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9/11 remembered...watching a tragedy unfold

September 10, 2011

9/11 remembered
by Colin Deppen
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Sept. 11th, 2001, I watched with the rest of the world as the Twin Towers in New York City, having been struck by two hijacked commercial jets, burned and eventually collapsed.
I had moved to New York City after graduating from St. Marys Area High School. The morning of the 11th, I stood on the roof of my Brooklyn loft building, just across the East River from downtown Manhattan. Gathered with my neighbors, we watched in stunned silence as the North Tower, having already been hit, spewed miles and miles of black smoke. A fire alarm in the stairwell wailed continuously; emergency and rescue vehicles raced by on the street below. Accompanied by the wail of sirens and the whir of helicopter blades, some people offered their opinions as to the cause of what happened. The prevalent opinion at the time was that this was accidental, a mechanical or pilot error. In hindsight, that is obviously what we all wanted to believe. We clung to a fading naivete, rather than acknowledging the fact that we were under attack.
Any lingering illusions were shattered irrefutably when at 9:02 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 flew directly and purposefully into the South Tower. We went silent and stayed so, helpless witnesses to a mass murder.
I had a childhood friend who worked on Wall Street. I went downstairs to my apartment and tried repeatedly to reach him, but cellphone service had been interrupted. Unable to get through, I called his mother in Queens, who assured me she had talked to him and that he was all right. Finally, I called my mother in St. Marys. She told me what she saw on the television, footage of the impacts captured by a traffic chopper looped endlessly. She also relayed information that a third hijacked airplane had struck the Pentagon and a fourth crash-landed in Shanksville, Pa. I said goodbye to my mother, told her I loved her and returned to the roof.
At 10 a.m., we saw the first tower fall. Aside from gasps, no sounds were uttered, no words were spoken. The city around us was suddenly eerily calm and still.
We stayed up on the roof well into the night, pensively watching the sky, listening to the endless wails of sirens, and staring in disbelief at a massive smoldering hole in our city. I remember saying to a friend of mine, as fighter jets circled over our heads, "This feels like the end of the world." And it did.
In the days and weeks following, we discovered the actual human cost of what we had seen-- nearly 3,000 dead, including 343 firemen, 23 police officers, and 37 Port Authority officers. New York, our country and ourselves would never be the same.
In the weeks and months that followed, a renewed sense of charity, camaraderie, and appreciation permeated throughout the city. I can still recall walking home from work one day, months after 9/11, when a fire truck responding to a call came flying around the corner. The pedestrians on this stretch of Sixth Avenue stopped walking, hung up their phones, dropped their bags, put down their food and turned toward the truck and the men in it. The people gathered began to clap and cheer, women and men stood crying, a simultaneous expression of grief and gratitude. I remember the firefighters, who did not grin or cheer back at this spontaneous outpouring, instead maintaining a stoic and humble determination toward the task at hand. And it is because of men like these who run toward death to save others from it, that we must remind ourselves to 'never forget.'
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Colin Deppen is the newest staff writer at The Daily Press. He lived in New York City from 2001 to 2011.

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