The 21st century began on September 11, 2001. Like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 is a day that sears itself in one’s mind. You will never forget where you were, what you were doing, and how life changed. Breitbart editors, reporters, and contributors share their memories of that fateful day. We encourage our readers to do the same in the comment section.
JAMES P. PINKERTON — Breitbart Contributor
Some memories don’t seem to fade. I remember exactly where I was on 9/11/01, and I’ll bet you do, too. As someone said back then, the events of that day were so awful that they seemed to crack open—and from the horror, a kind of terrible beauty emerged. The beauty, that is, of courage and devotion, unto the end.
That day, on TV, we were all collective witnesses to a sacrament of sacrifice: The cops and firefighters who went running up the stairs at the World Trade Center, when all logic told them to go running down. And only later did we learn of other acts of bravery, including the “let’s roll!” heroes of Flight 93.
We can ask with admiration and wonder: Where do we get such men—and women?
Yet since memories will fade, and then be gone completely, those of us who did nothing heroic that day are duty-bound to recall the deeds of our heroes, so that future generations, too, can pay proper respect. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was a hero, recalled of his fellow soldiers in the Civil War, “We have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.”
Yes. For we the living, in this home of the brave—it’s the least we can do.
DANIEL J. FLYNN — Breitbart Sports Editor
On September 10, 2001, I debated the lovely X-rated actress Nina Hartley on Fox News about the merits of studying pornographic films in college classrooms. Perhaps alone among Hartley’s costars, I immediately regretted sharing a scene—her Wikipedia page counts 1,028 of them in her career—once the calendar jumped a day.
A television appearance that seemed so serious to a twentysomething on 9/10 struck as terribly stupid by 9/11. The day had that kind of effect on everything.
Like some lucky workers in Manhattan and in Arlington, Virginia, I arrived late for my job on 9/11. The sound of sirens and sight of stonefaced pedestrians signaled something amiss. Word of the attacks came to me via the same medium that delivered the bad news to most Americans on December 7, 1941. Despite a strange, short commute from outside my condo to the parking garage at Accuracy in Academia on the same block (necessitated by DC’s Stalinesque parking enforcement), I gleaned much information—not all of it correct—in 60 or so seconds. The voice in my Ford Mustang informed of attacks on not only the Pentagon and World Trade Center but on the State Department as well.
Everyone went to work but no one worked. We watched. We watched George W. Bush’s facial expression change with a whisper. We watched people jumping to their deaths. We watched two fixtures of the Manhattan skyline come crashing down. Cable news, which brought America debates about the educational value of Where the Boys Aren’t 7 on 9/10, enjoyed its finest hour when America endured one of its darkest ones.
The day lasted several months, perhaps years for those most affected. On a drive to Henderson Hall to pick up military gear weeks later, I noticed smoke streams still flowing out of the Pentagon. When my reserve unit convened a month or so later, ghosts of Marines past haunted the parking lot. Guys long since discharged arrived for drill weekend. Like the firemen going up the stairs when everyone else ran down them, they rushed toward the risk. The unit turned away all but one attempt at reenlistment—a young prosecutor, who, like me, arrived to work late on 9/11. His office was in the World Trade Center.
In my eight years of service whose only combat came in the form of a couple of internecine fistfights, that sight of discharged Marines desperately seeking reentry into our light-armored reconnaissance unit remains permanently etched as an example of the worst circumstances bringing out the best in human beings. September 11, a day that showcased 19 of humanity’s worst, offered a million examples of people at their best.
ADRIENNE ROSS — Breitbart Editor
September 11, 2001, is cemented in my memory in the way that defining moments inhabit our lives and remain. I had just finished teaching one of my seventh grade English Language Arts classes in Hudson, New York, and was walking down the hallway in between classes. A colleague approached and told me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
As with all tragedies, I felt a sense of “how sad,” but I didn’t get it—not at all. It was only when news came that a second plane had hit the other Tower that I knew this was no ordinary accident. As information unfolded, the horror descended, and I joined co-workers in the computer lab, where live—unspeakable—footage played out.
Hudson is about two hours from New York City, but all my family lives in the City. So close to the chaos, I was, yet so far—so far from my family, with only the hope of hearing a voice to let me know they were well. Concern gripped me, as the phone lines were jacked up and calls could not get through.
We, as teachers, were neither sure how much students could understand nor how much we should share; we just got through the day. Later, when I turned on the television at home, the nonstop coverage held me captive. The footage of the buildings’ collapse was like something out of a sci-fi film. This couldn’t be happening to us.
Because my brain is wired to digest specifics, to envision what goes on behind the scenes, images engulfed my mind and ripped at my heart—the people in the buildings, the pain. For the first time in my life, the sound of a plane overhead was not just the sound of a plane. To this day, it is not. To this day, that sound stirs up a certain feeling. I wouldn’t call it outright fear, but it certainly is caution.
