Where were you?

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Smithfield Times asked readers for their memories of where they were, what they were doing and their reactions on Sept. 11, 2001. Below are the responses we received. Responses have been edited for spelling, grammar, style and length.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at my desk in the Interior South Building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. A member of my staff came into my office to advise me that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. At that point, we were unable to determine if the collision was intentional or some horrible accident. We turned on the television to see the news footage of the first collision as well as the second. Shortly thereafter, all federal agencies in D.C. were instructed to begin an orderly evacuation of our personnel to safety. Before that effort could get under way, the third jet hit the Pentagon less than a mile from my office in the Interior South Building.

Still in my office, I felt the shockwaves of that Pentagon collision. It is important to note that the Interior South Building was used during World War II as the headquarters for the Combined Joint Chiefs of Staff and was the site where British and American Chiefs of Staff met to plan the war effort. As such, it was heavily fortified with metal doors and thick glass windows. Still, the impact could be felt inside the building.

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Fighter jets from Andrews Air Force Base were in the air over the city as almost everyone attempted to get home. The black, billowing smoke was visible for miles. Traffic was terrible; it was almost impossible to move. My route south out of D.C. took me directly by the Pentagon. It was a gut-wrenching sight to see more than half of the front of a plane rammed into the building. Fortunately, the plane hit the building in a spot that was being renovated.

The trip home to Prince William County normally took less than an hour; this trip took over three hours. The cell phone network crashed, making it impossible for most people to communicate with families to let them know they were safe and OK. Later that evening, we were advised that the government would be open for business as usual the next day.

It was not exactly business as usual the next morning, as I and 80% of my staff returned to work. The heavy steel doors on the front of the building were locked and barricaded. Armed National Guardsmen were stationed at the rear entrance, and our parking lot was blocked. Only those with special clearance could use the lot. Once inside the building, we were individually greeted by the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, who thanked us for being there and for being willing to demonstrate the resilience of the American people.

I am sure that many individuals went through much more than we did during that period. As the news and coverage of the entire story unfolded over the next few weeks, we realized what we had gone through could have been much worse.

— Dan Lytton


I had some health issues that required me to have some medical tests. While I was at Riverside Hospital in Newport News, waiting to have an ultrasound on my gallbladder to see if surgery was necessary, the terrible news of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center came on the television. You could have heard a pin drop in that waiting room, as all of us waiting there witnessed what was happening right before our eyes.

—Emma Jean Brady


On Sept. 11, 2001, my wife, Anne, and I were on a bus tour to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. At lunchtime, the tour stopped at the Fishing Village of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. While there, one of the waitresses came to our table and asked if we were from the United States. Finding that we were, she told us that the “Towers in New York City were no more.” We had eaten at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower a few times. It was always a great dining experience. After lunch, our tour guide told us to try to stay focused on the tour. So, we did not know the details of the day until that evening. Needless to say, it was a sad day for us. Many of the stranded travelers as well as pilots and flight attendants were staying in our hotel. We were told there were about 5,600 stranded in the city of Halifax. The rest of our tour had a very somber feel to it. We, however, were greatly impressed with the concern and sympathy shown to us by our Canadian neighbors at each place we stopped. Many stores had expressions of sympathy displayed as we entered them. There were also verbal condolences.

It was a scary scene when we got back to Logan airport in Boston. The National Guard’s presence was very strong. We were thankful to get back home to Smithfield, where we felt safe and protected from all that had happened just a week earlier. But, we knew that things would never be the same for our great USA. It was a sad day that we will never forget.

—Ron and Anne Harvey 


The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, began as a normal day on the Barlow Farm with one exception — I was busy opening a suitcase to begin packing for an exciting trip to Colorado for our son’s wedding on Sept. 15, 2001. It wasn’t long before the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania reached the news, and everything with our plans changed. All flights were canceled; all planes on the East Coast were grounded. To drive to Colorado, we needed to rent some vans for 12 family members and leave almost immediately. Renting a van was not successful — when you are told “none available,” or “we have one that might get you there,” this was not an option. Heartbroken, and crying, I told my son if Smithfield Foods had a hog truck going to Colorado, I would pay to ride along. As you can imagine, that didn’t work either. So, it seemed that the groom’s family would not be in attendance for the wedding.

Our family was very thankful for the tech-savvy best man, who broadcast the audio of the entire ceremony over his cell phone so we could at least hear the wedding, even though we were not there in person. It is unique to see wedding pictures with the best man holding a cell phone, but it worked. We were asked why the couple didn’t cancel the wedding. As much as I wanted to be there, why would they do that? Many friends were already there, along with the bride’s family and most importantly, the bride and groom, as they were both living and working in Colorado.

Yes, I remember and reflect on Sept. 11, 2001, not only because of the events that prevented my family from attending my son’s wedding, but also the lasting heartache the attacks brought to thousands.

