#1532 | Sunday, August 11th, 2002
I was in northern Poland, in the city of Torun, on the 11th. We were on an in-law trip in September, and although they live in the south we were on that particular day helping my sisters-in-law get established in their university town for their first year.

By the 11th the apartment was fundamentally in order but still needed lots of cleaning, so I was happily exempted and allowed to play tourist for a day. I'd never been to this city and it has a very interesting history so off I went. I also had an old friend living in Torun so I arranged to meet her later in the day. Around 2.00 p.m. (which was 8.00 a.m. New York time) I went into a net cafe just behind the city hall to clean out the e-mail accounts and touch base with friends. I finished writing to one friend in particular in the U.S. and at about 2.30 (8.30 a.m. NYC) came outside to meet my friend in front of the city hall. She told me as met a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

In the last week of August I was sent by my company on a client call to the World Trade Center, to a company on the 51st floor. I had been through the PATH train area dozens of times in the bottom going between NJ and Manhattan but this was the first time I'd been up in the towers themselves. I was amazed when we arrived there at the security measures and my security pass has a picture of me laughing because I was joking about what I thought was overbearing paranoia. Anyway, throughout the client presentation we were in their conference room and I was very distracted by what seemed like hundreds of helicopters and small planes constantly flying around the city and the building, all operated presumably by tourist agencies.

The upshot is that when my friend told me a plane had crashed into the WTC, I assumed it must have been one of these small tourist aircraft, in other words an accident. I also vaguely recalled seeing a picture from the 1940s of a bomber that had accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building, and this reinforced my belief that a terrible accident had occured, and I could only hope no one was hurt. We went on our way as historical tourists the rest of the afternoon, until about 6.00 p.m. (noon NYC time) when I showed up back at the sisters-in-law's apartment, only to learn the truth.

Their apartment is in an apartment block, and there were people walking aimlessly stunned up and down the stairwells, one young girl was wailing annoyingly, and the TV was constantly showing the images of the WTC and the Pentagon over and over. At that point the plane over Pennsylvania was still missing and everyone was still quite jumpy. I couldn't believe someone could ever conceive of such an act. At one point as we were making dinner, which meant moving between the kitchen and the living/dining room repeatedly, my wife said the towers had collapsed. I remembered the 1993 WTC bombing, and assumed she was mistaken. The TV commentators were becoming near hysterical so I thought they were just going overboard a bit, but when I came in and saw the next replay...

That night in my mind I just kept walking through that office on the 51st floor I'd visited a few weeks before, remembering every detail of all the people I was passing along the way. It was a bond trading company, and these were all young people in their early to mid-20s who were just getting started on their careers. I recall taking note of a few very attractive females, and of how casual their workstations were. I wondered how many were still alive.

A month or two later I read with great relief that everyone from that particular company had indeed escaped, and I felt quite guilty about being relieved because while they escaped some 3000 others didn't but still, somehow that personal connection had been weighing on me heavily and the good news lifted it somewhat.

By a brilliant twist of fate a friend just before this trip had bought me a traveling gift, David McCullough's biography of John Adams. To drive the images from my mind I sat up and read this book for a much-needed renewal of purpose as to why some things are indeed worth fighting for.

Poles in general were outraged by this act. The night of the 11th the walkway in front of the American Embassy in Warsaw was draped with flowers, candles and cards. Americans in general were offered condolensces on the street by Poles and angry denunciations of the terrorists, and unfortunately occasionally of the Middle East in general.

A problem I faced was that I was scheduled to return to the U.S. on Saturday, and the attacks took place on Tuesday. The U.S. shut its borders on Tuesday, re-opened them on Thursday but only briefly before shutting them down again because of some incident (at Boston airport, I think) so by Saturday things were precarious. I was flying SAS airlines through Wroclaw-Copenhagen-New York, but all the SAS people in Wroclaw could tell me was to fly to Copenhagen and hope my flight to NYC was still open. To make matters worse, I am a collector of World War helmets and had found two while in Poland, so I got shook down by a few Polish soldiers after they saw the luggage scans but when I was taken into a small room and we opened the luggage everyone laughed and we talked about helmet collecting for a bit. I flew to Copenhagen (alone because my wife had already planned to spend two more weeks with her parents) and after some particularly detailed security screening was able to board the flight and it was allowed to fly. At that point all incoming flights for the U.S. were approved on a flight-by-flight basis, so we literally had to sit and wait on the tarmac in Copenhagen and wait to see if Washington would approve our entry. They did, and we made it in good time.

By the time I arrived back in NJ, the local towns were beginning to collect the cars that had been parked at the local train stations and unclaimed after a week, meaning the owners most likely were workers in the WTC who were unaccounted for.

