Editor’s Note: Contributions by students, faculty, staff and alumni can be read in full on IU East’s Facebook page (@IUEast). We welcome others to share memories or thoughts ahead of September 11, 2001, by posting a comment.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
In the 20 years since the day that established “Never Forget,” the nation has remembered the men, women and children lost in the attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
That day 2,977 people died.
The impact continues to be felt today.
Americans who experienced 9/11 witnessed the attacks in real time. The first plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center was widely thought to be an accident, until the second plane flew into the South Tower. Reports of a plane flying into the Pentagon, and then another crashing into a field in Southwestern Pennsylvania, confirmed America was under attack.
The hours and days following Americans watched in horror the impact of the attacks. As streets and shops lie quiet from inactivity, blue lights flickered from living rooms across cities as people continued watching television for updates on the news, hoping for survivor rescues and information on the who, why and how.
We watched as the nation progressed toward war. President George W. Bush addressed the nation on September 20 and declared war on terrorism. On October 7, the United States with ally Great Britain began “Operation Enduring Freedom” with the first airstrikes on Afghanistan.
For those old enough to remember 9/11, the anniversary is a time to pause and remember those lost, and to reflect on all that has happened in the time since.
For younger generations, the anniversary serves as a tragic time in the nation’s history. For perspective, today’s traditional-aged college students who are part of the Class of 2025 (freshman class) and Class of 2024 (sophomore class) were not yet born when 9/11 happened. Students in the Class of 2023, IU East’s junior class, were born just before or in the year after the attacks.
Students today may have very little memory of or have never known a time of an America before 9/11.
Lindsay Osborn is a junior online student from Laporte, Indiana, majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Technical and Professional Writing
A non-traditional aged student, Osborn offers a college student’s perspective on 9/11.
Twenty-years ago, Osborn was 11 years old and a fifth-grader in school. She remembers seeing her teacher at the door, watching the news from a small television in the classroom.
She remembers the confusion as she and her classmates watched what was happening.
“I remember some kids repeatedly saying, ‘Some plane just hit a skyscraper in New York!’” Osborn said. “Many of us didn’t understand the severity of what just happened. We talked about it like it was a small, two-seater plane that accidentally crashed. But when we saw how distraught our teacher was and saw the footage on the TV, everything felt surreal.”
The atmosphere changed, Osborn said.
“I barely remember how that day went after the morning, but everything felt different from that day forward,” Osborn said.
Alumnae Terri Hardy and Amber Hall were students at IU East during 9/11.
Hardy and Hall shared what it was like as a college student to take in the events as they unfolded, and how life changed in a matter of minutes.
Hardy, B.S. in Behavioral Sciences ’03, is now a visiting lecturer of sociology at IU East. As a student in 2001, she remembers the impact of 9/11.
Hardy was at home until her 12:30 p.m. class with Rob Tolley, who is a retired senior lecturer of anthropology and sociology.
“My sister called to tell me to turn on the news, and I watched the second tower being hit in disbelief. It was all very confusing – with the first tower being hit, we thought it could have been an accident, but it quickly became evident that this wasn’t the case. And we didn’t know what would happen in our country next,” Hardy said.
As the morning progressed, Hardy was uncertain if classes would be in session, but she drove to campus anyway.
“Rob and most students were there, and we talked about this only briefly, all still in shock I’m sure,” Hardy said. “I truly appreciate Rob’s reaction to this day – he told us he was dismissing class, that we could go give blood, be with our families, or do whatever we needed to do.”
Hall, B.A. English, ‘06, M.A. English, ‘16, also went to classes that morning. Hall worked at IU East as an administrative secretary for the Office of Academic Affairs, and more recently as the events coordinator for the Office of External Affairs. She is now the assistant director of Alumni Engagement at Earlham College.
On 9/11 Hall was just settling down into college life as a freshman. She was getting ready for the day and had the news on television.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had just visited New York in April 2001 during my senior year trip in high school,” Hall said.
Conversations revolved around almost nothing else that day. “The entire day was odd,” Hall said. “No one was talking about anything else, even my professors. The air even felt odd.”
Hall recounted hearing a loud, outside boom.
“In math class that afternoon we heard a huge ‘boom’ outside. Our professor leaned against the chalkboard and with a little hesitation, she dismissed us to go home early. We were afraid to go outside. I found out later that the ‘boom’ was a sonic boom from fighter jets flying over.”
The United States deployed military fighter jets following the attacks for combat air patrols and presidential escort.
Terry Wiesehan, B.A. in English, ‘96, is the director of Alumni Relations and Campus Events at IU East. She started working at IU East in 1997 in the Office of Tutorial Services, and as an adjunct instructor in English for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She continues to teach English 101 today.
Wiesehan recalls that on 9/11 the semester had just begun and the campus “was bustling.”
