In their own words: Readers remember

Sept. 11: 10 years later
2011-09-11T06:00:00Z 2011-09-11T07:07:11Z In their own words: Readers remember Sioux City Journal
September 11, 2011 6:00 am

First few weeks in the Big Apple. So much to see, so much to do. Who would not check out Empire State Building, hit a Broadway play, meanwhile wrestle with finding a job, finding an apartment?

So many irons in the fire. Now, because I had had a construction accident I had heard about rehab as a place to help get back on the saddle. I find out that New York State's Voc Rehab is located at the World Trade Center's South Tower, 84th floor.

The Twin Towers, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were seen more as folly than architectural masterpiece. Ungainly at best, the twins were the new kids on the block. So, nearing the structures, taking a cue from most New Yorkers, I looked at the tallest buildings in the world with a little more disdain than awe.

I walked into a carpeted football field expanse and am pointed to one building that looked just like the other one. Then, another new look: banks of elevators for what I feel is an enormous structure overhead. But, of course, which bank? I'm pointed again to a row of express elevators. Climbing aboard with a few others, one button is pushed that says "80." And then it's away we go like a rocket; the building seemed to almost shake. The South Tower definitely got my attention.

Now, while I didn't have to visit my caseworker, Emanuel Plutzik, all too often, always when I stepped into the express elevator, weightless for longer than I really was comfy with, it felt like I was going into a different world, an ethereal collection of sights and sounds. Whisked above the clouds, I wondered how man can be so marvelous to build such a magnificent structure. And yet, watching the South Tower collapse, just like when it was built, after the North Tower, how man can be so destructive?

And yes, Voc Rehab got me through college. To New York state, in general, and Emanuel Plutzik, in particular, I will be forever grateful. And always, a place in my heart for the South Tower.

Ron Hartnett, Dakota City, Neb.

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was working the approach control position at the Sioux City Air Traffic Control Tower. The morning rush of departures had concluded, and my radar scope was void of airplanes. I had the radio on in the background, listening to the "Imus in the Morning" show. I remember they were talking about watching a "small" plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. For an air traffic controller, that's not good news. I called Duane (the tower controller upstairs) and told him that something was up in New York and to turn the radio on to Imus. It wasn't long until Imus observed and described the second plane hitting the other tower. We now knew that something terrible was happening.

Things began to happen that affected us. The first directive I got was to stop all departures destined to land or traverse the airspace of New York Center. This was not that uncommon an event. If they had bad weather, or an equipment failure, we routinely would get similar instructions. But, shortly after receiving the first directive, I received a second directive that I never thought I'd ever see. It said to stop all departures, and to direct all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest suitable airport.

I called upstairs and asked what they thought. They called our chief controller, and she directed us to do exactly what the directive said to do. Here at Sioux City, it was handled quickly with no problems. Nationwide, every non-defense aircraft in the sky had safely landed in less than two hours, an incredible feat.

The rest of the day was unlike any I had ever experienced. The Iowa Air National Guard normally would fly two or three training missions with their F16s sometime around 9 or 10 a.m. That day, they placed at least two war-ready F16s near the end of the runway ready to launch at moment's notice. Several times throughout the day they would tell us they had to depart, we'd make sure the runway was clear, and cleared them for takeoff. We didn't have to worry about any other airborne aircraft, because there weren't any. We didn't know where they went or what they did, but after they were done, out of the blue, they would call inbound to land.

Richard Swetnam, retired air traffic controller, Waterbury, Neb.

I was at work when we heard the news. I just remember how quiet it got. The phone wasn't ringing. The fax wasn't ringing. There were no trains blowing their horns outside our office, no sounds of planes overhead. No cars, school buses, construction trucks driving by.... Only the sound of the TV in the break room and everyone around it just watching and not saying anything. So quiet.

