years later, students graduating and heading to college have only known a post-9/11 world and a world at war against terrorism. Each year, we take a moment of silence and share where we were, what we saw, what we heard and felt, to both reflect and teach the next generation about the day the world came to a screeching halt. We remember 9/11 with the hope that the next generation may never see such a tragedy.

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