The first night back in the U.S. I was unable to sleep because of jetlag so I checked my e-mail and found the friend I'd been writing to when I was in Torun ahd shot back an e-mail moments after I'd logged out of the net cafe something like, "I think we're under attack!"
Tomek Jankowski | 33 | New Jersey

#1533 | Sunday, August 11th, 2002
Maybe it just shows my age, but there are few events in my life where I can answer the question "Where were you when...?"
A month from today is the one year anniversery of the day our country was even though horribly, I must say creatively, by a word I wish I never understood...Terrorist. Where were you when you heard 4 of our planes had been hijak and two were crashed in to towers that now burn, one into the pentegon, one into the ground. Where were you when you felt like this was unreal? I heard it from my friend Josh. He was staying at my house while he was out her visiting from Hesperia. I woke up and he was getting ready to leave.
"My mom called, we were bombed, we're going to war, she wants me to come home now"
Can you even understand how confusing that is to wake up to? I turned on the TV and..no, not bombed, planes, our planes, and fire, more fire, just lots and lots of fire...airplanes, goodness my school is literally one block away from LAX. I called my mom, I was crying, I didn't understand, I didn't understand how anyone could do something like this. Ever wake up in a horror movie? That's how I felt. No, school was cancled for the day. So I sat, I sat there and watched TV. Thank god for cable. Nothing can break the peaceful surrealism of Nickelodeon. But I still had to work on my project, I still had a project due tomorrow. At a school, one block from LAX and no one knew what was going on. I think that was the worst part...No one knew what was going on.
Stephanie Elizabeth | 19 | California

#1534 | Monday, August 12th, 2002
Where was I when I first found out? I was standing around a baby grand piano singing "The Piano Man" with my friends while on a break from Drama class. My best friend told me, her original information had relayed that it was the WTC in the Baltimore Harbor, not in NYC. My mom works at the Pentagon. She was at a conference in Orlando. But I didn't remember this. I didn't believe my best friend. I thought it was some sick joke. I went down to the end of the hall, where some friends had a radio. I told them' they didn't believe me. They laughed. And then they turned on the radio. And all i heard was screaming coming from that little black box. And I collapsed. How could this happen? I called my mom, frantically trying to get a hold of her. Cell phones aren't allowed in our school, so the vice pricipal tried to send me to the office. Even she didn't know. My mom had been in a session at her conference. She didn't know. I had to tell her over a cell phone.
My English teacher wouldn't let us watch the news in class. She made us write letters to colleges. She sent me to guidance for yelling at her and crying during class. I spent the rest of the day there. I was staying with a friend's family and her mom showed up at school to take us home early. The elementary and middle schools never told the kids what was going on. Her little brother and sister had no clue. How do you tell a 6 year old what happened?
I fell asleep in front of the tv that afternoon. That night, we battled with watermelon seeds. We did our homework. We straightened our hair. We tried to be normal, but it wasn't normal. It was all wrong.
Kathryn | 16 | Maryland

#1535 | Monday, August 12th, 2002
For me i taught it was just another day of school But it turned out to be something more then i experienced.

First thing what happened my English teacher told the WTC building is gone and i taught it was a joke and this is before school even started.

in the middle of my math class we were listening the radio and to my demise i hear a women screaming live as a one of the towers fell down i didn't do any of my work in that class i just sat and listen in silence.

As i got home all me and my family did watch all the other shocking events on CNN pentagon being attacked, a Plane down somewhere in penn. I couldn't even sleep till like 3:00 Am so i decided to burn a Cd in tribute to the victims then i got some sleep. i still can't believe what happened i aint gonna forget this day ever.

Ryan-Winnipeg,manitoba
Ryan | 19 | Canada

#1536 | Monday, August 12th, 2002
I was on my way to work on Route 22 in Union, NJ when the news of the first plane crash was announced. There is a part of route 22 where you come around a slight curve, and the WTC is there, right in front of you. You can't see any other NYC buildings from this vantage point. The towers were the only buildings high enough. As I came around the bend, I saw the smoke coming from the first tower. The second had yet to be hit. I had almost reached work when I heard of the second impact. There was a tremendous gasp from the people at the radio station, and many couldn't believe what they had just seen. There was speculation that it was a piece of the first plane.

Once I reached work, radios were on, and speculation was rampant. By this time, I had been told that it was a second plane. When the first tower collapsed, I went in and told my boss, who was in an open door meeting. I didn't know what else to say, or even if I should have been in there. We all just stood there in stunned silence for a while.

That afternoon, as I left work, the smell of sulfer, or something similar was everywhere. I could see the enormous cloud of dust that stretched in the distance to the east. The same smell was around for the next two or three days.

When I got home that night, my wife was in tears. She had watched the scene with many of her co-workers on a tv where she works. She watched the second plane hit the tower. I hugged my children and felt like I never wanted to let them go. I wanted to protect them from the evil that had occored, but felt I was powerless to do so. I felt helpless.

The next day, I went along that same route, only there were no towers off in the distance. My heart sank. A few days later, I spoke with my next door neighboor, who had been part of the recovery effort the first two days. He told of how disorganized and disheartend everyone was the first night. How he would go up to the firemen on the site, and they would not know what to do because all of their leaders were missing. But that by the next day, there was organization, and a sense of optimism around the site. He talked of being part of a line that was removing buckets of debris, and that often there were body parts in the buckets. It was sickening to hear, and yet I knew I needed to hear it, and wanted the world to hear it, so that we never forget what happened.
Tom | 31 | New Jersey

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