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9/11: Never Forgetting Where We Were on Sept. 11, 2001

Louise underwent dozens of surgeries, lost her fingers and suffered severe damage to her face and arms. She suffered life-changing injuries, requiring multiple skin grafts, because she tried to help a colleague who was on fire.

Never forgetting.jpg
Mary Kate Anton visits the 9-11 Memorial at the New York State Fair August 17, 2021. Anton was an investigator with the Department of Defense who helped find evidence in the wreckage to identify those that died and the terrorists responsible. N Scott Trimble | strimble@syracuse.com
N. Scott Trimble | strimble/syracuse.com
(TNS) - Americans will never forget the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead when hijacked planes hit the twin towers in New York City’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, becoming the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

We asked readers in Central New York to tell us where they were on 9/11, as well as how it impacted them and their families for the event’s 20th anniversary. Here are their stories:

* * * * *

Tyler Nicolaus, of Liverpool, N.Y., was in first grade on Sept. 11, 2001, when his grandmother, Louis Kurtz (now Louise Rogers) was working at the Pentagon. It was only her second day on the job when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the U.S. military building, leaving her with burns on 70% of her body.

“My dad picked me up from school and he told me that my mom was driving down to Virginia because Grandma Louise was burned in a building. Then I saw it on TV,” he recalled, as the reality of what happened began to set in.

Louise underwent dozens of surgeries, lost her fingers and suffered severe damage to her face and arms. She suffered life-changing injuries, requiring multiple skin grafts, because she tried to help a colleague who was on fire.

“It was dark,” she told the Washington Times in 2002. “I had grit in my teeth. There was debris everywhere... I smelled the jet fuel, and I knew what had happened... I made a conscious choice at that time to get out, because this was not the way I was supposed to die.”

Nicolaus, 26, said his grandmother is still alive today and living in Rome, N.Y., but she now struggles with dementia.

“We’re all very grateful that she’s still around with us,” he said.

As he got older, he considered studying cybersecurity in college, to potentially help defend the U.S. from future terrorist attacks, but ultimately chose a different career path. He also grew impressed at how his grandmother moved on from the tragedy, embracing life and traveling on far-off adventures in Alaska, Hawaii and South America.

“As I got older and understand and started to read more, learn more and mature as a person, I never had anything significantly impact me as much as that did for me,” he said. “The perspective … (knowing) someone close to you (that doesn’t) have any fingers.”

“It had a big impact on my life.”

* * * * *

Joe Hipius was an electrical engineer at Niagara Mohawk (now National Grid) when he left Syracuse for a 7 a.m. flight to New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He arrived safely at LaGuardia Airport with two other NiMo employees, Mike Murphy and Herb Schrayshuen, and enjoyed a stunning view of the World Trade Center and Manhattan before landing — before everything changed.

As they headed in a taxi cab to a meeting a Con Edison’s headquarters on 14th Street in NYC, they suddenly saw black smoke from the WTC’s north tower, and an orange flame. By the time they arrived for the 9:30 meeting, word of the second tower being hit had spread and phone service had been interrupted. People were trying to contact families to let them know they were safe, and couldn’t.

“I continued to watch and was stunned as the south tower collapsed. It was down in a matter of seconds, sending huge clouds of smoke and ash 20 stories into the air. At first, I couldn’t tell whether the entire building had gone down, or only the upper half, because the smoke was so dense. I thought such an impact would shake the building I was in, and that I’d hear a horrendous crash, but I didn’t. Perhaps the distance and the windows attenuated both, but whatever the reason, it only contributed to the sensation that this was not really happening, as if I was in a bizarre movie. But there was no denying it any longer. I realized that anyone in or near these buildings was surely dead,” Hipius recalled. “I began to think of the police and fire personnel who were attempting to help people to safety. I knew that there would be hundreds of fallen heroes.”

* * * * *

Dennis Schulz, a Syracuse resident who worked on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower from 1988 to 1990, was shocked when a friend told him a plane had hit the WTC.

