September 11 is one of those tragic dates when people can remember what they were doing when first hearing the news. Each person has a personal reflection on the day. If you weren’t alive or were young that day, you still may have insights about 9/11.   

As we approach the 20th anniversary of this infamous day, Scalia Law School has created this message board for members of our community to share recollections and reflections, as we honor those lost that day, and as we honor our nation and the men and women who responded to the attacks. 

Here is my recollection: 

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting at the dean’s desk, at another law school, in the South, far removed from Wall Street. As I conducted my routine morning meetings, my attention was distracted by the small TV in my office.

The TV coverage first was of the World Trade Center soon after the plane flew into it. 

Early in my legal career, I worked at a large New York firm, in walking distance to the World  Trade Center, where one of our firm’s largest clients, the Lehman Brothers investment firm, had their home office. I had been to their office many times, and I could not believe my eyes as I watched the World Trade Center burn and ultimately crumble. I later learned that a law school classmate, at a business breakfast at the Windows of the World restaurant, had died in the attack. 

As a native New Yorker who had been in that building, I personalized the emotion of the tragedy. The loss of life was gut wrenching; the attack on our great nation horrifying. 

Soon, the TV coverage switched to the attack on the Pentagon, the operational and symbolic home of our nation’s defense. Again, I felt the mixed emotions of sadness and anger. 

At the time, I was coaching our youngest son’s age-11 baseball team. We had a batting cage practice planned for the end of the day. I called the parents and asked if we should cancel or if the boys would feel better keeping their schedule and a place to share their thoughts. We were a close team, so we met, combining baseball with venting. I did my best to answer my little team’s questions, and we ended our practice with our heads bowed and our hands folded in prayer.  

Ken Randall
Allison and Dorothy Rouse Dean
GMU Foundation Professor of Law

9 replies on “Reflections on September 11, 2001”

  1. I was home that day working on my computer. When the news feed came in about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was a reprise of an incident from the late 1930s, I believe, in which a small private plane had crashed into the Empire State Building in the rain and fog. Then I looked out the window and realized that it was a bright sunny day here in Virginia and thought the weather was unlikely to be that different in New York. In the minutes, hours and days that followed as the picture filled in I was in great distress. First, here in the United States, we do not see the military on the streets. We usually live without a sense of danger of foreign conquest or domestic insurrection. We do not need to actually see the immense power of our military to reassure us. But in that period immediately after 9/11 fears of Al Qaeda’s violent fanatic future actions and plans were very much in the air. It was at least somewhat reassuring to see combat air patrols in the otherwise empty skies.

    But more than mere follow-on attacks, I feared that Al Qaeda had a plan to defeat us. After all they had organized a substantial operation involving at least twenty or thirty people to simultaneously hijack four airliners and bravely crash them into iconic American buildings in certain suicide attacks causing thousands of deaths. Surely they had a follow up plan to win.

    I was happy to learn in the months that followed that: (1) our enemies did not understand us at all, lived in a fantasy world, and had no realistic plan; and (2) our intelligence services and military were more than up to the task of driving the Taliban from power and hunting down Al Qaeda.

    From a perspective of twenty years out you might find my fears unwarranted and over-wrought. I am deeply grateful that those fears were not realized, but at the time they seemed reasonable.

  2. My wife and I were on a small island 600 miles off the Portugal coast with no television. A man from Germany had a short wave radio, and was giving me the horrible updates (fortunately I speak some German). We live a mile from the Pentagon, and knew of many people in that building. On the following Sunday we were on the first flight from Lisbon allowed back to the states. A we flew into the Newark airport, I could l see NYC still smoldering. The plane was absolutely quiet. The airport was dead. On our connecting flight to Dulles, my wife and I were the the only passengers on the plane. My sister-in-law lost her cousin in the towers collapse, whose remains were never identified. Memories of that day will never be forgotten.

