Introduction by Kit Grode

Features Editor,
West Central Tribune

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, when a series of attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., shook the psyche of the American people.

The repercussions of the attacks, which claimed the lives of 265 people aboard the planes, 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon, would be long-lasting. The immediate death toll associated with the attacks themselves stands at 2,977, but thousands of first responders and nearby residents joined that list in the 20 years since as a result of exposure to the dust and other toxins at the site.

The attacks, although contained to three sites, impacted the life of every American citizen who lived to see the aftermath — from increased security, to the launch of the War on Terror, to the resulting economic recession.

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And the shock and horror of witnessing those attacks, even from a distance, remains.

Below are readers’ memories of Sept. 11, 2001, as submitted by residents of the West Central Tribune’s coverage area.

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Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. Reuters
Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. Reuters

By Stacia (Clearry) Hanson

The morning of 9/11, I was in my New York City apartment, approximately six city blocks away from the twin towers. I was in my early 20s and successfully working in the fashion industry as a model.

I had planned on a morning jog down the west river path as parts of the route reminded me of a piece of home growing up on the lakes in Kandiyohi County. Life didn’t go as planned for anyone that morning, and my life course was forever redirected.

I was awoken by sirens that were completely disproportionate to a regular morning sound of the city, signaling something was terribly wrong. I looked out of my apartment windows — which faced downtown — and saw the north tower burning.

As my mind was attempting to comprehend what was happening, the fires ignited and engulfed the tower. Moments later an airplane appeared out of the sky, turned sharply, and slammed into the south tower.

By this point in my life, my basic sense of safety had never been threatened and I thankfully had never experienced a life-threatening incident. I had also never witnessed in real life others losing their lives.

Terrorism was something I had been taught about in school and never something I ever imagined I would have first-hand experience with.

I saw the pandemonium and felt the desperation that our city was facing. I knew from that moment life had forever changed not only for myself but for the nation and likely the world.

Packing up what was in reach, we evacuated our apartment. My roommate and I started heading north by foot to a friend’s apartment near Central Park South. We dodged many car bomb threats, news cameras broadcasting and others fleeing to safety.

I also noticed others going toward the towers to help. Firefighters, police, paramedics and community members were all rushing in.

We spent the night in Upper Manhattan and managed to get the last running subway train leaving under the Hudson River into New Jersey before the trains were shut down.

We stayed at a good Samaritan’s apartment. Family was on their way driving east to come pick me up and bring me back home.

When I returned to Minnesota, I was most grateful for my family and closest loved ones as they were an integral part of healing and support. With appropriate support and interventions, people are more likely to overcome traumatic experiences.

I continued to work as a fashion model in Minnesota, but my priorities had shifted. I had a deep desire to give back and to use my life in a way that was meaningful and purposeful. I completed undergraduate and graduate school and became a licensed psychologist.

The need to address trauma is increasingly viewed as an important component in providing effective behavioral health services to our communities. Adverse effects of trauma can impact an individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being. Thus, making trauma-informed care essential to our communities.

In the years since 9/11 I have built a family, a business and an enduring sense of self. I strive to build others up in similar ways that resemble characteristics of resilience and strength.

I am grateful for the Americans who fight, protect and serve this country so that we may have our freedoms. I pray that we never forget 9/11 and that we may all work together to keep our world safe.

Stacia (Clearry) Hanson

Edina, formerly of Willmar

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RELATED:

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Smoke spews from a tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 after two hijacked airplanes hit the twin towers in a terrorist attack on New York City. Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS
Smoke spews from a tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 after two hijacked airplanes hit the twin towers in a terrorist attack on New York City. Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS

By Lois Anderson

On Sept. 10, 2001, we had a family reunion to welcome my husband's three cousins from Sweden.

Sept. 11 we had planned a full day with our Swedish guests. We started with the beautiful flower gardens in St Cloud. While in their gift shop, I learned of the attacks on the twin towers. I quietly asked the women in the gift shop to please turn the TV off until after we left. I didn't want our guests to be afraid.

Our next stop was Linstrom and their Swedish history. There, a Swedish-speaking guide filled our guests in on the horror going on in our country.

Our plans for the day ended. On our way home, as we came off Highway 23 to Highway 7 in Clara City, we saw a long line of cars waiting to gas up.

It was good to be home as waiting for us was a phone message from Olle and Anina's son calling from Sweden. Sweden, east to west, is only 310 miles; he was very worried that we were near the destruction. We were thankful we could reassure him his parents were safe.

The next morning, our son-in-law called with this advice, "Why don't you take them to the Black Hills; it will be quiet and peaceful." They were thrilled to see a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park.

9/11 not only took the twin towers down, but changed all our lives.

Lois Anderson

Maynard

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By Joyce Standfuss

I was at a company sales meeting in Napa Valley, California, when I came down for breakfast and heard the news. The 30-plus people on my sales team were in shock and could only stare at the TV.

I worked for Campbell Soup Co. that had an in-house travel agency. There were many sales teams scattered around the country having meetings and they were anxiously trying to figure out a way to get everyone home. Our sales manager sent around a piece of paper asking people to sign under how they would consider getting home. The choices were bus, train, automobile or airplane. Everyone chose anything but airplane.

Obviously, we were all upset and just wanted to go home, but since we couldn’t get anywhere, we continued with limited meetings and still had planned outings. The next time the sheet was sent around to put down how we would want to travel home, everyone chose airplanes!

Our sales team had people from all over the country. That Friday, four days after the attack, the three of us that were from Minnesota got on the first plane scheduled for Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The airport, in San Francisco, was extremely crazy and the process to check baggage and check in for the flight took over four hours, as that airport was considered to be high on the list for another attack. When we landed in Minnesota, the whole plane broke out clapping. What a relief to be home and only a couple of hours away from Willmar!

I will forever have a special place in my heart for everyone that was on that team with me. We held each other up during a very stressful time in our lives.

Joyce Standfuss

Willmar

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By Kent Syverson

A memorial for victims of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is displayed at Dallas Love Field. Elias Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
A memorial for victims of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is displayed at Dallas Love Field. Elias Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News/TNS
My memory begins on Sept. 10, 2001. I was in the Twin Cities for a Writers Guild meeting. We had our meeting without any complications. None of us had any warning of bad things to come. The next day, I got home after an early shift at work. My parents and sister were all watching TV. That's when I learned of the tragedy that just took place. I sat down and watched in disbelief. I do remember how people thought it was ironic that it happened on that day. 9/11, 911.

Sometime later, I was watching a game show, and one of the contestants was one of the pilots who was killed that day. Game shows are taped weeks in advance, and they had to add a disclaimer to tell us about it.

It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since then. Both of my parents are gone now. My sister is now married and has two daughters. They live out of state. Life may continue, but memories linger on.

Kent Syverson

Willmar

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By Rollie Nissen

I had just finished my school bus route and went to McMillan’s for coffee with some friends.

I can still remember the exact seat I was sitting in when someone, either restaurant staff or someone else, came in and told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

My first thought was “what a horrible accident” and how could this happen. We continued to visit, but not long after the first report, a second person came in and told us about the second plane.

We immediately knew that these were no accidents and that it was an intentional attack.

Our breakfast conversations pretty much ended at that point and still not wanting to believe it, I went home and remained glued to the news for most of the day.

As I watched, the thought that these towers would crumble and fall did not even cross my mind.

I still remember people leaping to their deaths trying to escape the intense fires burning in their once elegant office and I will never forget the final collapse of both towers.

I will also never forget the name Mohamed Atta and the brave fight the passengers of the third plane put up to prevent the planned attack on the nation’s capital. If I remember right, it was a Minnesotan who led that charge to the cockpit with the battle cry “let’s roll.”

Finally, I will always remember the two firefighters holding up the American flag as President Bush promised those that did this will hear from us soon.

Rollie Nissen

Willmar

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Firefighters walk towards one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed after a plane hit the building Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. Reuters
Firefighters walk towards one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed after a plane hit the building Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. Reuters

By Heidi Jo Fagerlie-Ahmann

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving home from a long night of flying with Northwest Airlines.

I had arrived into MSP around 6 a.m. from an all-night flight to Los Angeles and back. I was somewhere around Lake Lillian, on Highway 7, when the news started coming across the radio stations.

The first alert was that a small aircraft had flown into one of the twin towers. Then, a second alert came across saying it was a commercial jetliner.

I arrived at my home in Willmar around 8:30-8:45 a.m. and immediately ran into my house to turn on the television.

My soon-to-be husband was doing construction remodeling on the house next to me, so he came over to watch with me. We sat in awe and horror for hours as we watched the towers come crumbling down like sand or domino towers built by children on a play day.

The horror, fear and fright I felt that day brought me to my knees.

Where has our country gone?

Where will our country go?

And obviously, where will my career go from here?

A terror attack that, not only, brought me to my knees, but our country.

The horror and sadness that I felt that day is why I will NEVER FORGET!

Our country was proven how vulnerable it had become.

Our country of freedoms and open arms had just been attacked by a people who took advantage of the very liberties that have made us the greatest country in the world.

Our country of Red, White and Blue brought to an abrupt halt.

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I will continue to share this for my brothers and sisters in flight who lost their lives on that grievous day.

This is why I won’t forget!

On Sept. 10, 2001, these crew members were packing their suitcases, setting their alarms for early morning check-ins and departures and readying their homes and families for their absence.

But, they NEVER knew nor imagined that they would NEVER return to their homes nor their families.

9/11/2001

20 years and I will NEVER forget!

In sadness, memory and honor to those whose lives were lost.