“I kind of shrugged it off, thinking a little Cessna, or other small plane had hit the tower and probably bounced off, doing minimal damage,” he recalled. “When the first tower collapsed, I could not believe it. Those buildings always seemed so indestructible to me. I cried when they came down in seconds after standing for years watching over New York City. The company I had worked for had since moved out of the building after the terrorist truck bombing in 1993, but I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone I knew had been in either building. I thought of all those people who had gone to work that day, just like I had when I worked there, who were just minding their own business thinking it was just going to be another normal day. Their families’ lives will never be the same again.”

Schulz said he visited the 9/11 Memorial a few years ago, and called it a great tribute to those we lost that day.


* * * * *

Sarah Knickerboxer, a 26-year-old Syracuse resident, was in second grade at Allen Road Elementary in 2001. She remembers students being put into a lockdown at school as adults focused on TVs set up in the cafeteria.

“We were young, and did not understand what was happening. We saw airplanes hit a building, and knew that ‘bad guys’ were to blame,” she wrote.

Classmates with parents in the military were picked up from school, while she and other students remained largely confused.

“During the next few weeks, I struggled to understand the depth of what had taken place on the morning of September 11th. I lived near ( Hancock Airport in Syracuse), and it was commonplace for airplanes to fly over our house in takeoff or landing. Each time I heard the sound of a plane, or saw its low-flying figure outside my parent’s bedroom window, I would ask, ‘Is that the bad guys coming to get us?’” she continued.

Years later, Knickerboxer understands the reality of what happened. She cried among strangers during a visit to the 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum when she was in college. Her brother-in-law completed two tours in Afghanistan as a part of the Canadian Army, and came home with “invisible but life-changing scars.”

“I constantly am reminded that I am so fortunate to have been young, sheltered, and free from the loss of life which came out of 9-11 and its aftermath,” she added. “I am blessed to live in a country which believes in individuals’ rights and freedoms. I also will Never Forget the toll that day took on first responders, survivors, families, and our country. I grew up in a country that was at war for most of my childhood, and I pray that we will remember the impacts that has on our society as my generation raises up the next one.”

Mitchell Sobolevsky, of Nedrow, was also a second grader on Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers a fire drill at St. Ann’s Elementary and everyone going outside, then watching footage of the towers collapsing on television at home.

“At that moment, I still remember the feeling I had. The older I got the more I realized that it was the feeling of the loss of innocence, as I knew that the world had changed, forever,” he said. “Shortly after 9/11, my sisters and I were at the Carousel Mall with our aunt. We were exiting the mall when a plane was descending on Hancock. Without a thought, I screamed and darted into the road believing that the plane was crashing into the mall.”

“9/11 is something I will never forget and will always honor. God bless those who were lost, and those who were impacted at home and abroad.”

* * * * *

Nancy Dutelle, who was an English teacher at Liverpool High School, weighed the tragedy’s impact as both an educator and a mother. Her 15-year-old son Geoff was in her classroom when they watched the plane hit the second tower, and worried about what he was feeling — and remembering how she felt during the Challenger explosion.

“This thing was happening and I was looking at these 15-year-olds that I don’t know very well and conseqeuntly I can’t gauge how they’r reacting. Is this real? Is this like a movie to them? But as a mother, I knew I need to deal with (my son), but I’m also a teacher who needs to talk to the other students,” she said. “I do remember before he went to his next class saying something like you know where to find me if this gets to be really difficult. If you need me, I’m right here. It’s a tricky thing.”

* * * * *

“I was in my office in NYC on 75th street when the towers were struck. My brother called from Syracuse to tell me - that’s how I first found out,” said Gregg Tripoli, executive director of the Onondaga Historical Association. “I was scheduled to have a meeting, in my office, with our auditor, whose office was in the World Trade Center, and that appointment probably saved his life.”

Tripoli remembers how deserted New York City was by the 5 p.m. rush hour that day.

“I did manage to finally hail a cab but I gave it up to a couple who flagged us down and were trying to get to their child’s school to pick him up. I walked the rest of the way to my house on 35th Street in total silence. I could see the smoke rising from downtown and there was a strange smell permeating the air.”

* * * * *

The retired Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg, of Warners, N.Y., was set to celebrate his 55th birthday in California on Sept. 11, 2001. He was born Sept. 11, 1946, in New York City and grew up in Upstate New York, but was now thousands of miles away — watching news coverage on television in horror that day, and completely forgetting friends were supposed to come over that night.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘S---, it’s my birthday.’ Then I remembered that we had a few friends coming over in a few hours for a birthday celebration, and so I headed to the store to pick up a few things to serve our friends,” he recalled. “That evening, sitting with a half dozen friends out on our patio, we mostly talked about the day’s horrific scenes that had unfolded before our eyes some 3000 miles away.”

