September 11, 2001 started off as a normal day. People woke up, got dressed and went to school or work. Just a couple hours later, everything changed.
At 8:46 a.m. in the east, the first plane hit Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m., the second plane hit Tower 2. At 9:59 a.m., Tower 2 collapsed. About 30 minutes later, so too did Tower 1.
It’s been 16 years since the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked and Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. It’s been 16 years since 2,978 innocent people were killed in the worst attack on American soil in the history of the United States.
In these last 16 years, the mantra has been to “Never Forget.” Things have been done to make sure we never forget. The Towers in Lights in New York light up every year. Memorials have been erected all over the country.
But New Yorkers especially will never forget where they were when the Towers fell and when their lives were changed forever.
Dave Sapienza is a driver on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He’s from Riverhead on Long Island, about 65 miles east of Manhattan. He owns a car garage, Sap’s Auto, on East Main Street in Riverhead. That’s where he was when he his phone rang 16 years ago.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday. I remember working on a woman’s Cadillac and she was inside waiting. My phone rang and it was somebody telling me to put a TV on because a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
September 11th was not the first time a plane has hit a Manhattan skyscraper. In 1945, a B-25 bomber flew into the side of the Empire State Building due to thick fog. September 11th was also not the last time, either. New York Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle and his flight instructor were killed when their small four-seater Cirrus Design SR-20 flew into the side of a high-rise apartment building along the East River on the Upper East Side.
Sapienza said his first thought was something along those lines. It wasn’t long until he found out that it wasn’t.
“I saw the hole and thought ‘That won’t be a big deal,’ so I went back out to work. It wasn’t long after that I found out another plane hit the other building and it was like ‘Holy s***’ and then I was watching TV basically from then on. It was intense.”
Justin Bonsignore, a fellow NWMT driver, grew up in Holtsville on Long Island. Bonsignore was in his seventh-grade history class at Sagamore Middle School when he learned what happened.
“My teacher walked in and at first they thought it was an accident or a private plane messed up and crashed. No one put too much thought into it. Then the next one hit. I think we went into a lockdown at school. They didn’t let us go home early or anything. I remember getting home and my parents told me what took place. I was 13 or 14 so I didn’t really comprehend all of it.”
Another NWMT driver, Eric Goodale, was in school when the Towers were attacked. Goodale was in 10th grade in geometry class at Riverhead High School on Long Island.
“We were switching between second and third period when everything started happening. I got to my third period class and my teacher, Mr. Giordano said ‘I’ll be right back’ and went and got a TV. We sat there and watched the news for the entire period and pretty much the entire period after that. It was crazy. Parents were calling and picking their kids up from school. Nobody, at least I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what was happening until I got home and my parents put it into perspective for me.”
All three drivers that spoke to us were fortunate. Their immediate families were lucky enough to not lose anybody. But Bonsignore said that almost was not the case.
“One of my dad’s uncles was supposed to go into the Trade Center. He was an ironworker. I think he wasn’t feeling good or something, but something happened and he just didn’t go to work that day. I had some friends that lost family members, but we didn’t lose anybody direct. But it’s still tough when you know people that it had it happen to them, you know?”
For Goodale, the thing that has stuck with him the most was the look of worry on the faces of his friends who had family members that were at Ground Zero.
“The sheer look on their face when they either first heard or were watching what was going on, just the thought of not knowing if they were safe or not was terrifying. You could see it on their face. The unknown at that point and their looks is something that is engrained in me forever and is definitely something I’ll never forget.”
“Never Forget.” How can you forget? President Roosevelt’s words in 1941 to describe the attack on Pearl Harbor is an accurate way to describe the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania 60 years later. September 11th, 2001 is a day that will live in infamy.
September 11th, 2001 will never be forgotten, but for many it’s often only remembered on that day.
“It’s really hard to forget when living in New York,” Goodale said. “Driving around you see bumper stickers. There’s still signs that businesses hang. It’s not something you think about on September 11th. It’s part of your daily life that you see something that immediately brings back all of those feelings that you had on that day and all of those people that were affected.”
Eric Goodale, Justin Bonsignore, and Dave Sapienza got lucky. This writer, also from Long Island, got lucky. The families of those 2,978 people did not get lucky.
Fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, sons, daughters, cousins and friends were all lost on that day 16 years ago. Their losses will never be forgotten.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount