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Remembering the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 20 Years Later

Survivors tell us what they saw and what they've learned in the intervening years

spinner image the attack on the world trade center show both towers struck and burning
Sean Adair/Reuters

It's hard to fathom that teens now entering college — or serving in the armed forces — were not yet born on that unforgettable Tuesday morning. Nearly 3,000 people died in Manhattan, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, in what remains the deadliest act of terrorism in history. To mark the 20th anniversary of that infamous day, we asked people with a connection to the attacks to reflect on what they experienced then and what it means to them today.

Bill Keegan, a lieutenant* in the Port Authority Police Department: The World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was a beacon to the whole world. It said, “We want to know who you are, we want to work with you, and we want to trade with you.” Trade allows us to understand different cultures and different people, and for them to understand us. I think that's why these terrorists targeted the towers.

 8:46 A.M.

American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston, bound for Los Angeles, crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower, between the 93rd and 99th floors.

spinner image the north tower of the world trade center burns after a plane crashed into it
Hiro Oshima/WireImage
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Margaret Lazaros, a systems analyst for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, who worked on the 27th floor of the building: It was unbelievable. It's even hard to explain. It was such a noise and such an impact that you actually felt it. It felt like the building shuddered. I thought everything was going to fall down. We just all stood there, looking at each other, and I remember I said to my girlfriend, “Something bad happened. I think we need to get out of here."

Ada Rosario Dolch, principal of the Leadership and Public Service High School, three blocks south of the towers: I was in the school's lobby, greeting students. One of them says, “A plane hit the [World Trade Center] building.” I thought, Sure, a little Piper. She says, “A big one.” I say, “What do you mean, ‘a big one'?” She says, “It looks really bad, Mrs. Dolch."

Vincent Green, a top anti-corruption official in the city's Department of Investigation, who was in an office that faced the twin towers: We didn't think it was an attack at that point. We thought it was some pilot who didn't know what the heck he was doing.

Brenda Berkman, a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department: I was off duty. I was at home in Brooklyn, having my second cup of coffee, when I got a phone call from Kentucky. It was my ex-partner's mother saying, “Turn on your television.” When I saw the North Tower burning, I immediately thought it was terrorism, because I knew, based on my experience, that that amount of fire could not have been set by a small plane or helicopter.

9:03 A.M.

United Airlines Flight 175, also headed from Boston to L.A., crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower, between the 77th and 85th floors.

spinner image the second plane is about to strike the world trade center on september eleventh two thousand one
Kelly Guenther/The New York Times/Redux Pictures

Investigator Green: I saw the second plane come around and go into the building. I told my colleague, “This is no accident. We're under attack."

Michael Lomonaco, chef and director of culinary operations at Windows on the World, a restaurant on the North Tower's 106th and 107th floors: I'd been in the shopping center on the lower level when the North Tower was hit. They evacuated us very quickly. I made a couple of calls to let people know I was safe. Then I heard a roar of jet engines. I looked up at the South Tower and saw the moment of impact. A fireball exploded. This was a tremendous shock. I thought of all my friends and colleagues at the restaurant, and I started to do a mental list: Who's up there now? Who's working? We had 72 of our Windows family working that morning. We also had more than 100 people in a private dining room. So, after the second plane hit, I became emotional and felt tears well up in my eyes.

Lolita Jackson, an assistant vice president for Morgan Stanley Investment Management's Mutual Fund Sales Department, who worked on the 70th floor of the South Tower: We were told to listen to our company's head of security, Rick Rescorla, and he told us to leave. It took about 35 minutes to get out of the building. I didn't know the towers got hit by planes, but standing there on the street, it looked like something from The Towering Inferno. It's hard to remember that 20 years ago there was no Twitter. There was no Facebook. There was no internet the way we know it now. So, we had no way of knowing what was going on unless somebody texted you. The Port Authority was telling people not to leave. The only reason we all lived is that Rick ignored what they were saying.

