20 years later: what OU remembers from Sept. 11, 2001


Photo courtesy of Oakland.edu

Twenty years after 9/11, the campus community is sharing what they remember from that day.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

Now, 20 years after Sept. 11, 2001 — we have arrived at a point where a lot of OU students either weren’t alive or are too young to have any recollection of what it felt like that day. It was a deeply traumatic moment in U.S. history, one that certainly changed the course of our nation’s history. Every year heartbreaking footage plays of planes hitting the towers and firefighters rushing in to save people, but to have seen it broadcast live, was a defining moment in many American lives.

In this article, members of the OU community share their memories from that day. The entry immediately following this paragraph is my own experience as a child in elementary school, subsequent entries are attributed accordingly.

I was seven-years-old on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember sitting in Mrs. Allen’s second-grade class next to my best friends Mitch and Justin. In the middle of the morning, we packed up all the Lincoln Logs and craft supplies, we sat down at our desks and the teachers shut off all the lights. We spent the rest of the day with our heads down. Teachers were gathered out in the hallway with the custodian Mr. Stroup. They were speaking too quietly for any of us to hear. Every once-in-awhile Principal Reese would come by and talk with them for a minute. The final bell never rang, but eventually the buses showed up to take us all home. Principal Reese and the teachers walked each class out to the buses one by one. I got home and stepped off the bus with my little brother Jake. Our cousin Bev was there with our mom waiting at the end of our long driveway. They told us some bad guys showed up in New York.

Roberta (Bobbi) Hayden (Photo courtesy of Bobbi Hayden)

Roberta (Bobbi) Hayden, Office Assistant Office for Student Involvement

I was sitting at work when our office heard that something had happened in New York but we did not know what. Our office had no TVs and at that time, not everyone had the internet so it was hard to find out what was going on easily. My previous employer was located next to a Walmart so I ran over to purchase a small TV so we could get the news stations. When I arrived at Walmart, all you could hear was bits and pieces of conversation about what they thought was happening in New York. Everyone had a very sad and panicked look on his or her faces. I arrived at the electronics section to purchase a small TV and the department was very busy with other customers purchasing TVs and radios. I know it is hard to believe in the world of today that TVs and the internet were not so easily accessible. I ended up with a very small TV that was only viewed in black and white. I ran back over to work and plugged the TV in and we all huddled around it. By this time, both planes had hit both towers and my children’s elementary school had given me a call to let me know that the school was on lock down. We all watched in horror as we waited for the news to give us more information. The news reporters were giving updates when all of sudden the “breaking news” interrupted and said that a third plane had hit the Pentagon. Some of us cried and hugged and others got on their cell phones to call loved ones. We all continued to watch in horror seeing pictures of the planes flying through the towers and hitting the Pentagon. Shortly after the plane hit the Pentagon, our employer said we could all go home to be with our families. I phoned my children’s school and they were starting to let the parents come and pick up their kids. I went and picked up my children and hugged them more than usual that day. It was a very sad and scary day not knowing if there were going to be more attacks and if so where.

Jessie L. Hurse Jr. (Photo courtesy of bdproffer.wordpress.com)

Jessie L. Hurse Jr., Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator

I remember that Tuesday morning. I had a pretty wild night the night before. I woke up really late for a 9:15am class I had at University of Michigan. I was running late, I rushed to prepare myself. My suite mate had on the TV at the time, he was watching ABC, Good Morning America. I remember walking out the door and literally watching the video of the plane hitting the first tower. In my mind, I thought it was a movie … It looked like it was something that was done or created in a Michael Bay film … I went to class not realizing what I had witnessed. When I got to class, I just remember the pale look on my calc teacher’s face … he was just frightened and terrified. He cancelled class and ran out crying and we were all wondering, “Whoa, what’s going on?” And there was a young lady there who told us about the plane hitting the towers … Once I was able to get back to my dorm room, my parents were calling me, telling me what was going on. They were really frantic and hoping that I would find a way to come back home. There were folks that were just panicking trying to get gas in and buy food, we really thought that there was a destruction that was about to take place in cities all over. It was a really terrifying moment to live in, but the one thing that always sticks with me to this day is how unified we became as Americans. I had never experienced anything like that since or before. Any of us that were American had this strong sense of pride and perseverance. I don’t think the country has ever been that unified before in my lifetime. That’s the one thing that will always kind of stick out to me about that day in particular in just seeing the aftermath of the buildings collapsing the dust that was spreading all over Ground Zero. The people walking out look like Walking Dead extras … It’s something that will just stick to my core. 20 years later, I can still remember it all so vividly.