    Michael L. Davis
    Assistant Professor/Senior Lecturer in Law

  3. At the end of every August, I used to look forward to the month of September for the relief from the heat and humidity. Every year since 2001, I dread the cool crisp air and bright blue cloudless skies. If you pay attention, you can smell the hint of autumn arriving. The morning of September 11, 2001, the weather was so beautiful. The terror of that day stays with me until the weather changes again. Winter has become my favorite time of year because it brings quiet solace and a time of healing and reflection.

    I was a flight attendant for United Airlines and had just gotten home from a San Francisco trip the night before 9/11. I was sitting reserve for the month of September and was scheduled to fly that day. I had called in sick the night before – I had a late night out with the crew from my trip and knew I couldn’t fly the next morning per FAA regulations. Some of the crew crashed at a friend’s house in Reston, VA, very close to IAD. My friend’s sister, a flight attendant based in Miami, called right after American Airlines hit the north tower. We turned on the TV and watched in horror after the flight I was supposed to be on crashed into the south tower.

    I can’t explain the feeling and it never leaves me. I can’t explain what it is like to watch your “could-have-been-death” on TV. You can really feel the pit of your stomach. My body went numb, and I forgot how to move for a brief minute. Not knowing what to do, we went outside in the cool crisp air and the world felt still. There was no noise, no planes flying overhead, no planes on their downwind about to land. No planes on takeoff. So, we just drove to the airport and sat in our crew inflight briefing room waiting to hear why this happened and who was responsible for driving four of our domestic aircraft into the towers, the Pentagon, and into the ground. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since al-Qaeda attacked America, but it feels like yesterday every single September when the weather is cool and crisp, and the skies are bright blue and clear.

    As a country, we vowed to never forget but America has forgotten. I remember a sense of unity and togetherness after 9/11. That’s not the America I feel today and the insurrection on January 6th reinforced my feeling of despair for this country. “We will never forget” – I feel so alone in those words. America has forgotten. Cognitively as a country, we remember for history’s sake. But it isn’t in our bones and in isn’t in our spirit anymore.

  4. I was participating in a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding before the Copyright Office in a courtroom in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill on the morning of September 11. It was a very lengthy and contested battle of the royalty rates webcasters should pay to stream music over the internet. As the first such proceeding it was presumed it would set the baseline for future rates so many parties and law firms and expert witnesses were involved. We had just begun to cross examine the General Counsel of the RIAA – among the most significant witnesses in the case. The General Counsel for NPR, another participant in the proceedings, ran into the courtroom and interrupted the 3 judge panel with the unbelievable news that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in NYC, and it was rumored another had just crashed into the Pentagon. These were not accidents. We were under attack.

    Numerous of the parties, counsel and witnesses present in the courtroom were from NYC and had loved ones who worked in or near the WTC. Others had links to the Pentagon. We all felt a common bond of horror regardless of our personal ties to Ground Zero. I don’t recall whether the judges intentionally called for a moment of silence, or whether one naturally befell the courtroom. As we sat in silence security guards rushed into the courtroom to announce that yet another plane was thought to be on its way to the Capitol and we must leave the courtroom and the entire complex immediately. We were ushered out to join a stream of Members of Congress, Hill staff, court clerks, Library of Congress employees, tourists and other members of the public fleeing the area — all of us unsure of what the future held even in the next few moments.

    The one emotion I recall above all others in those moments is a feeling of calm unity with all those around me – no matter our political beliefs, walks of life, or which side of the courtroom we began the morning on.

  5. On September 11, 2001, I was a senior at Stuyvesant High School, located a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. Looking back today, I still remember a few things—hearing the loud explosive sound of the first plane hitting the tower, passing my younger brother (then a sophomore) in the halls, telling him “It’s okay” as we went to our respective homerooms, evacuating the building, seeing the huge dust cloud, running up the West Side Highway, and the inescapable smell of burning.

    Ten years ago, when I was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, I was interviewed about my experiences that day. Reading that interview now, I’m shocked at how much I remembered then. . . . I texted my high school friends, and we realized that, twenty years later, we each held on to only some memories of the day—and each one of us remembered different parts of it (except for that smell, which we all remembered).