He said it felt strange to celebrate anything on 9/11, but a friend said to him, “Paul, I’m glad today is your birthday. In the midst of all this horror, it gives us something to celebrate.”


* * * * *

Charles Webb, who lived in Manlius from 1966 to 1982, was at Ground Zero during the attacks. He was in charge of the New York City mayoral election primary, which has being held in a building adjacent to the Twin Towers that Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear it was a terrorist attack, but Gov. Pataki canceled the election after the second plane was hit and it was clear what happened.

“The first tower fell,” recalled Webb, now 90 years old and living in Pinehurst, North Carolina. “It was the loudest sound I’ve heard, even worse than when I served in Korea. It was loud and we waited for the second building to fall because we knew it would. When it was safe to walk out there was just a thick black smoke. I could hardly see and I was covered in black soot.”

Cell phones went out of service and he had to walk 3 miles to Grand Central to get a train back home to Connecticut, where he was living at the time.

“Halfway through I had to use the restroom. I don’t like using restrooms without buying something, so I walked into a bar and asked for a drink,” he said. “The bartender put down a scotch and said it’s on the house.”

* * * * *

Some people had no personal connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, but still felt the impact immediately.

Michael Loftus, of Syracuse, remembered hearing the news of the second plane hitting the twin towers on the radio while driving home from a trip to Keene, N.Y. There was a steady stream of police cars with lights flashing on the Thruway, headed east.

When he stopped at a gas station at the Carousel Center (now Destiny USA), he recalled saying to another customers: “Life in the United States will never again be as it was yesterday.”

Patrick Mannion, of Fayetteville, N.Y., was inspired to join the Fayetteville Fire Department as a volunteer, beginning training in October 2001.

“It was my way of dealing with a tragedy that took so many lives of public servants (like firefighters, police and emergency responders),” he wrote. “I became an apparatus operator, an EMT, a firefighter and an officer. I still respond actively almost 20 years later. Out of the terror of that morning my life took an amazing turn that ultimately made me a better person and gave me a much deeper and more profound appreciation for first responders and the communities they serve.”

Courtney Tucker, of Tully, N.Y., retired from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aviation Security Policy and Planning office in 2000. When he saw the planes hit the twin towers, he was upset but not surprised.

“We at the FAA aviation security office knew something terrible would happen someday, concerned more with multiple bombings rather than multiple hijackings,” wrote Tucker, who was a senior policy analyst and staff advisor in the aftermath of Pan Am 103.

He felt compelled to help after 9/11 and volunteered in his old FAA office starting Sept. 17, which then turned into a year-long temporary assignment and three years working with the newly formed Transportation Security Administration ( TSA), which he helped establish. He was the principal author of the first TSA budget narrative justification for FY 2003 and the first TSA Report to Congress on Transportation Security; he reviewed and commented on the first TSA checkpoint screening Standard Operating Procedure (SOP); and he was part of the policy office team that drafted the TSA checked baggage screening SOP and its first revision.

“I first took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States in September 1963 as a Navy ROTC Midshipman, then as a Marine Officer, and again as a U.S. Civil Servant,” he added. “I came back because I was given a second chance to serve my country in its time of greatest need. There is no greater gift, no higher honor in life.”

* * * * *

Liverpool resident Travis Glazier was a senior in college at SUNY Potsdam:

“That morning I had a class at 8:45am so most of the students were walking to class or seated when the first plane hit. The discussion in the class coincidentally shifted to media coverage of tragedy and the professor used the example of ‘when you hear about a plane crash, suddenly it seems like there are lots of plane crashes.’ No one in the class knew what had happened at 8:45, except one student who must have been late. He raised his hand and said ‘a plane just hit the twin towers,’ in a very soft spoken manner.”

The students did not react, as most did not have cell phones or laptops and had no other information about what had happened.

