Reporter's Notebook

Your Memories of 9/11
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To mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, readers and staffers are sharing their stories: where they were, what they remember, and how the events of that day changed their lives and their countries.

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9/11 in the Nation's Capital

Evan Vucci / AP

“People remember the Twin Towers,” writes Stephen, a reader in Illinois. “But I remember the Pentagon.” Update from Stephen: “I lived in Pentagon City between September, 1967, and November, 1968. On September 11, 2001, our daughter was back at the University of Arizona, having just completed her internship at MSNBC near the Capitol Building. [After the attacks, we] quickly returned to D.C., together, and went back to Pentagon City to visit the memorials”:

I took my college-age daughter, at night, to visit the shrines that had been erected by ordinary people in the traffic turnarounds and witnessed the enormous canvas shroud that was hung over the west wall to hide the devastation as clean-up and recovery proceeded. It disgusted me that our country had been so ill-prepared despite ample warnings. And that there was no accountability for failure to protect our nation’s commercial and political capital cities.

In our own small industrial marketing business, we did not put a single check through our company’s checking account for 90 days. Customers stopped paying, in panic over uncertainty gripping businesses like ours. When business came back, it was down 40 percent. That is my memory of September 11—personal and professional disaster.  And loss of faith in our government and its leaders.

A reader in California, Beth Anderson, was watching news coverage of the attacks on September 11, 2001, and thought of her father, who had died the previous week. She was glad he wasn’t there to see what was happening.

My Dad had been a pacifist. During the time of the Vietnam Nam war, my older brother was draft age. He didn’t believe in the war, he was a conscientious objector. He had received his draft notice. My Dad supported him in his beliefs. But, my Mom ... well, her father and both brothers had served during World War II; she had worked as a riveter making aircraft for the war effort. There was a tense rift in the family.  What I saw the morning of September 11, in a moment, brought all that back, and I immediately thought of all the drama, strife, turmoil and eventual loss that the unfolding events on TV would mean for countless American families.

Fifteen years later, I don’t think that much has been accomplished.  The whole world seems worse off than ever before. I didn’t ever agree with George W. Bush and I think darker and more effective manipulators at the time didn't serve any of us well, nor the world. I applaud the ongoing efforts of Barack Obama who has strenuously attempted to correct that wrong course, but it certainly has come to feel pretty hopeless.

I felt bad that early morning.  I feel even worse now.

An elderly Bulgarian man in Sofia on September 12, 2001, looks at the local newspapers. Reuters

One reader, Teresa Poppelwell, was working with the UN in Herat, in western Afghanistan, on September 11, 2001, specifically “in a meeting with the Taliban discussing how the UN could assist drought-affected IDPs [internally displaced persons] from Ghor province.” And then:

We returned to our guest house and watched CNN coverage of the plane that had flown into the first tower just minutes before. There were approximately 10 of us in the room. No one spoke. The sun was setting over the garden walls when the second plane hit. Shortly thereafter we were escorted to our UN offices to grab essential items like hard drives from our computers. We spent the night with Taliban guarding our guesthouse (sitting in the roof with AK47s) who then escorted us to the airport around 10 am the next morning. We waited for the UN plane to arrive.

We grieved with the poor souls in New York. We worried for the Afghans we were leaving behind. We knew things would never be the same.

Another reader was a student in Lebanon at the time of the attacks, dreaming of escaping to the West from a region that felt like “a big prison”:

I, like thousands of Western-educated young people, had no other choice but to leave in order to live. 9/11 crashed our plans and hopes and future.

Men look outside through a broken window at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on October 5, 2016. Mohammad Ismail / Reuters

Mohammad Sayed Madadi is currently getting a master’s degree at Stanford. But he spent part of his childhood under the Taliban, and he remembers the American intervention after the 9/11 attacks—which started 15 years ago today and ultimately toppled that government—as seeming to herald a new era for him. It did, but not exactly in the way he hoped. Sayed got an education that would never have been possible under the Taliban, and saw his sisters do the same. He has also witnessed continuing bloodshed in his country, and was himself injured in an ISIS bombing in Kabul this summer that killed some 80 people. “Afghanistan is a much better country than it was in 2001,” he writes. “Is that enough?”

When the Taliban were overthrown, it was as if the city I lived in was newer, brighter, more crowded; as if those American bombs that fell after September 11 really brought voice and light to a place that had been quiet and dark.