Salvatore Cassano, a Fire Department assistant chief of operations who became chief of operations right after September 11: The World Trade Center was built to withstand a plane crash. Well, it withstood the plane crash. It just didn't withstand a fire from the thousands of gallons of jet fuel that were incinerating everything in there.

Systems analyst Lazaros: We got into the stairwell, and it was so quiet.

Everybody knew something really bad had happened, and everybody just wanted to get out of there. We all just started walking and walking and walking down. We saw the firefighters, a lot of them. They started coming up the stairwell. So, we all moved over for them. They had so much equipment on them. And it was smoky, and they were sweating already. They were walking up the stairs. We asked them, “Where are you going? Where do you have to go?” They said, “Oh, we have to get underneath the fire. But you go.”

They had all these ropes and things, and all those guys never got out of there. Never.

We got to the end of the stairwell and went through the open door. At first we had no idea where we were. I said, “This must be some kind of old subbasement, somewhere that's full of debris.” It was the lobby we had come into in the morning, but everything had been destroyed.

Stanley Praimnath, an assistant vice president for Fuji Bank, who worked on the 81st floor of the South Tower: I'd seen huge chunks of fireballs falling from the North Tower. I took an elevator to the 78th floor of my building to switch to an express elevator, to leave. The security guard said, “Your building is safe, is secure. Go back to your office.” I stepped back into the elevator, went back into my office, and the phone was ringing, so I answered it. I'm standing up with a phone in my hand, and I see something gray, a plane, small at first, then larger and larger. I'm mesmerized, not realizing a plane is coming toward me. The plane starts to tilt, and it looks like time just stopped, and it's happening in flashes of a minuscule second. I can hear the revving sound of the engine, and the plane is coming closer, closer, closer. I dropped the phone and I screamed, and I dove under the desk. All I remember saying at that time was, “Lord, I can't do this. You take over."

The bottom wing took out most of the floor I was on. It looked like a demolition crew came and ripped the entire office apart. Every piece of furniture was mangled. The only desk that stood firm was the desk I was hiding under. My Bible was on top of that desk. That's the only reason I can attribute to why I was saved.

The ceiling above me collapsed, and the sprinkler system came on. I was screaming for somebody to help me: “Please don't leave me to die.” Somebody on the floor heard me, and the person had a flashlight.

spinner image explosion on september eleventh two thousand and one as the second plane struck the world trade center
Sean Adair/Reuters

Brian Clark, an executive vice president of Euro Brokers, who worked on the 84th floor and was one of his office's volunteer fire marshals: I got down to the 81st-floor landing and was confronted by a heavyset woman coming up the stairs with one of her coworkers. She said, “Stop. You can't go down. We have just come off a floor in flames.” She blocked us. And the people I was with, this chain of seven or eight coworkers behind me, all went bump, bump, bump. Now we're all standing on this rather tiny landing, and the debate began. Up or down?

About 30 seconds into this, I was distracted by a banging noise, a muffled cry. I dropped out of the debate and concentrated on what I was hearing. I made out this male voice calling for help. [Clark's Euro Brokers colleagues turned around and headed back up the stairs with the two people who had come from below.] I went in on the 81st. It was dark on this floor, no electricity and some black smoke. The stranger's voice was, I'm guessing, 20 yards away. My flashlight beam was like a high-beam headlight on a country road at night in the fog. You just saw the particles but nothing else.

The flashlight caught him and went down into his eyeballs. He said to me, “One thing I got to know. Do you know Jesus Christ?”

I said, “I go to church every Sunday. Come on, we've got work to do here. Let's move here."

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Stanley Praimnath, left, with Brian Clark in 2002.
Courtesy Brian Clark

Praimnath: I'm confronted by one lousy wall, a drywall that stood firm. The man with the flashlight said, “Climb over. I'll catch you on the other side.” At this point, I'm banged up, bruised, bloodied. He stood on a desk, reached over the top of the wall and grabbed me in a headlock. I squirmed and he pulled, and I flew over on the other side. I knocked him off his feet. When I realized where I was, I was lying on top of this guy. He got up. I don't know how to thank this man. I grab him, give him a kiss on the cheek.