I’m a New Yorker. I was born in New York City and spent my life there and in Long Island until I moved Upstate after college. I am, of course, also an American. I had never before considered that that combination made me a target. It was eye-opening, but it also evoked pride. Like many New Yorkers, I purchased flags—the kind that attaches to car windows—and I flew those flags proudly, watching them wave in concert with other flags on other cars. A piece of my heart died on 9/11, but, as strange as it is, something inside also came alive.
May we never forget 9/11, and may we never allow it again.
FRANCES MARTEL — Breitbart National Security Editor
September 11, 2001 was my first day of high school. We had been through a week of orientation before where they had warned us about terrorism, of sorts. Columbine was a recent event, and gang violence an evergreen concern. I am from Union City, New Jersey – the most densely populated city in America, a Latino enclave across the Hudson River from Manhattan – and went to school in North Bergen, right next to it.
During our first class, geometry, our teacher solemnly told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and she wasn’t sure if it was an accident. I recall vividly not knowing what the World Trade Center was. We were concerned, confused, and grateful that we did not have to talk about geometry.
Then the parents started streaming in. Every other minute, the office would call in another student. “Your parents are here to pick you up.” For hours. It took two more classes before it was my turn, and by then my history class was mostly empty.
My mother’s face was swollen with panic. “I was watching it from the roof when the second one hit,” she said. All her coworkers had taken to the roof of their clinic. My mother, who had watched her own mother die when she was 8, saw another thousand deaths in real time. It had shaken her. I still didn’t understand why there were two.
We drove to Boulevard East and looked across the river. By the time we got there, all I could see was a large brown cloud engulfing lower Manhattan. And that’s when I figured it out. “Where are the Towers?” I asked. “Are they behind that giant cloud?”
We watched the brown nothing swallowing the skyline surrounded by hundreds of people we didn’t know. It was silent; no one’s cell phone worked. When we went home, the first image I saw when I turned on the TV was a split-screen of Shepard Smith and the second plane crash.
Then for days, the smell of rotted flesh and burnt cement and ashes. We had what felt like an eternity off from school. Every morning, my parents and I drove to Boulevard East and watched. We took pictures. We smelled. There was a tribute concert in there somewhere. And then a war.
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS — Breitbart National Security Reporter, Rome Correspondent
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I was with my family on Nantucket Island, thirty miles off the coast of the Massachusetts mainland. That morning, my father, my younger brother Matthew and I had driven the six miles into town from the family cottage at Madaket to buy some groceries and rent a video for after-dinner viewing. At the moment of the first attack on the World Trade Center, in fact, Matt and I were at a video store on Main Street checking out new releases. As we perused the video racks, the kid working in the store shouted over to us, “Hey, have you guys seen this?” Assuming he was referring to a new movie, we sauntered over to look at the screen. Seeing a replay of a plane crashing into the tower, we asked whether this was a new thriller that had just come out. “No, man,” he said. “It’s the news. That just happened.”
LEE STRANAHAN — Breitbart Reporter
My 9/11 experience was surreal because I was on the road traveling at the place that is already surreal: a Las Vegas casino. I was doing training for the MGM casino, and when I woke up that morning my wife called me from our home back east and told me to turn on the TV. We stayed on the phone together not knowing what was going on and then watched the second plane hit the tower. As soon as that happened, I told my wife that I thought it was Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the recent attacks in Yemen. Downstairs, casino life went on. People were still gambling, although everybody was talking about what happened. Flights had been canceled, so the next few days the Las Vegas strip was still mostly the same as ever. A couple of days later, 1980s pop star Rick Springfield did his first show after 9/11 at the casino, and I have to admit, it was strangely moving.
JOEL POLLAK — Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large
On September 11, 2001, I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, on a “vacation” — sort of — with a great-aunt who lived in the ghettoized inner city, one of the last white residents of an area called Joubert Park, near Hillbrow, one of the most densely populated places in the world, and also one of the most dangerous. The streets resounded with blaring music and gunshots, but Auntie Millie lived in a sunlit penthouse with flower boxes and Persian carpets. She resisted all efforts to move her out.
The great thing about staying with her was that no one dared visit, and so it was the perfect hideaway. I had just survived the World Conference Against Racism — a hideous United Nations anti-Israel hatefest that became openly antisemitic, and drew thousands of radical Muslims to demonstrations outside the conference. It was one of my first-ever journalistic assignments: I was working for the far-left journal Colorlines, whose editors refused to condemn the hatred they themselves were witnessing with me.
I needed a break to collect my thoughts. One day, I went to a bustling mall in the suburbs to see a Bollywood epic, Lagaan, a musical about cricket that is also an anti-colonial allegory in which the outmatched Indians manage to defeat their British overlords. The film is nearly four hours long, and I spent the intermission in the darkened theater. When I finally emerged, at about 6 p.m. the mall was, shockingly, empty. Televisions in a shop window showed the horrific news from home.