Melissa Julius, Sioux City

My name is Nancy, I live in Winnebago now, but I was born and raised in New York City. My playground was Central Park and Lower Manhattan. As a young girl, I watched them build the World Trade Center.

That sad morning when I woke up, and saw what happened, I was in shock, crying, I had to call my mom in NYC. She didn't have a clue what was going on. I told here to look out the window. Someone flew into the World Trade Center, I told her. And being a New Yorker, she said, "Oh, I'll get the paper later." I said, "No, turn on the TV, now." We watched the other plane, together, and even though we were miles apart, we watched that plane go into the other building. And a few seconds later, the phone went dead. I wouldn't talk to my mom again for over a week.

It would be October before I could go back and see for myself what they had done. The city was still gray, from all the smoke and ashes. Memorials to everyone were all over NYC. People were still in shock. And I was amazed and still in shock.

As all Americans we watched in fear that day, learned in fear what was happening to all of us Americans. I knew New Yorkers, I knew that they would make it, from the firefighters, police, EMT's -- all New Yorkers would come together and help each other. And I was proud again to say I was a New Yorker.

Nancy Martin, Winnebago, Neb.

I was at a business meeting in Washington DC in a Georgetown office building right across the river from the Pentagon. I flew home, out of Reagan, very early the morning of Sept. 11. The flight was extremely uneventful. I think I even took a nap. We landed in Minneapolis just like it was any other day. No word that anything was going on during the flight or even at the airport. As I walked to the Sioux City gate, I noted a few more people than normal crowding around the TVs in the bar. I just thought that maybe there had been a big football game the night before. Not a big crowd, no pandemonium or anything. About the second or third TV I saw, I decided to look for myself and saw the second plane hit the towers. About that time an announcer came over the loudspeakers and announced that air traffic in the country was ceasing. I went to the rental car desk and was able to get a car to Sioux City, although there were long lines and people were trying to find others to ride with them. A couple of things continue to give me pause. First, the terrorists were picking flights going long distances. Did they ever consider my flight? I just don't like to think about this too much. Certainly the time was right. Second, should the passengers on my plane have been advised of what was going on? Given the timing, maybe everything was just too soon for an announcement.

Suzan Stewart, Sioux City

As an Iowa farm woman, I didn't have any idea of how the events of September 11, 2001, would impact me even though I had already purchased a plane ticket to New York City for Oct. 11. My three sisters -- one living in New York, one in Rhode Island and the other from Ames, Iowa -- were planning on attending the Neil Diamond concert at Madison Square Garden scheduled for Oct. 13. Janell and I were flying into La Guardia and Tara would drive from Rhode Island to Willow's apartment in Ossining, New York.

There was a great deal of fear about flying at that time, but we decided to go ahead with our plans. I remember being happy my other Iowa sister and I were flying on separate planes, because then if something happened; only one of us would be lost. The security at the Sioux City airport was ramped up, but nothing in comparison to the Minneapolis Airport, where fully armed military guard reserves were on duty. The flight to New York was normal, but on our approach to LGA the pilot announced that those on the left hand side of the plane could look out and see the Statue of Liberty and those on the right, which I was, could see the remains of the Twin Towers. What I saw that day still brings tears to my eyes. The devastation was a large, grey, smoldering hole in the most incredible city in our country.

We wondered if the concert would be cancelled, but instead Neil Diamond performed two nights and they were both sold out. There was high security at the concert and no one seemed to mind standing in line to assure everyone's safety. It was very moving when Neil sang ‘America' while a huge flag was lowered from the ceiling. It was a tribute, a time to morn and a time to gain strength from being together.

When we think about this time in our country's history do we really want to think about it as the beginning of the end? Or instead look at ourselves and know, we are only truly strong and good when working together to make our county and the world a better place. Nothing can ever make this senseless tragedy make sense, but what we do now can bring honor to all who lost their lives on that fateful day by being the best we can be as individuals and as Americans.

Kee Ann Mulfinger, Hornick, Iowa


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