Clark: I dusted myself off and put my hand up and said, “I'm Brian.” He said, “I'm Stanley. We'll be brothers for life.”

Praimnath: He said, “All my life, I've lived as an only child. I always wanted a brother."

Clark: At that instant, I noticed that I had punctured my right palm. He had a puncture wound on one of his palms, too. I smushed our hands together. And I said, “In fact, we'll be blood brothers."

Praimnath: This guy did something, this act of kindness and love, that I will go to the grave remembering.

Clark: I said, “Now, come on. Let's go.” We looked down the stairs and didn't see any flames, just the smoke coming up. The stairs were empty.

Praimnath: We walk all the way down. On the ground floor, I can hear the firefighters, the cops and the EMS workers, and all these men and women in uniform, they're belching orders: “Run, run, run! Do not look up. Do not look around. Just go!” And as they were sending us to safety, you could hear that scream behind us, because the building was crumbling. These men and women were sacrificing their lives so Brian and I could go to safety.

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Clark's company lost 61 people that day. Praimnath's lost 23. Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment bank based on the 101st through 105th floors of the North Tower, lost 658. Only 18 people from the South Tower's impact zone survived. Praimnath and Clark were among them. They remain close friends.

9:37 A.M.

American Airlines Flight 77, bound from the Washington area to L.A., crashed into the western side of the Pentagon.

spinner image the damaged pentagon outside of washington d c on september twelfth two thousand and one
Larry Downing/REUTERS

Specialist Beau Doboszenski, a soldier with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment who was working as a Pentagon tour guide: All of a sudden this one airman comes running up the bottom ramp, and he's just beet red. He screams, “We've got to get out of here. A plane just hit the Pentagon.” It was a lot of chaos. We had people that were on fire. We tackled them and put them out.

Veena Railan, M.D., a medical officer at the Pentagon: I've never seen people running like that. My first burn victim was an Army officer. His arm had a third-degree burn, and his foot was also burned. His face had no expression on it. I started the IV, gave him some morphine. I was trying to get a wheelchair for him, but he said, “Ma'am, just wrap it, give it to me, and I will walk.” I didn't even think he could walk with that pain. That officer picked up the IV bag, holding his arm straight, and he walked straight out.

The next day, the Pentagon was open. And we all were there. One of the psychologists asked me, “Would you like to talk?” I said, “Talk about what? I've got work to do.” You cannot believe that somebody had the gall to use our plane, use our people, hit us in a building that's the pride of our nation.

9:59 A.M.

The South Tower collapsed.

spinner image historical photo of the south tower collapsing as seen from blocks away in manhattan

Principal Dolch: We had evacuated all the students to the south, toward Battery Park. As we were crossing into the park I heard the sound that I always describe as snap, crackle and pop. I looked back, and I thought the world had come to an end. Every time I think about it, I shiver. It was just a tsunami wave of dirt and debris, just behind us.

spinner image men run from the scene of the world trade center explosions
AP Photo/FILE/Suzanne Plunkett

Chef Lomonaco: Suddenly, as I was looking at the twin towers, one of them disappeared in a cloud of smoke. It literally disappeared. There were mothers with strollers; there were elderly people; there were thousands of people who were running north on Church Street, away from this collapse.

Investigator Green: It was hypnotic, almost. I'm looking out the window, and I see the cloud of debris coming up the street. I see people running. And it was like I couldn't even move. I'm just watching this, like this isn't real.

FDNY Assistant Chief Cassano: We took refuge in a garage across the street from the World Trade Center, where our command post was set up. This huge plume of smoke and debris came raining down, and we waited for it to clear. The devastation we saw was just so hard to believe. And we knew that if that had happened to the South Tower, that the North Tower would certainly collapse as well. That's why we were trying to get people out of there as quickly as we could. I had gotten hit with some debris, but I didn't realize it. I had injuries to my back and ribs, so I was having trouble moving pretty quickly.