Chad Martinez (Photo courtesy of Oakland University)

Chad Martinez, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator

I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota at the time, and I was driving to work. I was listening to the radio, and at the time, one of the towers had already been struck. But the way they are talking about it on the radio, I couldn’t tell if it was an accident, or what was happening. As soon as I pulled into my parking spot, the second plane hit. The people on the radio just freaked out, and we’re like, “Another plane just hit the other tower. This has to be terrorism.” And I just remember turning off my car in shock and then rushing into my office as fast as I could to find out what was going on and to get in front of a television … And so I get in, and some of them already have the TV on in the office. And we’re all just in front of it. And I worked in a tall building that saw airplanes go by all the time and it was disturbing at that moment to know what was going on. And then you see one report after another. The Pentagon had been struck, another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania and just … it’s hard to describe that kind of feeling. It was overwhelming at that time what was going on.

Brian Bierley (Photo courtesy of @brianbierley on Twitter)

Brian Bierley, Oakland University Director of Media Relations

I went to my office at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak just like every other morning. Being in media relations, I usually listened to local radio news and scanned through the morning television news shows to see what the news of the day was going to be and if there was a tie-into something we were doing at the hospital. I heard a plane hit the World Trade Center on my radio, so I walked across the hall to my colleague’s office and we turned on his TV to see what was happening, both of us thinking at that time it was a commuter plane since there have been other small planes to hit buildings in New York. To my surprise, while they were showing the first pictures of the first plane’s impact, I saw the second plane come flying into the TV image and hit the other tower. Soon our entire office team was huddled around the TV. It was only then, after the second plane hit, that we all started realizing this was more than just an accident. From there, our focus turned to the Pentagon and then later to the flight that went down in rural Pennsylvania. We knew our country was under attack and no one knew how large of an attack this would be. Were we at risk in Michigan? Would we need to support other hospitals and prepare to take injured survivors at Beaumont? All of those thoughts went through our minds. And, like most Americans, I was glued to the TV to try and come to grips with what happened for the next several days. It is definitely one of those events where you remember where you were when something that life-altering happens. I also hope I never experience anything else like that again in my lifetime.

Dr. Anita Hicks (Photo courtesy of Oakland University)

Dr. Anita Hicks, Associate Director of Oakland Center, Director of Conferences

I was a flight attendant at the time. On the day of Sept. 11 I had just gotten back from a trip a few days before. I remember the day well, as I showed up to the airport and walked in the office around 8:30 a.m. to begin another day in the life of aviation. There was the regular banter and discussion on who was going where, fuel, clients, etc.  when someone ran in the office and shouted “Turn on the tv, a plane just hit the tower in New York.” While we scrambled to find the remote, there was disbelief and horror as we watched everything unfold. Never really gathering full composure, but enough for the staff to think about where our airplanes and crew members were, as by then all planes in United States air space were grounded. This intensified for me as my sister who lived in NY at the time worked in the building right next door, so trying to get a hold of her was scary and took a good part of the morning. I had many friends and co-workers in aviation and some in the air at the time so for me, knowing my job was being a flight attendant, it took a lot to get back comfortable on a plane.

Sam Srauy (Photo courtesy of Oakland University)

Sam Srauy, Associate Professor of Communication, Journalism and Public Relations

My sister woke me up when the first plane hit. I remember groggily thinking it was a freak accident; my sister was angrily insisting I wake up and it wasn’t an accident. Then the second tower fell— and then the Pentagon and Shanksville. That was the moment I no longer felt safe. Generally, growing up in the US felt like you won some international safety lottery. But that evaporated in a cloud of rubble and bits of paper, falling down like ugly snow covering faces streaked with tears and dread at Ground Zero. In my mind, I still see the faces on the television sets— the hopelessness. I don’t think there was a dry eye across the country that day. Like others, I gathered with my family and close friends in places we felt comfortable. I think it was a local coffee shop, my friends and I frequented. We remarked about how eerie it was to see no airplanes in the sky and our collective horror when a few passed overhead. I remember thinking that the world has changed for us forever, and that things will never be “normal” again. Unfortunately, for many reasons we’d only come to understand years later, we were right. I still miss the world before that day.

Garry Gilbert (Photo courtesy of oaklandpostonline.com)

Garry Gilbert, Journalism Program Director

I was executive editor of The Oakland Press, which was one of the state’s best daily newspapers at the time. Beyond the shock of the morning’s events, what I remember most is the reaction of the reporters and copy editors. People rushed to our office, instinctively knowing they would be needed, understanding quickly this might be the biggest story of our careers. We produced an eight-page special edition that afternoon — our first since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. The special edition was filled with dramatic photos and local reaction, printed and then handed out free in downtowns in Oakland County. Then we immediately turned our attention to the Wednesday morning edition. We knew readers were hungry for as much information as they could find. That was a terrible day for America, for much of the world. But I’m still proud of the way our staff came together that day.