Twelve years ago on this day, America came under attack by terrorist forces. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 would be forever remembered as a day full of sorrow and senselessness when almost 3,000 lives were lost at the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
"9/11" changed the world as we knew it; some would argue for the good while others say for the worse. As the attacks came to their decade of remembrance, families impacted by the destruction in New York finally had a place to remember the innocent lives lost that day when the 9/11 Memorial was unveiled to the public and the world.
And on this, the twelfth anniversary, the Sweetwater Reporter takes an introspective look into the lives of two local citizens who were in the midst of the New York chaos.
(Original publication date: September 13, 2009)
Janis McDowell of Sweetwater and her friend Pam Rhodes, formerly of Sweetwater, were getting ready to leave New York City, and were actually waiting to get out of town, when the tragedy took place.
“We were eating breakfast, surrounded by numerous business men, and when the plane hit the towers, everyone left. We were the only two left in the restaurant,” Janis McDowell said.
They went on to the airport, when their limousine arrived.
“We were on the Queens bridge, on the way out of New York, and as we were crossing, I turned around and saw the tower fall,” McDowell said.
Driving the streets of New York that morning was eerie and quiet. McDowell and her friend were one of the last people to get out of New York. As they crossed the bridge, the bridge was being shut down.
“Nobody could get in or out of New York. Pam and I were praying for all the people that were in the buildings,” McDowell said.
Throughout her trip, God was guiding their way, according to McDowell. The day before, on September 10, McDowell and her friend were visiting the World Trade Center.
“If it would have happened the day before, we would have been there,” McDowell said.
McDowell and Rhodes made it to the airport, but planes weren’t flying out or in.
“The pilots there told us that we needed to get out of the airport and try to go get a room, before they were full,” McDowell said.
She stood in line for five hours, before they were able to get a room. They were stuck in New York until Friday, when they were able to get a rental car.
“While we were leaving we met this lady that we had seen when we arrived at the motel and she was needing a ride, so we took her with us,” McDowell said.
The trip back to Texas was 39 hours and covered 2,300 miles.
“It was a long trip, but Pam was a good navigator and I drove the whole way. When I got back I was so thankful to be home,” McDowell said.
The entire time they were in New York, McDowell said she was never really scared. They had ships coming in, and lots of military to protect.
“We were lucky that we got out of there and made it home safely. We thought and acted quickly, which gave us an advantage to some of the others that were there,” McDowell said.
During the ordeal, they came across numerous people that didn’t have money, a place to stay, or transportation.
Some people didn’t even have anyone to be there with them, it was a sad thing to see, according to McDowell.
Since September 11, McDowell has made several trips back to New York.
“I was wondering why it was taking them so long to rebuild. It turns out that they are rebuilding it so that nothing can make it fall,” McDowell said.
There are also memorials, walk ways to view ground zero construction, and even a gift shop.
September 11 will be a day that will always be ingrained in McDowell’s mind. Her friend, Pam, and she call each other every year, in the early morning on September 11.
Greg Wortham was in New York the day that the world stopped. He was about a mile and a half away from the one spot that the entire nation was watching.
“The day before, a friend of mine and I had been out and about doing all the stuff that tourists do and having fun. The next day, the world changed,” Greg Wortham, mayor of Sweetwater, said.
At the time, he owned an electric company, 1st Rochdale Cooperative NYC.
“We started the company in ‘98 and had it for about seven years. After September 11, business never was the same. Nothing in New York was the same,” Wortham said.
Wortham had just entered the office for work that day, when the first plane hit the towers. He said that he was still standing at his desk when he felt the ground rumble.
“It was a muffled rumble, and we decided to go to the roof to see what was happening,” Wortham said.
Wortham said that while he was standing there, it was hard to believe it was real.
“You had a television on one side and the real thing on the other side. You could shield your eyes from the television, but looking to the other side, you realized it was real,” Wortham said.
While they were standing on the roof, he said he was thinking that this couldn’t get any worse, but then the second plane hit and not long after, the building fell.
“We were looking down and you see everyone just walking. They were all walking away from the damage. It was all silence,” Wortham said. “People were just roaming around; they were stunned.”
During the commotion, Wortham and his other workers started gathering pillows, blankets and other necessities.
“We knew that we were going to be staying there for a while. Nothing was moving, there was really nowhere to go,” Wortham said.
In New York, everything is a landmark. Wortham said that it was hard to go anywhere because there was no telling what would be the next target, or if there was a next target.
“One thing that was noticeable was that after September 11, everyone was helping each other out. Groups that you would never think would work together, came together and helped each other,” Wortham said.