Watch: Cop Buried Alive on 9/11 Inspires Others

I started to try to figure out what was going on, to see how many people we had, just to try to get a handle on how many people were missing — and then to figure out what we were going to do. It was a daunting task. I never had time to think about anything other than what my job was. We were working 18 hours a day.

Will Jimeno, a rookie Port Authority Police officer who had responded from his post in midtown Manhattan and was on the concourse level of the World Trade Center: I heard a humongous boom. I saw a fireball the size of my house, and I'm just standing there looking up — everything's shaking like an earthquake. At that point I just got picked up and slammed. I was thrown onto my back. A wall fell on my whole left side.

I don't know how to describe it except that it seemed like a million freight trains coming down on us. Then, all of a sudden, everything went silent. And I found myself in a pitch-black cavern, and I couldn't move. I was there with Sergeant John McLoughlin, who was pinned under debris, and Officer Dominick Pezzulo, who had some room to maneuver. Dominick started trying to get this concrete off me. He really couldn't. He tried pulling it off me for 15 minutes, 20 minutes.

That's when we heard another boom. And it was now the other tower coming down on us. And at that point I figured we were going to die. I look over to Dominick, and something had hit him and sat him down, literally like a rag doll. I could see red coming out of my fellow officer's mouth. At that point he just said, “Willie, I'm hurt bad.” He goes, “I'm dying, bro. Don't let anybody forget that I died trying to save you guys.” And I said, “Dominick, I would never let anybody ever forget what you did."

I was just really distraught. Sergeant McLoughlin and I kept fighting on for several more hours. I remember thinking, I'm done. I just wanted the pain to stop. I said, “God, thank you for 33 great years. Thank you for my beautiful wife, Allison. Thank you for my four years with my daughter, Bianca. And thank you for letting me be a police officer. I came here as an immigrant from Colombia, and I thank you for bringing me to the greatest country on earth."

Then I saw something. You could call it a vision, you could call it a dream — whatever you want to call it. I see a person walking toward me, a glowing white robe, no face, brown hair. In the distance is a pond with trees, real tranquil. I snapped out of the dream with this renewed sense of fighting. I said, I'm going to give it everything I've got to try to survive. If I don't, I'm going to die in peace, knowing that I gave everything and didn't give up.

All I can say is that the next several hours were horrific. Around 8 that night, I heard voices above us in the distance: “United States Marine Corps, can anybody hear us? If you can hear us, yell or tap.” And I started yelling at the top of my lungs. We were literally in the epicenter. We actually had both buildings fall on us.

So these two brave Marine reservists and a civilian broke through the lines when they weren't supposed to. They found us. They were shining a flashlight down on my hand, but they couldn't see me because we looked like concrete. When I waved my hand, he said, “I got you."

They brought me out of the hole, and that's the first time I cried that day. Because I couldn't see the buildings. And I said, “Where is everything?” And the firefighter said, “It's all gone, kid.” I later found out that Sergeant McLoughlin and I were the only two people to survive from underneath the World Trade Center.

Joel Perry, whose brother, John, was a New York City Police Department officer: John had gone to police headquarters to submit his retirement papers because he was an attorney and was going to work for a law firm. He was 38.

Patricia Perry, Joel and John's mother: We've been told that he had put his badge on the table, because you always turn in your badge when you retire. But then there was an announcement for everybody to return to their post: “Get organized. We're going to need you.” John took his badge back and said, “I'll come back and fill out the papers later.”

Joel Perry: He hooked up with a captain and a sergeant, formed a squad and took off toward the World Trade Center. I heard later from a couple of people in the police department that they and others had tried to discourage John. They said, “You're retiring. Just go away. Forget it. We'll take care of it, whatever it is.” But John kept going. He sprang into action, I believe, because he loved New York City — he probably looked at [the terrorism] as an attack on himself. He was in the South Tower when it collapsed. They found his body in the rubble six months later.

10:03 A.M.