    Memories are strange, though perhaps some of the forgetting has been purposeful for me. But I feel a bit guilty, because as a nation we pledged to “Never Forget.” I have forgotten a lot of the details of that day.

    One week after the attack, a bunch of us from school met up in a Manhattan park to paint a huge canvas of some salient symbols—the Flag, an NYPD badge, a firefighter’s helmet, and others. As we painted, we talked about the events of that day, family members that classmates lost, and our fears about the aftermath, as well as mundane things like our college applications. I met some classmates that day I’d never met before in school, and I became even closer with my small group of friends. I remember that day much more clearly. And I remember feeling less anxious after that day. In the end, the thing I “Never Forg[o]t” was how we all came together for each other after the tragedy we had witnessed.

    Caroline Cecot
    Assistant Professor of Law

  6. On September 11, 2001, I was 29 years old and living in Raleigh, NC. My morning ritual involved watching the Today Show on NBC, and I remember the news desk interrupting to say that a small plane, possibly a commuter plane, had hit one of the Towers. At the time, we were surprised, but we didn’t think it was a terrorist attack. My husband and I got in our cars and headed downtown to work. On the way to work, we heard that the second tower had been hit and that this was not an isolated incident. On auto-pilot, we both continued in to the office and I went to the 22nd floor of my office building where people were gathered around a small television in the break room.

    As a native New Yorker, I was very concerned about my family and friends. My father was a truck driver and had been working a project at JFK International Airport. When I finally got through to my mother, she hadn’t been able to reach my dad yet. It turned out that he had seen the second plane hit the towers – the group of workers there had all gone to the top of the building when the North Tower was hit and it was such a clear day that they saw the impact of the second plane hitting the South Tower. He would never again speak of what he saw.

    When the first tower fell, I left work and went home. I was astonished as people around me were still holding meetings/depositions at my large firm. This was way too personal for me. (My husband was a lobbyist at the NC State Legislature and they continued on with regular business until about 8 pm that evening. I was very glad that we were leaving NC to move to DC the following month.)

    We both had multiple family members and friends working in or near the towers. Thankfully, one of my cousins was late for a meeting. Another was off that day. A friend of my husband’s family was an electrician there and was able to get to safety. Same for another friend of their family who was a Port Authority doctor. A close friend of mine had just come up from the subway on her way to renew her passport at WTC when the planes hit. Another friend’s brother is a NYC Police Officer and his right arm was almost severed by falling debris when the second plane hit – he was outside of the towers directing people to safety. (Mike eventually returned to the NYPD after 18 months of recovery and rehabilitation. It was a constant stream of phone calls from our parents, all still living on Long Island, relaying information to us in North Carolina. A few days after Sept 11, I learned that a childhood classmate had recently switched jobs and had been working for Cantor Fitzgerald. Scott was one of the nicest and brightest guys I knew and my heart still breaks for his family.

    Every year I listen to the reading of the names at Ground Zero and pray for their families. Reading through this long-winded memory that I wrote down a few years ago (for a school assignment for my daughter), it still feels like yesterday.

  7. Let me start by saying that my birthday is on 9/11. I graduated from a DC law school the previous year and was finishing up my first year as an associate with Barnes & Thornburg. I woke up that day with the same excitement as anyone would on their birthday with plans to celebrate with my co-workers and friends. As I was getting ready to leave for work, I was watching a national morning news program when they broke from the current story to report that a plane had flown into the first tower. I was in shock, but never thought it was a terrorist attack. Then I watched, in real time, as the second plane hit. My young, idealist, naive brain still could not grasp this was an attack. I left for work still shocked by what I saw, but not realizing how our lives were changing moment by moment.

    I drove to work, parked my car, and as I walked toward my building I passed a popular sports that had TVs playing in the window. I look up and see that a plane has hit the Pentagon. “We’re under attack” crept into my mind, but I suppressed that thought refusing it to be true. I had friends in DC. I had friends in NYC. I briefly worked in one of the Towers and still had a friend there. This couldn’t be true. As the morning passed, I finally accepted that it was.

