Remembering 9/11: Much has changed in 10 years, but some memories don’t fade

Most Americans will never forget what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001. The nation was glued to the TV, watching America come under attack.

As former President George W. Bush said in his address to the nation that evening, “none of us will ever forget this day.”

And 10 years later, Americans have not forgotten.

The images of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center, the south tower collapsing and then the north; the aftermath at the Pentagon and of the burning plane in the Pennsylvania field; people jumping from the towers, trying to escape the smoke — all these images will remain in the minds of Americans forever.

“I could see the replays of the horrifying aftermath of the first (plane), and then when the second one hit,” said Carl Nathe, an information officer with UK Public Relations. Nathe, like so many other Americans, was concerned for a friend who worked in the World Trade Center.

His childhood friend, Richard B. Hall, worked for AON Corporation on the 104th floor of the south tower.

“I was hoping and praying that for whatever reason, he wouldn’t be at work that day,” Nathe said. “I knew he worked in the second one that got hit. But it was very unsettling, obviously as it was to everybody.”

Nathe was on campus videotaping a segment for a UK television program when someone got the message about the first tower.

He said he stopped what he was doing and ran back to the office.

Initially there wasn’t information about Hall, but within two or three days, Nathe said, he and Hall’s family were informed that he died.

“They didn’t find his body actually until January, about four months after it happened,” Nathe said.

“You never forget it, but you kind of put it further back in your consciousness.”

They were there

Most students on campus were in elementary or middle school when it happened.

But Sgt. 1st Class Clayton Gorton, a UK senior, was stationed at Fort Myer, Va., and was in his barracks getting ready to go to the Pentagon when he was told the news.

Gorton entered the U.S. Army in 1999 and has been in the Army Reserves since 2003. He started at UK in 2004.

Gorton spoke at the UK Pershing Rifles Cadets memorial event on campus Friday. He was a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or the Old Guard, which is the official ceremonial unit of the army.

The morning of Sept. 11, he was preparing for an 11 a.m. ceremony to salute a high-ranking dignitary who was arriving for a meeting.

“At first, we thought it was a pilot error,” Gorton said. While watching TV, he heard American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon and described it as a muffled explosion.

His unit started preparing to go help at the Pentagon. When Gorton arrived at the scene around 2 p.m., he said it was hot and smoldering.

His unit helped with rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts. It helped engineers reinforce the building and set up tents for the morgue.

They had shovels, he said, and they found personal items in the ashes: stuffed animals and pictures of victims’ families.

“At that time, it’s one of those things you didn’t think about,” he said. “We struggled together through the mourning and difficulties to get through that day.”

During his speech on Friday, Gorton told stories of heroes from the attacks. He told of people who went back in to help others instead of leaving to save themselves.

“Its just inspiring, that people came to the aid of others,” Gorton said. In the military it happens a lot, but in the civilian world it was “just impressing to see.”

Their sacrifices, he said, like so many others’, “united the nation.”

Since being at UK, he has been deployed twice: in 2005 to Iraq and in 2009 to Afghanistan. “I carried my connection to 9/11 with me physically and emotionally,” he said.


View the front page of the Kernel from Sept. 12, 2011.

Everybody is connected to the events, he said, and those connections are important.

While the nation crowded around the television, Jennifer Roth was in New York City trying to escape the chaos.

Roth, a 1995 UK graduate, worked in the city. She was originally interviewed in the Sept. 12, 2001, edition of the Kernel. Her father, Rick Roth, was a UK integrated strategic communication professor at the time.

“Ten years later, its hard. I’ve been obviously thinking about this a lot because you can’t escape it right now,” she said.

Roth was in a subway car pulling into the station under the World Trade Center when she heard noises.

“When the train let us out, you could smell the smoke,” she said. She and other passengers couldn’t figure out what was going on, so they went outside to see what happened.

“What I remember of that day is how confused everybody was,” she said. “There was all this smoke in the air. We were completely mystified.”

