20 Years Later, TPR Staff Shares 9/11 Memories
The Texas Public Radio staff reflected on their 9/11 memories as the 20-year anniversary of the attacks approaches. Some of us worked in newsrooms at the time, others were on their way to work and listening to NPR, a few were still in school — or even younger. Here's what we remember.
On Sept. 11 2001, I was young, overwhelmed, and struggled to understand what just happened. But it led me on a path to become the journalist I am today.
When the first plane hit the towers, I was in my seventh grade history class in suburban New Jersey just across the river from the towers.
In the coming hour, it seemed like we got another update every few seconds: A second plane crashed into the other tower. A plane hit the Pentagon. The south tower collapsed. Another plane crashes in Pennsylvania. The north tower collapsed.
We could see the dark cloud of smoke in the air. We could feel what just happened a few miles away.
Our teacher said school was canceled and our parents would be picking us up.
A classmate yelled out that his mother worked at the towers and didn't know what to do. Right after, he was paged to the lobby and she called him from her cell phone to let him know she was on her way out of the building. We were all so relieved. The next day, we would find out that she didn't end up making it and was among the missing.
When I went home, the high school across the street was turned into a field hospital. It was never used. There were not enough survivors.
As the grandchild of holocaust survivors, I heard stories about how bad things could get. On that day, it was obvious that our world had changed forever.
In retrospect, I was significantly impacted by the events of 9/11 that I could not completely understand at the time. It created a craving to grasp how the ever-changing world really works. And how it perplexes generation after generation with challenges that cannot be imagined but still need to be resolved.
– Dan Katz, News Director
On 9/11, I was a junior news copy editor and page designer at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. We worked on weekends, so that Tuesday was my Saturday. I awoke that morning relaxed and ready for two quiet and productive days off. My clock radio was tuned, of course, to NPR. Bob Edwards, the national host of "Morning Edition," reported that a plane struck one of the World Trade Center towers.
I remember sympathizing for whoever was preparing the newspaper’s front page that night. They were going to have an interesting night. I turned on the TV to see how bad the weather in New York must have been for a single engine plane to strike the building. Perhaps by now the police were recovering the plane from the river, I thought, and the deranged pilot was dead. But that was not what I saw.
My phone rang. “It’s all hands on deck,” the editor on the phone told me. I was to come to the newsroom immediately. I felt a chill that took my breath away. I realized a truly historic moment was upon us, bigger than the impeachment of a president or one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history. I switched to ABC, where I saw something very strange: Peter Jennings, at his anchor desk, looked very concerned, and he was not wearing his jacket. That detail concerned me.
The newsroom was a hive of activity, tears, phones ringing, furious typing on keyboards, and occasional gasps as people saw, over and over again, scenes they had never seen before. We got ourselves organized and got down to work — we would produce two special editions of the paper to be sold that day, and then a regular edition to be sold the next morning. Throughout the next 14 hours, many of us sobbed quietly at our desks as we tried to focus.
Editors and page designers like me worked for two weeks without a break. We evaluated, studied and edited hundreds if not thousands of news stories, graphics and photos, incorporated our own reporters' work into the newspapers, and we shared what we learned with our readers. We came to learn the minutiae of every moment and every facet of that day – the aircraft types, the architecture of the towers, the physics of imploding structures, the speed of plummeting wreckage, the transcripts of the 911 calls, the biographies of the passengers, the history of al-Qaeda.
Three images dominate all others in my mind: the bright orange of the fireballs after impact, the contorted bodies of people leaping from the towers’ upper floors, and, down on a nameless downtown street, a car window covered in soot. On the glass, a human finger had written simply, “WW III.”
Fifteen years later, I was a history teacher. Night after night, I stood before dozens of students at UTSA or Northwest Vista, and I shared my anthology of stories about 9/11. So many of them were too young to remember the day, and yet their eyes brimmed with tears as they lived it and felt it through my words. I felt proud as a historian to help them understand such a terrible part of our past — just as proud as I had been on that terrible day, determined as a journalist to help the community understand that their world would never be the same.