    This tragic event changed our lives.. What I remember the most in the days that followed was the feeling of unity. Well, that, and the fact that no planes flew in the air for what seemed like months. But we were together, as one.

  8. I am one of the youngest Americans who has actual memories of September 11, 2001. I have spoken with many people who are a mere 6 months to a year younger than me who have no memory of that day. But that the memories of that day will live with me forever.

    To the soon to be five-year-old me, it was just another ordinary Tuesday morning. My mother, who worked the night shift at the time, got me up and ready for the day. After breakfast, just like every other day, she sat me down on the floor of our living room with whatever latest toy I could be distracted with. Once I was successfully distracted, she would proceed sit down on the coach, and, as she watched Good Morning America, attempt to finally find a moment of rest. But there would be no rest that morning.

    The program was quickly interrupted with the images from lower Manhattan. The anchors speculated that it must have been a tragic accident. But as we would all soon learn on live television, this was no mistake. It was the deadliest terror attack in human history.

    To this day, I still remember the time of day when I, a soon to be five-year-old sitting on the floor playing with his toys, saw United flight 175 crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was 9:03 am.

    As my mother and I watched the towers fall, I sat in horror. Even a soon to be five-year-old understood the tragedy that was unfolding in front of his eyes. Even I felt the immense pain that all Americans felt that day.

    The war on terror would dominate the news for the rest of my childhood, and the coverage would constantly bring back the memories of that day. The recent events in Afghanistan have once again thrust the horrors of that day to the forefront of my mind.

    I now pass by the Pentagon on almost a daily basis. The memories of that day come forward in my mind every time I see the western side of that massive building. I can still see the images of the then 69-year-old Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, helping carry bodies of the wounded as the preeminent symbol of the world’s most powerful military burned behind him

    I will never forget the events of September 11, 2001, or my experiences that day. And as one of the youngest Americans who have actual memories of that day, I feel as though one of the lasting missions of my generation is to do whatever we can to ensure that those younger than us will never forget that day. That is the least that our Nation owes the men and woman who died that day, who lost loved ones that day, and who have fought to ensure that the next generation of Americans will never have to experience the pain that those living on September 11, 2001, felt that day and still feel today.

  9. “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll.”
    — Todd Morgan Beamer, November 24, 1968 – September 11, 2001.

    I was in the third grade at St. Dominic’s Elementary School in Oyster Bay, New York. Many people in our community were affected by September 11th. It was one of the first Tuesday’s of the school year and I had wished it was still summer vacation. My mom came up to the school, which was nearby to our home, almost immediately after the first tower was impacted. While most of the administration still had no clue what was going on, she pulled my younger sister and me out of our first class. We were some of the first students to leave, and we managed to exit without causing a commotion.

    Over the next few hours, I can recall my mom frantically attempting to reach my father, who was working in Downtown NYC. Back then cell phones barely worked, and the network collapsed when many tried to reach their loved ones. While this was happening, I was upstairs in my parents bedroom watching the events unfold live on TV. My mom came up and turned it off, but when she went back downstairs, I couldn’t believe what was happening, so I defiantly turned the TV back on. I watched the mass confusion erupt as both of the towers came down. Many still wonder about the events of that fateful day, especially considering the situation in the Middle East. This event had a tremendous impact on myself, and our generation, and I will never forget the events of that day or the feeling of not knowing whether or not my father was safe.

    Later that afternoon, my dad was able to contact us. He had to abandon his car, walk across a bridge over to Brooklyn with a massive crowd of people, and finally borrowed a working cell phone. We lost cousins that served in the FDNY, many families in our area suffered losses, and we all knew someone who was personally affected. My high school honors the many alumni lost that day, and we all know stories of the bravery, fortitude, and courage of victims.

    The story of “the man in the Red Bandana” is attached.

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