United Flight 93, headed to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, crashed into an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

spinner image on september twelfth two thousand one smoke rises from the field in shanksville pennsylvania where the last plane crashed
Tim Shaffer/Reuters

Stephen M. Clark, currently the superintendent of National Parks of Western Pennsylvania, which includes the Flight 93 National Memorial: The airplane was taken over by the terrorists at 9:28 and didn't crash until 10:03. So what happened during that time frame is nothing short of miraculous. The passengers knew they were part of some type of suicide mission, yet they had the courage to take a vote and then implement a plan to try and retake control of the plane. They simply ran out of time. There were 33 passengers, five flight attendants and two pilots on board, along with the four terrorists. That airplane was only 18 minutes away from Washington. That particular morning, both houses of Congress were to be in session. You had over 4,500 people working in or near the Capitol building. You had congressmen and -women; you had the incredible symbol of democracy; you had employees; you had visitors. So, there's no doubt that those 40 people saved countless lives.

10:28 A.M.

The North Tower collapsed.

spinner image people running away as the second tower of the world trade center collapses in the distance
Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images

Robert Snyder, an American studies and journalism professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey: I was walking past South Street Seaport, and I felt a rumble under my feet. Then I looked over my shoulder, and I saw that the second tower had fallen. The scene was absolutely apocalyptic.

Systems analyst Lazaros: I could see the North Tower coming down, and I said, “Oh, my God, that's our place.” It was unbelievable. There were so many people that were still on the upper floors and couldn't get out.

Terri Tobin, a lieutenant in the New York City Police Department: I had been running away from the South Tower when it fell. Something hit the back of my head and split my Kevlar helmet in half, and I could feel blood running down my neck. My head had been semi-wrapped by EMS workers, and now there's shouting that the North Tower is coming down. I have this vision of me running like Carl Lewis. And in reality it was probably more like the slo-mo in Chariots of Fire.

David Lim, a Port Authority Police officer who worked with a yellow Lab, Sirius, to check vehicles for explosives when they entered the trade center's garage, among other tasks: I was in the first basement level of the South Tower, and I felt the building shake. My first words to Sirius were, “Oh, my God, something got by us.” Then I said, “Listen, you stay here. I'll come back and get you once we do the rescue.” And that was the last time I saw him.

I was helping guide workers down the stairs of the North Tower, and at around the sixth floor, there was a woman sitting on the steps. That was Josephine Harris. She just couldn't walk anymore. A firefighter named Billy Butler and I each grabbed one of her arms and put it over our shoulders. All of a sudden, the building starts collapsing on us. The best description would be a hurricane inside of the stairwell. When it stopped, I started coughing, and my first thought was, Dead men don't cough. I must still be alive.

I and a few firefighters I was with started digging upward. We managed to get to the next floor, where I thought I saw a light, which turned out to be the sun. I believe it was Ladder 43 that came with ropes and ladders. The happiest moment, if you had to pick one, was once we — Josephine included — were able to see out into the sun, because we knew we were getting out.

People ask me, “Do you believe that God saved you for a greater purpose?” I have a hard time accepting that, because there were almost 3,000 people who died who didn't do anything wrong. I have no idea why I was saved.

After the towers collapsed, friends and family members began a frantic search for loved ones who worked in or near the complex.

spinner image a ground zero a firefighter prays
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Christy Ferer, founder of Citybuzz and Vidicom and a former television correspondent who was married to Neil David Levin, the Port Authority's executive director: I went down to the site with pictures of Neil and handed them to the rescue workers and said, “Please look for this guy.” It was probably irrational, but I did it. I guess it was about four days later that I really admitted he was gone.

Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré, whose husband, Abdoul-Karim, was working that morning as a banquet chef at Windows on the World: I didn't want to accept that he had passed away. So, we're calling all the hospitals. At night my older son, who was nearly 3 years old, kept asking me, “Where's Daddy? Is he coming back?"

But when I saw the building collapse like that — he was on the 106th or 107th floor — I asked, How could someone be up there and get saved?