It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, she said.
“We heard the news mostly through phone calls,” Wiesehan said. “There wasn’t the social media presence that we have today, so no Facebook Live or Tweets. I often wonder what kinds of images we would have seen had we had social media platforms that day. But then again, I don’t really want to think about those.”
Wiesehan went to the Graf Center in Springwood Hall to watch the news. Others too were gathering to watch. People were speechless, terrified, and confused, she said.
“Students, faculty and staff wandered in curious of the group watching the television screen. No one could utter more than, ‘What is happening?’ or ‘My God,’” she said.
People were gathering in Whitewater Hall as well to see what was happening from a television in the lobby area.
Bette Davenport, Bachelor of General Studies ‘92, was working on campus that morning. She is now retired after serving as the alumni director at IU East.
“The quiet of an early fall morning was shattered when we began to hear reports of the terrible tragedy in New York City,” Davenport said. “Not believing if it was true, many of us gathered in the lobby of Whitewater Hall to watch the TV on the wall. Surely, this was a mistake?! A terrible accident? We stood in silence and watched in horror as the second plane attacked the towers.”
The confusion soon transitioned to clarity that the country was under attack.
People moved from their stations near television screens around campus to gather at the Whitewater Hall flagpole. Most sought comfort with others, to find peace.
“Some of us held hands. We clung to each other. We cried. We prayed,” Wiesehan said. “We returned inside to see one of the towers collapse on the television screen in the lobby of Whitewater Hall. We watched knowing we were watching hundreds of people dying.”
Davenport also remembers the gathering at the flagpole.
“Somehow, the majority of us walked outside and stood around the flagpole in the center of the Ryan Rose Garden. Dennis Hicks, registrar and pastor, led us in prayer as we held hands and cried for our nation and those who had lost their lives in this unspeakable terror attack on our beloved country,” Davenport said.
On 9/11 there was a lot of impromptu gatherings in workplaces, schools, churches and city or county buildings.
In Farmland, Indiana, residents were also gathering at a flagpole outside the city building. John Dalton, director of Communications and Marketing at IU East, distinctly remembers the gathering.
That morning, he was home sick. Dalton then worked at the Ball State University Teleplex, and decided to call in to work to check on the day. Reaching the receptionist, she asked him if he had seen the news. He had not. He tuned in just as the second tower was hit.
“I ended up staying home (my kids were sent home from school) and then staying up late, leaving the television on for several days after,” Dalton said.
It was that evening that the impromptu rally was held at the city building’s flagpole.
“A lot of people were there, and I remember the speaker saying, ‘This is part of America, too. We are all part of America.’ I remember that impromptu gathering most clearly of all,” Dalton said.
From the time the first tower was struck at 8:46 a.m. to the final plane crashing in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m., Americans across the nation were taking in the news of what was happening.
Thomas (Ted) Leahey and Scott Dunning both worked at the IU Bloomington campus at the time.
Leahey retired in 2010 as the director of the Advance College Project at IU Bloomington. He was an adjunct instructor at IU East from 2011-2019.
The morning of 9/11 Leahey was at work in his office at IU Bloomington, working with a colleague online when the system froze, and he confirmed with an office mate that the internet was down. It was then they received a phone call from their manager to go downstairs for a university bulletin, requesting faculty and staff get to a television as the news was airing a plane had collided with the North Tower.
“I remember we were horrified at the smoke and the hole left in the tower when the plane had hit. No one was able to speak,” Leahey said.
Those gathered watched on in silence, a state of shock, he said. They would return to their offices in the building only to be recalled as events continued to unravel. They watched as the first tower fell.
“There wasn’t any sense of time left as we witnessed the horror that was happening before our eyes,” Leahey said. “No one could speak … by afternoon I was at my desk and the system was operating and the flood of emails began to jam into one another as friends inquired of our safety.
All of us knew people in the city, and we could only hold our breath as we received news of loved ones who were safe.”
The horrific images, and the sounds, remain with Leahey as the nation approaches the 20th anniversary.
“To this day, I cannot tell you when any of us left for our homes to watch and listen in horror as the magnitude of the attacks unfolded. In days to follow, I remember the sound of Black Hawk helicopters surrounding and surveilling the campus in fear of possible far-reaching attacks … That day remains frozen in my memory and plays back vividly.”
Dunning, B.S. in Criminal Justice ‘20, was then working with the Indiana University Police Department in Bloomington. Today, he is the IUPD-East Division Chief of Police.
Dunning had just completed a night shift on 9/11.
“When the first plane crashed into the North Tower in the early morning hours, I was just laying down to go to sleep. It was not until the South Tower was hit, that I knew something was wrong,” Dunning said. “IUPD soon called and informed me that I would need to come into work starting at 3 p.m. I did not get much sleep because I was too busy watching it unfold on tv like everyone else.”