— Shirley Barlow


I was teaching at Smithfield High School. One of my colleagues who had planning first block saw on the TV in the library that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. As my second-block AP Biology students were filing into class, they were hearing about a plane crash, but information was slow getting out. Some staff members were getting calls from family members, and a few people flipped the TV on in their classroom to learn more. I tried getting on the internet using my computer but connections were so slow back then. It was difficult to get any site to load in order to find out more info. Another teacher on my hall had a family member who worked at the Pentagon. She was frantically trying to reach them to make sure they were OK, which they thankfully were. There was so much uncertainty about what was happening and why. The reality of the situation sank in that evening as videos from the day were shown over and over again. The immediate lockdown at airports and cancellations of flights also impacted me and my family personally. My brother was getting married in Colorado on Sept. 15, 2001. We were stuck in Virginia, as we hoped flights would resume in time to make the event. When they didn’t, we participated remotely. This was before Zoom and Facetime. The best man called us on his cell phone and my mom (Shirley Barlow, above) and I listened to the ceremony over the phone.

— Lynn Briggs


We were stationed in Bremerton, Washington. At the time we had a 6-month-old son and a 2 ½-year-old daughter. I remember waking up that morning early, because our son was teething. I played with him a bit and turned on the news to hear one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit by a plane. The next thing I knew, I watched another plane fly into view and hit the other tower. At that time, I knew it was bad. I kept the news on and watched updates. I was on the phone with my in-laws when the Pentagon was hit, they actually felt it since they lived just a few miles from the Pentagon. As the day went on I had one TV on PBS, for the children, and another on the news, for me. Friends stopped by all day, and we tried our best not to worry. My husband could not leave the base and called as often as he could. Base entry was severely limited. As the day went on I realized everything had changed. In a conversation with a military friend I heard the name “Bin Laden” for the first time. I spent time checking on friends in the D.C. metro area. My husband had duty that evening, so it was a pretty sleepless evening, checking the news and checking on my children all night.

— Kathryne Lemon


I was stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea. It was a little after 10 p.m. there when I saw the second plane hit the tower on TV. The entire base and surrounding area went into full lockdown (called THREATCON Delta back then) and all personnel were recalled to duty in our full chemical warfare gear ensemble. Because of the high level of security, it took more than two hours for my unit to process both U.S. and South Korean forces into our secure Allied building. I spent the next 12 hours routing communications and working to find out who was responsible for the attacks. When our lockdown was lifted several weeks later, I was completely surprised and humbled by the love and support that our South Korean hosts showed us. That will forever be burned into my memory.

— Jonathan Ryan


Sept. 11, 2001, is a day I continue to reflect upon. On that day, I was in the process of attending a seminar at the General Assembly in Richmond. With no explanation, we were told to leave the building immediately. I was confused. As I was returning to my vehicle, I was approached by a stranger who asked me if I had heard that the Twin Towers and maybe other buildings in New York had been hit by airplanes. I told her I had not heard about it. She said to me that all of the governmental buildings had to close in case an attack would take place in Richmond. When I got into my car and turned on the radio, I learned of the horrific event which was taking place at that time in New York. I felt loss and deep sadness and concern about the tragedy unfolding. I began to pray because I knew our nation needed the Lord’S help. Afterward, I drove to my brother’s home in Surry County to see him, because he was a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and I wanted to get his thoughts about what was happening. My brother and I watched the news on his television for hours.

— Catherine Charity Bowden


Sept. 11, 2001, was probably one of the eeriest and scariest days of my life. I had resigned from my prior employer to take a new position starting Oct. 1, and had decided to take some time off, so I invited my father and brother-in-law to go fishing with me and my wife on the fishing pier on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We arrived about 9:30 a.m. and went into the restaurant for a cup of coffee, and the TV was on describing the attack. Not knowing what else to do, we decided just to stay on the pier, and that’s when it really sank in how serious this attack was, because Navy ships started coming out from the base — first a destroyer, then a submarine, then a frigate as the Navy deployed the fleet. The four of us decided being out in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay while the U.S. was under attack was probably not the wisest thing we could do, so we all piled into my car and headed back to Virginia Beach, listening to the radio commentary all the time and wondering what might be next. All of us have moments in our life (like when JFK was assassinated) that will stay with us forever, and this was one for me.

— Edward R. Hipp III


I was in my senior year of college at SUNY Maritime College. We heard about the initial airplane crash and went to the roof of the building and saw the second plane.

— Matthew Brooks


We were on a month-long trip exploring Europe. On Sept. 11, we had arrived in Rome from a week in Greece. We had just returned to our hotel from a tour of Rome and were sitting on the bed. I turned the TV on to CNN (the only English-speaking channel) and watched, dumbfounded, as the plane crashed into the World Trade Center. There we sat until bedtime, not believing what we were watching.

The outpouring of kindness shown to us in the following days as we continued on our travels was amazing and appreciated. Security coming back to the United States two weeks later was at a height that we had never experienced before.

— Randolph and Rosa Lee Barlow