– Fernando Ortiz Jr., News Editor
I was at home the morning of Sept. 11. I remember idly turning on the television to see what was happening on the Today Show. As soon as I knew, I headed into work at Texas Public Radio. Special coverage from NPR aired on KSTX, and on classical KPAC, we turned the format over to the BBC for world news coverage.
The day was a blur of faxes and emails. Military base closings. School closings. And so many requests for blood and donations. I still have all of them in a folder at home. And on a more mundane level, I have the printed log for the day of all the bumped promos and underwriting spots we scrubbed from the air.
At one point during the day, I found a quiet corner and cried. Later that week, I had occasion to go up on the roof of the building, and the thing I remember most was how quiet the skies were. I never felt closer to my fellow Americans in my life.
– Nathan Cone, Vice President of Cultural and Community Engagement
I was working at KLRN at the time and after a call from my wife, telling me a jetliner had crashed into the World Trade Center, I went into Master Control, where all the TV monitors are. They were monitoring CNN and yes, it was awful. She called me again when the second plane hit. I went back to watch some more coverage. It was pretty astounding.
Then I got another call from her, and she was in tears. I tried to calm her down.
"Look, this is an awful tragedy, but they will find a way to repair them. It'll cost a lot of money, but they can do it."
"Jack, that first Trade Center isn't there anymore!" she said.
I asked what she meant by that.
"It collapsed! It's gone! It's not there."
It wasn't 'til then that I understood how bad it was. We both got off work and picked up our daughter from school and just were together the rest of the day.
– Jack Morgan, Arts and Culture reporter
I was driving to work and was stopped at a traffic light about 2 miles from the office. The radio was on and the announcer broke in and reported the drastic news. I don’t remember the rest of the commute, and when I got inside the building, my workgroup was huddled around a radio listening to the reports as the tragedy unfolded. There was a lot of crying; we didn’t work that day – we just stuck close together trying to imagine what would come next and how would we move forward. That night my boyfriend came over and we were in a sort of stupor, almost comatose. He asked me if I was afraid. I answered that I was. I knew life would change forever.
As time went by, I was struck by how New York residents came together and was inspired by the stories that people told about that day. I marveled at how the city rebuilt the area where the twin towers had stood, and believed the memorial and museum there on the grounds to be very fitting for what occurred on that day. I remember visiting the World Trade Center long years ago, now a vague and surreal memory.
What 9/11 taught me is — catastrophic life-altering things will happen. But life marches on and resumes some sense of normalcy. Just like I know it will, one day, when COVID is behind us.
– Cindy Alleman, Business Relations Associate
I was separated by more than 2,000 miles and two time zones when the Twin Towers fell. Being only 6 years old at the time, my memories of Sept. 11, 2001 are blurry likely because of the protective guise adults kept myself, along with every other child at the time, under to conceal us from such a tragic event.
As any other usual weekday, my dad had left for work before the sun was up and I recall my mom being in the hospital caring for my grandpa. My sisters and I carpooled with neighbors to school where my schedule seemed to proceed as usual. My oldest sister, who was in high school at the time, remembers all her classes canceled for the day while televisions were rolled into classrooms.
It was not until that evening that I overheard glimpses of news reports coming from the other room, but not even a fragment of that day’s events was absorbed. It was an incomprehensible event for most adults, let alone for a child.
In the weeks that followed, my elementary school organized a performance where we dawned our red, white and blue and sang for the nearly 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11. It’s odd to think of how little I was impacted on a day that stopped the entire world around me, but it’s a painful reminder of how the aftermath of such tragedies span generations.
– Lauren Terrazas, Producer "Morning Edition" and "Fronteras"
I was news producer at a local TV station and we were about to record promos for the next day’s morning news. It was about 7:45. On the monitor I saw the breaking news — a passenger jetliner just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. We thought it was some sort of accident. And then 17 minutes later the second plane hit. And we knew. This was a terrorist attack. We were at war and everything in America had just changed. My job was to jump on the phone and find out what was happening in San Antonio. The local military installations were on full alert — their gates were closed. Air travel was grounded. Border crossings were virtually closed. People were afraid and angry.