“Obviously when we left the classroom we were all faced with the reality of what was happening,” Glazier added. “Our professor was so struck by the coincidence of the discussion and what had taken place that he felt the need to address it at our next class meeting (which I think was not until the week after). I don’t recall the discussion, but I remember him reciting the conversation about plane crashes and the fact that a student had alerted us, but we did not react.”

* * * * *

Rosemary Surace, a Camillus resident, was in Italy celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary when they found out about the terrorist attacks. It was frightening because their two children were also traveling, including one who was staying at the Marriott hotel in New York City. She and her husband were relieved they were ok, but when they returned to the U.S. two weeks later they immediately saw changes in airport security and an increased presence from the National Guard.

“The people in Italy were very nice and sympathetic,” she said. “It was a little scary, but we finished our trip.”

* * * * *

Wright Salisbury, a Cornell University alumnus who was staying in a cottage with his wife Meme on Keuka Lake on Sept. 11, 2001, learned of the terrorist attack when family called and told them to turn on their television. They soon learned their son-in-law Ted was on the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, and rushed to be by their daughter Melanie’s side in Belmont, Massachusetts.

After the attacks were found to be carried out by Islamic fundamentalists organized by Osama bin Laden, anti-Muslim hatred grew in the U.S., much to the chagrin of Salisbury’s family. He responded by creating the Center for Jewish Christian Muslim Understanding in Irvington, N.Y., as well as another branch in Massachusetts.

“Good people tried to heal any possible breaches between the religions. Bad people (of which there are unfortunately too many in America) took advantage of the opportunity to spew hatred. In spite of our personal tragedies, many of us went into overdrive,” he wrote. “We displayed exhibits of the art and architecture of eight religions —Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Bahaism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, Buddhism and Confucianism — and I drove them around in my old station wagon to display them on easels in religious and academic venues.”

“The only Americans who hate Muslims now are, almost without exception, people who have never met a Muslim.”

Pat Burak, an assistant professor at Syracuse University and the former director of SU’s Center for International Services, remembers international students meeting at Hendricks Chapel, similarly worried about discrimination in the wake of 9/11.

“As quiet voices weighed in from both students and University staff, one comment shook me to the core. A young Asian woman tentatively asked: ‘Are they going to put us into internment campus like they did during World War II?’” Burak recalled.

“For me, as a child of the 1950s, these internment camps were only stories I had studied in American history classes in high school. In my world, international students on university campuses in the United States were highly valued, respected and welcomed members of our communities. As director of International Services at Syracuse University, a member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, and the International Center of Syracuse, my entire worldview of international students was founded on their valued contribution to the diversity of this country, and the breadth of cultural engagement thereunto related. As a grandchild of Ukrainian immigrants, my psyche only felt the welcoming warmth of America. To have a student react in this fashion shook me to my core.”

* * * * *

Erick Robertson, who was a firefighter in California, told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard that he brought his private search and rescue group to Ground Zero in 2001.

“I was there for over a month. Horrific. It was a life-changing situation that, despite any training that I have ever been through and involved with, EMS and fire and stuff my whole adult life in one way or another, but when I actually arrived there – within seconds of seeing it – every possible notion was thrown out of the window,” he said. “It blew a hole in my soul.”

Robertson has spoken about 9/11 many times over the years, and launched the nation’s largest traveling 9/11 museum exhibition. It includes steel from the twin towers, tributes to fallen police officers and firefighters, and visits to more than 1,000 cities across the U.S. For more information, visit 911rememberedthetravelingmemorial.org.

Bill Tammeus, who was a newspaper writer in Rochester from 1967-1970 and still has family in Upstate New York, was working at the Kansas City Star in 2001. He was writing a column about the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he learned his nephew Carlton was a passenger on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center, leaving behind a wife and a 19-month-old baby. Tammeus wrote about how it affected his family in the book “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety,” but also offers a hopeful message about how to move past the extremism that led to the attacks in the first place.

“I don’t think we can fix everything tomorrow, but there are things that we can do to make things better and prevent some additional pain,” Tammeus said in a phone interview. “We have become a society that has put ourselves in silos and people are wondering we can do about that so we can talk to each other again... Immediately after 9/11 we came together in a kind of unprecedented way for a few weeks, or months, and then we began to unravel again. I hope that people remember that.”

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit syracuse.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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