I tried calling the U.S., to no avail. I hailed a taxi, and went back into the fearsome concrete jungle. But there, too, the streets were quiet. No sounds of partying or revelry; no shouts or shots in the canyon-like streets. Hillbrow had bowed her head in fearful sympathy. I stayed up all night watching the news on Auntie Millie’s tiny TV set, wishing I were back in the U.S. — to do what, I had no idea. Just to be with familiar people, to face this horrific new world together, and to mourn.
RAHEEM KASSAM — Breitbart London Editor-in-Chief
The only thing more scary than watching your own country attacked is watching your closest ally attacked. For the families of victims and those directly involved, I cannot even begin to countenance how they must have felt.
9/11 was a huge moment for us in the UK too, however, for the reason set out above and more. You, Americans, are our grandchildren in the world. You speak our language, you live the ideals of Magna Carta, and in our old age, you even come and help us out from time to time.
I frantically ran to my house after my friend shouted the news down the street at me. We were long-standing Americophiles who had marvelled about the engineering feat of the Twin Towers. Seeing America attacked from 3000 miles away, watching rolling news coverage, slack-jawed in my box room of my parents house when I was just 15 years old was a formative moment like no other.
I furiously exchanged messages over instant messenger platforms with friends around the world. We were concerned for each other. What if it wasn’t just America that was being attacked? Of course four years later during the 7/7 bombings in London we realised our suspicions were right: this was an attack not just on the USA, but on Western Civilisation.
Perhaps not a day goes by when I don’t reflect on what that day and its implications have meant for the world. Whether it is increased airport security, our troops’ sacrifice in the Middle East as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with you after the attack, or whether it is Manhattan’s irrevocably altered skyline, so gut-wrenchingly different from the movies and sitcoms of the 90s.
My breath catches when I recall it all. I can almost hear the screams of the souls who were lost. And then I remember the resilience of your nation, and of our civilisation; the heroism of the first responders; the defiance of our men and women who defend us and what we stand for; and how the pioneering spirit that sprung the British Empire and the American Dream will continue on in the face of medieval barbarity. And then I exhale.
JEROME HUDSON — Breitbart Political Reporter
September 11, 2001 was the day our country’s heart was broken. So much evil. So much hate. So much misery and death. It’s inexplicably hard still to marry words with the very raw emotions that day evokes.
I was 16-years-old. I can still see my high school English teacher fleeing the classroom in tears. I can still hear her screeching, “This means war! This is an act of war! Oh my God, I have to call my [military] brother!”
Armed with the wisdom of history, one hesitates to imagine what the world would look like today had America not had a Commander-in-Chief willing to find and defeat those who brought war to our shores.
For all the horror of 9/11, the next day, 9/12, Americans stood should-to-shoulder and we mourned together. I was never more proud of my fellow countrymen. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget.
ADELLE NAZARIAN — Breitbart Political and National Security Reporter
I was in history class the day the world stood still. I witnessed, on television, the destructive moments that would mark the start of an incessant war against Western civilization, an attack on the freedoms we had all come to know.
My teacher had postponed the day’s lesson in favor of this crisis of international proportions. As I witnessed the emblazoned images on the TV screen, which was hanging in the upper-left corner of our classroom, I recalled thinking to myself “this must be a dream.”
It was not.
At least seven people from my hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, perished in that terrorist attack. It was the first time in my life that I had felt sorrow, anger and determination simultaneously.
Fear was not an option.
I knew I was living through history. I also realized that I had received a brazen introduction to an enemy that would become more familiar than I’d ever hoped for.
Something awakened in me that day. While I was born in America and identify as an American of Persian ethnicity, I felt a renewed sense of pride and obligation to this nation and our allies throughout the world who uphold the values that make this country so great.
Over the coming years, I would equally yearn to find a way to help those living under the oppressive nature of hatred and fear to rise up and embrace the concept that they, too, could experience the same liberties and freedoms that every human being should be granted.
The Manhattan skyline I had grown up with would never be the same. Those two great pillars were physically gone. But the force that had been created in their absence continues to remind me of why we fight for our freedoms. It is often said that in someone’s absence, we learn to appreciate them.
September 11 is a constant reminder for us to appreciate and hold on to those 12 great pillars granted to us by our founding fathers in the U.S. Constitution: National sovereignty, natural law, self-evident truth, equality, inalienable rights, the inalienable right to life, the inalienable right to liberty, the inalienable right to private property, the primary purpose of government being subscribed as the protection of these inalienable rights, popular sovereignty, federalism and states’ rights and Divine Providence.
Never forget: No nation on earth was born great. It was made great. America is no exception. And it is precisely that humble thinking that makes us exceptional.