At that time I was also freelancing at Texas Public Radio and producing Texas Matters. For that week’s program I interviewed Gov. Rick Perry about how Texas was responding.
“We were working not necessarily in the dark but with sketchy information for the first four or five hours and then it became apparent that these attacks were going to be limited to the eastern seaboard. We still maintain a substantial amount of vigilance across the state of Texas.”
The search and rescue team, Texas Task Force One, rushed to New York and began to search the still smoldering debris — Dr. Kimble Benet was the team leader and I spoke to him while he was at ground zero.
“Those twin towers, I’ve been to New York probably three times in the last year and actually had a series of meetings in The World Trade Center. So I know exactly what those buildings looked like standing and when I see them reduced to piles, it’s just unbelievable. And then you turn around, maybe you get a tear in your eye, and you turn around and what do you look at? I did. I saw a telephone pole and on the telephone pole was a beautiful family — a man and his wife and two little boys — and on the sign it said “my daddy’s missing — please find him.”
– David Martin Davies, Host “The Source” and “Texas Matters”
I was getting ready for work, listening to NPR on my bathroom radio, as I did every morning. Bob Edwards was the Morning Edition host. He started talking about reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I was puzzling over the possibilities — a small, private plane gone astray, a hacker in the air traffic control system, maybe — when Edwards said something that made me realize it was a commercial jet that had hit.
I knew a commercial pilot wouldn’t allow a bugged air traffic control system to fly a plane into the side of a skyscraper. I turned the radio volume louder and walked into my bedroom to turn on the television, just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower. I sank into a chair, trying to process what was happening.
Then I realized that most of my team at HIT Entertainment would soon be arriving at the office, with the early-risers already there. I quickly finished getting ready and headed in. While I was in the car, NPR reported on the plane crashing into the Pentagon. Tom Gjelten was in the live booth at the Pentagon when it happened, and was on-air when the announcement came over the PA ordering everyone in the Pentagon to leave.
When I arrived at the HIT office, people were milling about, stunned, confused and worried. Some were crying. We gathered everyone into the large conference room, where we had the television on, though muted, and a radio tuned to NPR. As we were gathering, news of the plane downed in Shanksville began to be reported.
“Each of you needs to do what is right for you here,” I told the group. “You can stay here, or you can go home.”
Everyone said they wanted to be together. Then one who was a mother asked if she could pick up her kids from school and bring them back to the office with her. “Of course” was the answer. Several others made the same decision. Some called their spouses to come join them. That day, we were truly a work family. We brought food in throughout the day. We helped each other try to contact family, friends and colleagues in New York. Sometimes, we held hands. Sometimes, we prayed. We received and read aloud many, many emails of condolence and encouragement from colleagues around the globe.
At about 4 p.m. I started encouraging folks to go home. Everyone was exhausted. Once they all headed out, I went to my car. I remember starting the car while thinking how completely crazy the world had become. As always, the car radio was tuned to NPR. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. Then, at the bottom of the hour, I heard the signature pause, followed by the words, “This is Ann Taylor.” As she had so many times before, Ann Taylor began calmly and clearly reporting the facts of the day. I took a deep breath, and drove home.
Ten years later, a series of unlikely events had led me to be employed at NPR. It was very gratifying to be there to share with Ann, at her retirement party, how much her daily newscasts had helped me through those trying times.
– Joyce Slocum, President and CEO
I was in the seventh grade in Mr. O'Neill's theater class. We all walk into the room and all of a sudden there's a different vibe, there's a different feeling in the room. We see Mr. O'Neill alone at his desk, head in hands, looking really distraught.
And we're all trying to figure out what's what's happening, what's going on. He asks us all to sit down and begins to share that we've been attacked.
Attacked? We're looking around the room, looking at the school. We don't see any destruction. We don't see any form of an attack.
He shares that in New York City, two planes were flown into the Twin Towers. I had never been out of Texas at that age. So, New York City seemed like a really far place.
Now I didn't really understand at that time what a terrorist was, what a terrorist could do, much less how terrorism was going to change our entire lives moving forward. That word was not something I heard often, maybe in a movie, maybe on a TV show. But never in my real life, in my seventh grade theater class.
