Appalachia Remembers: 20 Years Since 9/11

Connie Dray of West Virginia holds a photo Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, of her cousin Mary Lou Hague, who died in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as she stands near One World Trade Center while ceremonies marking the 18th anniversary were underway nearby. This was Dray's first time at the ceremonies, saying it was on her list of important things to accomplish, as she also close with Hague's family. Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP Photo
Connie Dray of West Virginia holds a photo Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, of her cousin Mary Lou Hague, who died in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as she stands near One World Trade Center while ceremonies marking the 18th anniversary were underway nearby. Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

On September 11, 2001, I was in the sixth grade at Washington Irving Middle School in Clarksburg, West Virginia. 

We were sitting in homeroom taking the lunch count when my math teacher walked over from next door and told us to turn on the television in a panic. She left just as quickly, and my class sat and watched the Today Show as smoke poured out of the first tower. 

It was quiet. And then the bell rang. 

I walked down the hall to science class and took my seat when a student a few rows ahead of me asked our teacher if she could turn on the TV. She said absolutely not. And then we proceeded to see how many drops of water we could fit on the face of a penny, nickel, dime and quarter. 

A week later, a couple hundred students gathered in a large semicircle around the flagpole that stood in front of our public middle school for a moment of silence and a prayer. 

These are the things I remember about 9/11 and subsequent major anniversaries. Nothing too spectacular, nothing even all that interesting I would venture to say. But the act of remembering exactly where we were when the world changed, well, that’s what brings us together. That’s what makes us American. And I think we all need a little bit more of that right now. 

So we asked you, Appalachia, to send us your memories as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Below are some of the memories you shared and a few more from some members of our team. 


@intuitive_historian on Instagram: 

My daughter was in her high chair finishing breakfast and my husband called to tell me to turn on the tv. I watched it all day with my daughter at my side. She was 18 months old and kept hugging me because she knew I was sad. When we saw the towers fall she said, “Uh oh, mommy” as she did any time something dropped or fell. She said it every time those images replayed on the news. I will never forget how those innocent words drone home to me at 24 years old that innocence was really no more.

From Jesse Wright, 100 Days in Appalachia:

Clover and I had just packed all our worldly possessions into her Toyota Corolla and drove from Morgantown to New Orleans so she could take a job in Jefferson Parish the Saturday before 9/11. We drove the 900 miles straight through because we couldn’t afford a hotel room.

Clover got up early that Tuesday morning, her second day teaching 3 and 4-year-olds, and was out of the house before the news hit. We were staying with our friends Kevin and Tiffany Eyer and I was working with Kevin to help renovate some of their rental properties.

So we turned on the news for a bit after the first plane hit and were watching live as the second plane hit. Kevin and I then went to work on replacing a roof on one of the properties. I remember moving bales of shingles as we listened to NPR in the 90-degree heat, as news of the Pentagon and Shanksville planes broke. It seemed so surreal. We got updates from Kevin’s wife, Tiffany, throughout the day as mutual friends who lived in New York checked in to say they were OK.

One friend, who worked in the first tower to get hit, had taken the morning off to pick up a family member from the airport. He probably would have died.

I had some job interviews lined up for the following week that we immediately cancelled and never rescheduled. Clover was teaching Head Start. They dismissed school early that day for fear that the nearby oil and gas infrastructure would get hit.

@The_JaredTyler on Twitter:

From Franklin, WV in Pendleton County. I was in 7th grade geography class on 9/11. Our teacher was 10 minutes late and we were so confused because he was never late. It turned out that some teachers were asked to go to the front office to get a paper/memo on what had happened. They didn’t want to announce it over the intercom. He eventually came in close to 9:45am and said “the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists.” He was very brief. The gravity of those events did not set in on us. It wasn’t until the students who lived at the navy base (Sugar Grove Naval Base near our town) got sent back to the base/home early that something felt off. We found out later that there was concern from parents that all military was under attack so they wanted them back on base. All after school activities got cancelled that day. I got home from school and said “mom there was an attack in New York but I hope the twin towers are okay.” And she said “the twin towers is where the the World Trade Center was located and now it’s gone.”

Ann Gibeaut through Instagram Messenger: 

9/11/01 was 2 days after my 18th birthday. I was working a temp (summer) job at the DMV records department a block from the Capitol Complex. There was no radio or TV there and cell signal was all but absent too because it is a concrete building. We scanned titles, renewal forms etc.

There was some murmurings amongst management that something had happened but no one really knew anything so we worked the morning in ignorance. That day was my day to get lunch – we picked a place and everyone put in their order and money and one person was the pickup person. It was McDonald’s and I was the person. I got all the money and left. Drove all the way to Patrick St. to McDonald’s, went through the drive thru without comment or any indication anything was wrong in the world. I went back to the building and the parking lot was almost completely vacant, which struck me immediately as unusual even for lunch. I had two big bags of various McDonald’s orders in my arms and as I walked up to the door, it swung open and one of my cohorts was standing there. “You’re not supposed to be here! We’re being evacuated!” I said, after a moment of stunned silence, “well what do I do with all this food?!?”

I was sent to my car and told to get on the interstate. Police were everywhere. The Capitol Complex was being evacuated. A state ID would let us through. I pressed my State ID badge to the window and was waved on, finally getting on the interstate. I went to my then-boyfriend’s house in Roane County and watched the news for the first time that day, seeing the replay of the morning and the live coverage. I knew things would change forever. I lived in Cross Lanes at the time and felt safer farther away from town because of the chemical plants. Growing up we were always told the USSR would have attacked the chemical plants so I wanted out of dodge.

@lawerencerave on Instagram:

I was in the Marine Forces, Atlantic Public Affairs Officer’s office watching the  morning news when the 2nd plane hit the World Trade Center. We looked at each and said simultaneously, “We’re at war.”

Taylor Sisk, 100 Days in Appalachia:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working as an editor for an independent weekly newspaper in North Carolina. What I most vividly remember is the incremental steep of collective awareness of the gravity of what was unfolding. We were right up against a deadline for that week’s issue, no time for anything more than a thousand words or so describing what we knew and didn’t, acknowledging the gravity, and promising much more in the subsequent issue. We immediately deployed virtually all staff and an array of contributors in assembling a narrative. It was a settling environment in a bewildering moment. We shared a psychic shudder, and got to work. This was what we had come for.

@lexyclose on Instagram: 

I was in math class junior year when the first plane hit. Someone came to the door and told the teacher, but he kept on with his lesson. He later admitted that he hadn’t really understood what had happened and didn’t think it was a big deal. Next class was history and the teacher already had the television on and playing the news when we got there. Watched the towers collapse on live TV. I don’t remember the rest of the school day, just getting home later and watching the news cycle the images over and over.

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