Remembering what happened on Sept. 11, 2001

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, started like any normal day — I woke up, pulled on my school uniform and started my day at St. Peter’s School in Waldorf, Maryland.

I was in PE, the first class of the day, when it happened; one of my classmates got pulled out of school. Except for the early hour, I didn’t think much of it — maybe he was sick, maybe he had to go to a family engagement. But as the day progressed, more and more people left, and no one knew why.

By lunchtime, half of my fourth-grade class was gone, and I remember joking to a friend that maybe there was a hurricane — although I don’t remember why. How wrong I was.

Waldorf is about 30 minutes away from Washington, D.C., and I used to go there quite often.

My dad worked as a civilian lawyer for the Air Force at Andrews Air Force Base, which is 15 minutes outside of D.C. On the morning of Sept. 11, he had a meeting on the sixth floor of a high rise building across the street from the Pentagon.

He doesn’t talk much about what he saw, and it took several years for him to tell us what happened. At 9:37 a.m., he saw a plane hit the Pentagon.

“I heard a big explosion, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

The plane hit the other side of the Pentagon, so my dad didn’t see much after it hit.

“All I saw was a big fire,” he said. “Everyone was running and screaming.”

Back in Waldorf, my mom, who was a teacher at St. Peter’s School, said she and the other teachers huddled around TVs, watching the horror unfold. She later told me she thought that the world was ending.

I don’t think any of the teachers told their students what had happened; I know my teacher didn’t. I only found out about it after I got home, and a neighbor told me about it.

Being 10 years old at the time, I didn’t really understand what she meant when she told me “planes hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center,” but I could tell it wasn’t a good thing.

I remember hiding behind a couch, watching the reports, and my dad standing in front of the TV.

I remember seeing images of smoke, fire, chaos and hearing the phrase “terrorist attack,” but I didn’t understand what that meant.

It wasn’t until my family went to New York City the following February when I really understood the events of Sept. 11.

My dad took us as close to Ground Zero as he could. As we were walking down the street, he emphasized how innocent people were taking cover in the corners of the surrounding buildings.

That’s what really resonated with me. I remember trying to imagine running for cover and not knowing why or what was happening.

I remember when officials decided it was time to rebuild, and driving by as reconstruction began at the Pentagon.

For about a year following Sept. 11, Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” became my anthem of sorts. At one point, I had the lyrics memorized, and would sing along whenever the song played.

The song still has meaning today — I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s crazy to me that today marks the 15th anniversary of the attack, and that there’s a generation that doesn’t remember that day.

As devastating as Sept. 11 was, it deserves being remembered. Those 3,000 people lost in the rubble should be honored. As you go about your day today, take a moment to remember everyone who sacrificed their lives on that fateful day.


w Jenna Carpenter is a reporter with The Garden Island. She can be reached at


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