20 years later, residents recall terror of 9/11
By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Twenty years later, the memories remain for anyone who was alive on Sept. 11, 2001.
Two planes piloted by hijackers with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a scene millions of people watched on television with their morning coffee.
Billowing smoke escaped from the towers as glass and debris showered the pedestrians below. People trapped in the towers frantically called their loved ones to tearfully say goodbye.
The Sept. 11 attack was the deadliest terrorist attack in U. S. history. Nearly 3,000 people were killed and another 6,000 were injured. Among the dead were 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers — first responders who sacrificed their lives while trying to evacuate the shattered buildings.
A third place crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing 125 military personnel working there that day. A fourth plane crashed into a field in near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after some heroic passengers fought off hijackers who planned to crash the Boeing 757 into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attack, which was the first attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, almost 60 years earlier, The Wave spoke to several residents about their recollections of that morning.
Among them was Jacqueline Ball, who was on active duty with the U.S. Navy in 2001, stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.
“Someone ran into the office in a panic saying that we were under attack,” Bell recalled. “Someone turned the TV on and then we saw what was happening in New York. It was a blur for me because everything happened so fast. Tt was surreal.
“Due to military protocol, Andrews Air Force Base was totally shut down because they did not know what was going on,” Bell added. “I was shocked. The images of the Twin Tower buildings collapsing and the people desperately jumping out of the windows made me feel terrible. I could not imagine people having to make that choice.”
Earl “Skip” Cooper, president and CEO of the Black Business Association, was among the many watching on television.
“I was looking at the morning news on TV and saw that the first plane hit the tallest building in New York City,” he said. “I thought that it was just a very bad pilot mistake.
“That morning, the Black Business Association was about to hold its corporate advisory board meeting. The meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the tallest building in L.A., which was the Gas Company building.
“I was driving to the meeting and listening to my radio when I heard that another plane had crashed into the Twin Towers,” Cooper added. “I immediately pulled over and called one of my board members to let them know that the meeting was being immediately canceled. He informed me that he was already at the building and that it was being evacuated.
Randy Flores was a Los Angeles police officer who saw the attack on the Twin Towers on the news.
“I immediately got dressed and went to work,” he recalled. “The supervisors assigned us to different locations in the city for security. I was assigned to monitor the Red Line on Sunset Bouelvard.”
Flores said LAPD supervisors were worried about the accessibility to the county’s system of light rail lines, particularly underground stations.
“Anybody, including potential terrorists could take over the train and possibly blow things up so monitoring the trains was an urgent assignment,” he said.
Looking back, Flores said he didn’t really have a chance to let the significance of the terrorist attacks register.
“During that time, most of the cops were working about 10 days straight, including me,” he said. “I really didn’t have a chance to let the news of the bombings sink in.”
Steve Wilson, the owner of a music production company, was living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The TV was on and I was getting ready to go to work,” he remembered. “They interrupted the “Today” show and said that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. That is when I realized the planes crashing into the towers wasn’t an accident.
“I ran outside. I couldn’t hail a cab. I finally got to Midtown in New York and every single building was evacuated,” Wilson added.
Wilson said he grew up in Europe where terrorist attacks were a common occurance.
“Terrorist attacks in Europe happened for decades, so experiencing a terrorist attack in New York was nothing new to me,” he said.
He recalls seeing people wandering the streets are simply sitting on the curbs with shocked looks on their faces.
“I saw thousands of people emerging from the subway and some were covered head to toe with dust from the attack,” Wilson said. “Then they stopped the subways. I could not catch a taxi or get on the subway so I had to walk all the way home — 20 blocks.”
Royce Esters of Compton, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Justice in America, said a friend called him to tell him about the attack.
“When I heard the news, I thought we were about to enter World War III,” he said.
Retired teacher Donald Bakeer, who taught in South Los Angeles for 30 years, said he also thought the attacks would lead the U.S. into war.
“I knew that there was going to be a military response,” he said.
Looking back, he said, “Osama Bin Laden wanted to drag America into a war with Afghanistan and he was successful. He must have felt that America couldn’t win and he was right.”
Dorcia White, a cashier at Everytable, had just awakened that morning when she saw a plane crashing into a tower and thought she was watching a movie.
“I turned the channel … so that I could listen to some morning news and the same images were on the next channel, the next channel and the next,” she said. “That’s when I realized that the attack was real. I really thought the world was coming to an end.
Reflecting on the attack 20 years later, White said “My heart went out to those people who were trapped in the towers and couldn’t get out.”
Bell, the retired Naval officer, remembers driving by the Pentagon every day to get to work at Andrews Air Force Base.
“I couldn’t even look at the Pentagon because I knew that 126 people had died” in the attack, she said.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.