Principal Dolch: My sister Wendy Wakeford worked on the 103rd to the 105th floors of the North Tower. For the first three or four days, we were frantic. I'm thinking, Maybe she's lost. Maybe she got hit in the head. We put up the posters. We knew it was an activity that was worthless, but you had to do it. Within four or five days, you begin to realize that this is the end of the search for her.

Systems analyst Lazaros: It just broke my heart when children walked around looking for their parents, with pictures and posters, asking, “Anybody seen my mother, my father?” Because all I could think of was, It could be my daughters doing that.

Port Authority Police Lieutenant Keegan, who later became the founder and president of HEART 9/11, a group of retired first responders and construction workers who volunteer to provide disaster relief: On 9/11 I made my way to the mobile command at the Manhattan Community College. The people walking around this mobile command post were all covered in dust. Their uniforms, which should have been blue, were perfectly white. I talked to a sergeant who told me we were missing 75 Port Authority Police officers. I said, “They're probably at the hospitals, or they're working or something.” He said, “They're missing, and they're presumed dead.” I said, “Who?” It was one name after another that I completely recognized.

For nine months afterward, workers searched Ground Zero.

spinner image a lone first responder is dwarfed by the rubble of the world trade center after the september eleventh attack
Porter Gifford/Corbis via Getty Images

FDNY Lieutenant Berkman: We're looking to see if there's anybody there, and people keep coming up to us and saying, “Have you seen my cousin?” “Have you seen my father?” The Fire Department people were looking for their family, friends or fire company. Because we knew there were thousands of people potentially trapped in that burning pile of debris, including possibly thousands of first responders.

Anna Allanbrook, principal of P.S. 146, a Brooklyn elementary school that had a bank of tall windows facing the World Trade Center: Some children were really shaken to the core. Their parents, too. I also think the way people parented literally changed that day, from a little bit more hands-off to very much hands-on. The older children asked deep questions like, “Why do they hate us?” The little kids didn't know why the world had turned upside down but knew that it had.

9/11 widow Ferer, who later became New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's liaison to families who lost loved ones on 9/11: Many of the families were just crumbling under the weight of the sorrow, the uncertainty and the lack of closure. A lot of their emotions turned to anger down the road. Many of them did not find body parts. I believe that something like 40 percent still have nothing to bury.

Systems analyst Lazaros: I was so very grateful to be alive. But on the other hand, I said to myself, Why me? So many people didn't make it. Why was I able to get out and not Cynthia or Angela or anybody else I knew who died in there? It took me a long time to be able to tell myself that I must have more to do.

FDNY Assistant Chief Cassano: I was so busy. And then one night I come home. I remember just lying there in bed. I finally said to my wife, “Why the heck did I survive?” And she said, “Did you ever think God had a plan for you and that's why you are still here?"

FDNY Lieutenant Berkman: I figured it out, at one point, that I must've worked with about 250 of the 343 firefighters who were killed that day. The guy whose gear I borrowed that day, Captain Vinnie Brunton, from Ladder 105, he was killed. When you have 12 or 14 FDNY funerals a day — I had to make a decision a lot of days: Whose do I go to?

In the years that followed, survivors and families pushed forward.

spinner image two women react in new york city on september eleventh one is covering her mouth in horror and the other covering her eyes
Angel Franco/The New York Times/Redux Pictures

FDNY Assistant Chief Cassano: As much evil as there was that day, there was also much good. I mean the people who came to help us from all over the country, all over the world. We couldn't have done it alone.

Windows on the World widow Traoré: At the beginning I was really down. I had three kids. How will I handle these kids? I saw one of my friends. She said I have to stand up for my kids, because he's not here anymore. Since then, I've been much better.

Systems analyst Lazaros: I try to keep 9/11 under wraps as much as possible. But every September 11, I take it all out again. I talk or text with three or four friends who were with me that day. I try to watch the memorial services and watch for everybody's name I know. That's my day. And then I put it all back again for the rest of the year, because you can't live with it every day.