The rest of the day began to involve reflection, and every class we had, the teachers really wanted us to think about what was happening and what the result would be for the rest of the world moving forward.
-Rob Martinez, Digital Marketing Manager
Like almost everybody, I will never forget that day.
I was the news director at KTSA radio and was on my way into the station. I was listening to our morning talk show, “The Ware Pair,” when they stopped to go to the newsroom for some breaking news.
Brent Boller was our morning anchor. He reported that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. He didn’t have any more details, but said he would update us as the information came in.
My first thought was a general aviation aircraft, possibly a student pilot. A few minutes later, Brent came back on to let us know it was a commercial airliner.
We were a CBS station at the time and then transitioned to the network for coverage. When another plane hit the other tower, it became clear this was no accident. We then got word of a plane crashing into the Pentagon and another going down in a field in Pennsylvania. At the time, nobody knew if that was it, or if more planes had been hijacked.
We stayed with network coverage and began working local angles. When air traffic was grounded, all flights were canceled at San Antonio International Airport. We would break from network coverage on occasions throughout the day to provide local updates, but for the most part we broadcasted CBS news for the next few days.
– Steve Short, Assistant News Director and “All Things Considered” Host
The morning of Sept. 11, I was working on a classic rock station here in San Antonio for the morning show and our newsman came on just before we were about ready to leave.
He said an airplane has run into the World Trade Center. And we thought, "Wow, that's weird. Oh, well, goodbye, everybody. See you tomorrow."
Then shortly after, we saw all of the horrible television images that started coming in, driving home from work. I drove past the airport. There were no planes taking off or landing, and the sky was just totally dead quiet.
As it turns out, it gave scientists an opportunity to study the atmosphere and what it was like for a period of time when there were no jet contrails above the United States.
– Jerry Clayton, Weekend News Anchor and Reporter
My second grade class walked in a single file line to our classroom when our teacher Mrs. Adams stopped us. There were a handful of teachers in the library huddled around the TV. My elementary school had an open-concept library and the waist-high bookshelves served as the walls, so we could easily see into the room from the hallway.
Mrs. Adams joined her colleagues, who all had serious looks on their faces. I could tell they were watching the news but I didn't know why.
Eventually Mrs. Adams came back and took us to our classroom. She was near retirement age, and interacted really well with us. I'm sure she had no idea how to explain the attacks. Eventually she wrote something on the board. It was either "terrorist" or "terrorism" — which seems pretty intense now but we had no point of reference.
For the rest of the day, my southern Indiana school was on lockdown — one of many I would experience during my K-12 career.
That evening every channel available on basic cable, except for the kids' networks, aired coverage of the attacks. I remember a brief period afterward when some of us were afraid to go outside.
– Bri Kirkham, Digital News Producer
My 9/11 memory happened 11 years after the attacks. On Sept. 11, 2012, I travelled to Washington, D.C. for a project helping the USO build Warrior and Family Centers for wounded warriors and their families. One of our stops was the Pentagon, where we met with Randy Robinson, Executive Deputy to the Commanding General, Installation Management Command, U.S. Army. I met Randy first while working on a similar project at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. It was my one and only trip to the Pentagon. I was so excited that day to have the chance to see it from the inside.
For this Texas girl, everything from the metro ride over, to the checks through security, to the scene inside which was more like a small city than an office building, was totally surreal.
Once inside his office, I walked over to the fourth floor window to look out. When Randy came in and saw me, he told me that the window I was looking through had been draped by the American flag on the day of the 9/11 attacks.
I remembered that picture. I could hardly catch my breath.
Standing there feeling the weight of the impact of those attacks is something I won’t ever forget. Not just for what happened that day, but even then, 11 years later, knowing the brave young men and women who continue signing up on purpose to join our military to stand up against terrorists. Having met those soldiers with burns and amputations and other injuries, most just wishing they could rejoin their units. I was there that day to serve them. My memory is a crazy mix of feelings of disgust and sadness for the loss and hope and pride for the heroes to whom we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
– Beverly Duke, Vice President of Development