All Roth wanted to do was distance herself from the towers. She said she was about four or five blocks away when the second plane hit.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “When the second plane hit, I thought the first tower exploded and was going to collapse. I was really close to the building, and I thought that was it.”

As she dodged behind a column of a building, she remembers seeing an elderly woman who was walking fall down. “What struck me was that two guys stopped to help her back up,” Roth said.

Her next order of business was get to her office, 10 blocks from the towers, and make sure everyone was safe.

She said her co-workers were in “utter shock and disbelief.”

“I couldn’t even understand what was happening,” she said when the first tower came down. “Next thing you know, there was a literal vertical wall of smoke and dust coming down the street.”

She eventually was able to call her family and let them know she was safe.

As she walked through Greenwich Village, people were helping others, asking if they needed water and sharing cell phones. Roth finally took a ferry back to her home in New Jersey. She now lives on Long Island.

“I don’t know what life would be like if that never happened,” Roth said. “Living in New York after that happened, watching how security checks became routine, I got used to seeing national guards on the street. Those were very strange times. It’s hard to remember now there was a time when I didn’t have to have my backpack or purse searched walking into an office building in New York.”

Roth said she noticed two reactions: people were either really scared or “really pissed off.” Between the 9/11 events and the Anthrax scare, she said some fled the city while others said “this is where I live, this is where I work.”

“It was kind of hard to go back. Every day you met someone on the street … it became a very cautious dance, asking if they were OK,” she said.

Roth has told this story many times, and she said people are still interested in hearing it.

“Everybody felt so connected,” she said. “Everybody watched it happen on TV and everybody I know wanted to hear it firsthand.”

What has changed

Nearly 10 years after 9/11, on May 1, U.S. forces killed Osama bin Ladin. “Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama said that Sunday evening.

America has changed since 2001. Immediately after the attacks, security got tighter. As fear spread throughout the nation, people became more aware.

“I think that what we have learned is vulnerability,” Roth said. “It would be really nice if we could learn from how we pulled together that day and how everybody worked together that day.”

While listening to a public radio show last week, Stan Brunn, a geography professor, was touched by the heroes of 9/11 who tried to help others. He said he started to cry.

“I hope we’ve learned something,” he said. “I think we have.”

Brunn decided after 9/11 that, as a member of the scholarly community, he should do something. So he asked his friends and colleagues to contribute to a book, “11 September and Its Aftermath: The Geopolitics of Terror,” which examines the impact of the events on foreign policy and international relations.

He said after 9/11, America came to many realizations.

“I think students today are much more globally aware and globally conscious than their parents,” he said. Though he believes college students today didn’t quite understand the whole impact of it when it happened, “all kids would know their lives are different because of it.”

Following the attacks on Sept. 11, America’s eyes were opened to Islam. And Brunn believes America has learned much more about the faith.

Fatimah Shalash, a recent UK graduate, said there are still a lot of misconceptions about Islam, but it has “offered an opportunity to talk about things.”

“There was a lot of suspicion towards Muslims,” Shalash said. But though there was suspicion, she said she was always treated with kindness.“For as much backlash there was against Islam in the media, for me it has opened up conversation about our faith.”

Shalash, who just received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from UK, is from Lexington and was a sophomore in high school at the time of the attacks. “I probably didn’t fully grasp or fully comprehend,” she said.

Brunn believes it was a brief time of coming together, and America is “not certainly together now.”

“We still have a lot of learning to do, a lot of healing to do,” he said.

For the 10th anniversary, Roth said, “I don’t know where the place is to draw the line between dwelling on it and remembering it. I’m a little afraid we are dwelling on it more than building from it.”

Brunn hopes students attend memorial events or do something to remember the people who died. “International terror really hit home,” he said.

And 10 years later, Americans have not forgotten.

“We must keep alive the connection we have to that day,” Gorton said.