Back to campus, Dunning set to work.
“When I arrived at work with little to no sleep, all officers were assigned a partner,” Dunning said. “We were instructed to be observant and diligent in patrolling our areas. No one knew if other attacks would occur. After that first night and for the next several weeks, I was assigned to a special detail with the local FBI. I was amazed at the amount of law enforcement that came together.”
The impact of 9/11 was felt across the globe.
Greg Braxton-Brown saw first-hand just how the world reacted on 9/11, and the days following, while living in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is the director of Southeast Indiana Programs at the Lawrenceburg Center and professor of management for IU East.
While living in St. Thomas, Braxton-Brown worked for the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). He lived on the south side of the island, adjacent to the airport.
That morning, Braxton-Brown was conducting life as normal. His morning routine was to spend his time on the beach with a thermos of coffee and a copy of the local newspaper, along with a battery-powered radio tuned to a local talk show before his workday began in the afternoon.
He had left his south-side home to go to Magens Bay on the north side of the island. “The distance between north and south is short but involves a 1,500 foot-climb to crest the island’s mountain ridge,” he said.
The news had yet to reach Braxton-Brown of what was happening in New York. When he arrived at his destination, a parking attendant he had befriended asked him what he thought about planes being flown into New York buildings. His first guess at what may have happened was a sightseeing plane had crashed.
By the time he was in his beach chair, newspaper and coffee organized, he switched on the portable radio only to hear a second plane had flown into a second tower.
“I still knew little but I knew that two planes meant no accident,” Braxton-Brown said.
Soon he was at work, carrying out his university emergency assignments; the first was to assist moving research boats into a mangrove forest on the west end of the island and the second assignment was to gather exchange students from the states and move them to a safe location, he said.
“I did not know what was happening but I knew I had to get back home,” Braxton-Brown said. “Cresting the mountain, I could see the cruise ship dock with gunships in the harbor. I had never seen warships in the harbor but sailors were standing in machine gun turrets. Something big was happening.”
On his way he stopped to watch CNN at a restaurant in Crown Bay. It was then that he could see all that was happening.
“By the time I got to the airport a half dozen helicopters were discharging soldiers down ropes onto the airport tarmac,” he said. “St. Thomas depends on Puerto Rico for importing everything from bread to currency for ATM machines. The island has a history of quickly descending into violence when the social order breaks down. The moment airplanes were grounded, St. Thomas was in trouble.”
With his family in the United States, and the UVI closed indefinitely, Braxton-Brown set his agenda to getting home. He boarded the first flight allowed after 9/11 to fly to Atlanta.
“Only a handful of us were on the plane with each of us keeping a wary eye on the others,” Braxton-Brown said. “The Atlanta airport was a mess, people had been living in the terminal, the PA system would page pilots and flight attendants. When they had a crew a flight would depart. It took about eight hours to get a flight home.”
Home is where Braxton-Brown would stay.
“About a month later the island economy and civil infrastructure restarted,” he said. “To me, after a half dozen hurricanes and 9/11, it was time to find a job in the states. When a recruiter called for the IU East business chair position, I said yes, and on July 1, 2002, I started working at IU East, a direct result of 9/11.”
On the 20th anniversary the nation remembers the War on Terrorism, now over with troops out of Afghanistan.
As Osborn reflects on the 20th anniversary, she remembers life before 9/11.
“I had always felt safe in my country—being attacked like that didn’t seem real. Looking back, I cannot believe how simple and innocent America seemed before the attack,” she said.
She remembers after 9/11 the country was on edge, the nervousness of others, tightened security, entertainment restrictions, protests over the war, American flags and yellow ribbons hung everywhere.
“After 20 years, I don’t think we ever truly recovered from the attack, I think we simply adapted the best way we could,” Osborn said.
Life did change after 9/11. It was inevitable. But yet the country remembers.
As Wiesehan points out, how could we ever forget?
“This was the ‘Pearl Harbor’ moment for my generation,” Wiesehan said. “I barely remember when President Kennedy was assassinated and I was just a child during the Vietnam War. I had grown up in a relatively peaceful time. And on that beautiful blue-sky day, that all changed.”
The impact of that day stays with all of us.
“Those people went to work that day, just as they had so many days before, just as we had only hundreds of miles away,” Wiesehan said. “They were beginning their day, preparing for meetings, answering calls or emails, sharing coffee and conversation with one another, just as we had. And evil struck in a matter of minutes, and they were gone.”
This 20th anniversary, may we remember:
The 2,753 people killed at the World Trade Centers after American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the North and South Towers.
The 184 people killed after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
The 40 people on board United Flight 93 bound for California and hijacked to head toward Washington, D.C., before crash landing in Pennsylvania. There were no survivors.