Morgan Stanley executive Jackson, who later became a special adviser on climate policy to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: Most of the people in my department ended up leaving the industry. Because I had gone through this twice, in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and in 2001, I'd had enough. Tomorrow is not promised to you. I recognize that I need to spend more time with my friends, more time doing things I like doing. That's what I've done over the past 20 years.

Systems analyst Lazaros: You learn to hold everybody closer and don't take anybody for granted. I never get off the phone with anybody I care about without saying, “Hey, love you.”

Principal Dolch: There was a long time during which I didn't take care of myself, and emotionally I was a mess, but I didn't really know that until a good two years later. I finally asked myself, Why do I feel almost catatonic most of the time? Why am I still jumping every time there's a siren? I did a lot of resiliency work — talking, writing. Learning to appreciate the moon, the stars, the skies and the creator of the moon, the sun and the stars.

Port Authority Police Officer Lim: Several months after September 11, I attended a concert of my 14-year-old daughter's school orchestra. Ravel's Boléro was on the program, and Debra had a clarinet solo. All of a sudden, I broke out crying. I told my wife, “I'm so lucky to be here to hear this.” It taught me to appreciate the important things in life. And at the same time, it was hard to come to grips with the loss of my canne partner, Sirius. Every time I talked about it, I would always say, “Well, the people were more important than a dog, obviously.” But I was told by people smarter than I was that until I accepted the loss of my friend, my dog, that I would never get over this completely. Now I can finally say I have.

Chef Lomonaco, who later became a cofounder of the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund charity: The families of the victims have rebuilt their lives, without forgetting the past. That is what I think the 72 Windows on the World staffers we lost that day would have wanted us to do. I dedicate myself to them every day in a silent prayer.

Today the world remains irrevocably changed.

spinner image the wreckage of the world trade center is covered in smoke

Alice Greenwald, chief executive of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the former World Trade Center site: We have young people and people starting careers who have no memory of this event. And yet they are living in a world that has been defined geopolitically, and in terms of security consciousness, by the events of 20 years ago. This next generation has grown up with the sense that terrorism is the norm, and that breaks my heart.

Things will happen, and we may not always be able to prevent them. The one thing we have control over is how we respond, and that is what we at the museum call the 9/12 story. That message, that understanding that we have this capacity for compassion, resilience and hope when horrible things happen, is, I think, a tool for meeting the future.

Port Authority Police Lieutenant Keegan: This country came together. We found that what makes us human together is that people hurt the same way. No matter what your political affiliation is, what your color is, what your religion is. Seeing how we came together and seeing the goodness of people, I think that's something we need to take forward into this COVID situation and further on.

Historian Snyder, who later became a Rutgers professor emeritus and the Manhattan Borough historian: What 9/11 convinced me about, above all, was that America can't wall itself off from the problems of the world, that terrorists can reach us here. And we have to be able to deal with them.

Chef Lomonaco: We also learned that we can rise from the ashes. We learned that we can rebuild our lives.

NYPD Lieutenant Tobin, who became the department's chief of interagency operations: No one person ever suffers without the rest of us being affected by that suffering. I go down to the site on September 11, and I always go to my cousin's firehouse and leave flowers on his name, Robert Thomas Linnane. The collective consciousness, when you're at ground zero on September 11, is so heavy. You see people holding photos of someone who was so dear to them and so young, in many cases, and just know their life was never the same after that day.

Bank executive Praimnath: The things that I took for granted, I no longer take for granted. The men and women in uniform, the firefighters, the EMS workers — before 9/11, I thought, Oh, they're just doing their job. Now I know that had it not been for them, I would not have lived.

FDNY Assistant Chief Cassano: I think about September 11 probably every day of my life because there's always a reminder. There's always a family member I speak to. There's always a story that I read or hear about. It was just a devastating period.

It feels like 50 years ago, and then it feels like yesterday.

*Job titles in this story are as of the day of the attacks.

Steven Greenhouse, a retired New York Times reporter, is the author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.

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