Heidi Jo Fagerlie-Ahmann

Northwest/Delta flight attendant

Willmar

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A U.S. flag recovered from the 9/11 attacks is displayed by New York City Police officers and firefighters during the ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack in 2011. In the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Al-Qaeda hijackers crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, while a fourth jet crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
A U.S. flag recovered from the 9/11 attacks is displayed by New York City Police officers and firefighters during the ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack in 2011. In the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Al-Qaeda hijackers crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, while a fourth jet crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
By Terry Shaw

On that morning, I was sub-teaching at Willmar High School. I was between classes in the computer lab when I saw the disaster on the TV.

I went to my next class, and when the students had assembled, I said, "Put your books and everything else under your desks. Do you know what is going on right now?"

Some students nodded, some looked at me blankly. "OK, we're going to watch the TV broadcast about the event. That's all you'll be doing this hour."

"Why?" a student asked me.

"Because, for the rest of your lives, you're going to talk about this day and where you were and what you were doing. I want you to be educated about it."

Terry Shaw

Willmar

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By Rick Berg

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., which is located directly across the Potomac River from National airport. From our office windows we had a clear view of the black smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

Our building was evacuated twice and after the second time, we were told to leave.

Normally I would travel over the 14th Street Bridge but instead I decided to head for the Wilson Bridge. It usually takes only 15 minutes to get to the bridge but since everyone had the same idea it took over an hour.

As one got closer to the Pentagon, there were many roads blocked by the police and military. It was a very scary time.

Rick Berg

Willmar

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On Sept. 11, 2001, my family and I were staying at our farm in northwest North Dakota, after having attended my father-in-law’s funeral the day before. In the tranquility of the farm, located 60 miles from Montana and 15 miles from Canada, we generally feel safe and free from the hubbub of the world’s events. It’s a very peaceful place.

But on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, amidst the coffee drinking and family laughter of many family members, the TV brought us the sobering, terrible news, with all the horrifying pictures of the three sites.

Our family huddled in the living room, watching the chaotic events and listening to the news people try to piece together what was happening. It was a day when we again witnessed how evil can cause chaotic and bad things to happen to good and innocent people.

The billowing smoke and expanding dust rolling down the streets of New York City create an image we will never forget. Even from our remote farm, far from the geographical hubs of the world, we and all of the world were deeply affected. Life’s road took a turn that day.

Phil Berg

New London

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By Betty and Earl Knutson

A New York City firefighter looks at the ruins of the World Trade Center at first light on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, from inside a nearby office building. Two studies published in the journal JAMA Oncology suggest firefighters who came to lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center face a heightened risk of cancer — and will continue to do so for years to come. Jim MacMillan/Philadelphia Daily News/TNS
A New York City firefighter looks at the ruins of the World Trade Center at first light on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, from inside a nearby office building. Two studies published in the journal JAMA Oncology suggest firefighters who came to lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center face a heightened risk of cancer — and will continue to do so for years to come. Jim MacMillan/Philadelphia Daily News/TNS
At about 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Betty and I set out from Morris Plains, New Jersey, on a sightseeing trip.

With us in the car were my cousin Addie (who grew up in Willmar, but lived at the time in White Bear Lake, Minnesota), her husband Ted, and our daughter Corine.

Our plan was to visit Liberty State Park in New Jersey, from which we hoped to catch a ferry to Ellis Island. New York City’s Central Park was also on our planned route.

At about 9 a.m. we were crossing the Newark Bay Bridge.

The twin towers were easily visible to our left-front.

There was a smoke plume that appeared to be coming from one of the towers, but could have been from a hidden smoke stack.

Traffic stalled on the bridge. In a neighboring car, the driver flung a cellphone, apparently disgusted with poor reception.

When the traffic began to move again, we were not allowed to proceed to Liberty State Park.

We were shunted off onto southbound Route 440, through Bayonne. One of our party needed a restroom so we attempted to turn off 440. We were stopped and turned around by an armed National Guardsman.

A little further on, we pulled over and joined a group of tourists. From there we saw the first tower fall.

Our very somber group found our way back to I-78 so that we could return to Morris Plains.

Once headed west, Corine looked over her shoulder and saw the second tower fall.

It was a horrible day for America.

In our New Jersey home, we saw and smelled smoke from the site for weeks after.

Betty and Earl Knutson

Willmar

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By Jan Beyerl

No one ever thought that Sept. 11, 2001, would change our world like it did.

I was working at Ridgewater College, as an administrative assistant, in the business department when one of my co-workers came into the office with the devastating news about the towers being hit by an airplane in New York City.

WHAT?

Everyone immediately tuned to a radio or TV to see the events happen over and over again.

I remember going upstairs to the cafeteria so we could watch on our breaks the tragic events — watching people running down the streets to try and outrun the dust clouds of the ash that followed them, watching scenes of people jumping to their deaths from the towers, or medical crews standing by ready to help the victims.

It all seemed like a bad dream.

Jan Beyerl

Clara City