How people learn of good or bad news tends to be etched forever in the minds of each individual, and every generation has a touchstone tragic event that transcends most other memories. The assassination of President John Kennedy. The space shuttle Challenger explosion. The terrorist attacks of 9/11. Each of these events links the masses in answering the commonly asked question: “Where were you?”
Members of the NC State community share their thoughts and memories about that tragic time in September 2001. Please feel free to share your personal insights on Facebook.
I will always remember September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful Fall day and I was walking across Purdue’s campus to my office following an early breakfast meeting. Upon entering the building, the staff of the Dean’s office were all gathered around a small television in the conference room watching the events of the day unfold. As I came to understand what had happened, I recall having the most severe sense of grief and concern I had ever experienced. This fear and uneasiness immediately led me to worry about my family and their safety. I recall thinking that the parents and family of the 41,000 students at Purdue must have had the same sense of concern for their loved ones that were so far away.
I vividly remember where I was the morning of September 11, 2001. The campus Executive Officers were assembled in the Holladay Hall Chancellor’s Conference Room, our weekly meeting underway. Within minutes of the attack, Charlie Leffler came into the room to alert the senior leadership of the terrorist act against the U.S. He turned on the small television and we watched in collective horror, struggling to comprehend the images we and the nation were witnessing. My heart fell at the sight of the burning World Trade Center towers and the smoke rising from both the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Days later, I was heartened by the outpouring of pride in our country as the NC State Wolfpack family gathered in Reynolds to grieve. The emotion of that gathering remains with me to this day.
Marye Anne Fox
Chancellor, NC State 1998-2004
I was 21 on 9/11, and was President of the Student Senate. I got a call from a friend that a plane ran into the towers – a statement so bizarre that I couldn’t comprehend it that early in the morning. I finally awoke to see the towers falling, and remember this dread washing over me. Not only for me and my family, but all of my peers, family and friends. I could barely contain my emotions as I reached out to my mother and thought about how I can help make sense of this for me and my fellow students. Even as a young adult I knew we would be OK, but I was devastated by the tremendous loss of life, property, and a sense of security in our home.
Student Senate President 2001
NC State ’01
I was in New York City visiting my daughter Betsy on 9/11/01. I was watching the television screen and saw both airplanes strike. I saw the city shut down. I saw great expressions of fear, and then I saw a great city right itself and deal with one of the great tragedies of all time. It was an experience I will never forget.
William C. Friday
President, UNC System 1956-1986
NC State ’41
There are two moments in my life when time seemed to freeze as the moments were permanently etched into my brain. The first was when I was a child in elementary school and we heard that John F. Kennedy had died. I didn’t understand it all, but somehow I knew things were terribly wrong and that something had happened that would change my world forever. The second was on September 11, 2001, when our country was attacked and we watched the tragedy unfold on television. I was at work, thinking of new beginnings, because I had just hired a new and much-needed assistant who was going to make my life so much easier. We were sitting together in my office for the first time, getting to know one another and beginning the transition of tasks, when I was summoned to the break room where a small group was watching the television in stunned silence. A tower fell, and then another tower fell. While I was no longer a child, I was sensing the same thing I had sensed so many years ago — I didn’t understand it all, but I knew things were terribly wrong and something was happening that would change my world forever. A moment ago I had been planning my future with the assumption of complete control, and with that scene on television, I realized that none of us has complete control of our lives or of our futures. I have always been a positive person, expecting the best, but from that day forward I was changed. My optimism refuses to be quenched, but it has been sobered by the knowledge that life is fragile and can be elusive. I try to celebrate each day and enjoy the moments with those around me, knowing that each moment is a gift. I count that realization as a positive that came out of unspeakable tragedy.
Barbara H. Mulkey, PE, FASCE
Chair, NC State Board of Trustees
NC State ’77 & ’84
At 9 am on 9-11-2001 I joined the other Vice Chancellors and Chancellor Mary Anne Fox for our regular Executive Officer’s Meeting (EOM) in the Chancellor’s Conference Room in Holladay Hall. We had no idea what had just happened (8:46 am) at the North Tower or what was about to happen at the other locations. At 9:45 am Charlie Leffler rushed into the room and excitedly announced that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. We quickly adjourned the meeting and everyone returned to our offices, where we began to receive reports of the events that had occurred. Over the past ten years I have kept the sheet of paper that I was using to take notes at the meeting. The sheet includes “EOM-9-11-01” in the upper left corner, followed by “honors & scholars- next week” and “housing” and then in the upper right corner “9:45 C Leffler plane crash into Pentagon.” A chilling reminder of how I heard the first report of this historical day.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs
On the morning of 9-11-01 I was watching TV while getting ready to leave for my office. I had worked late the night before so I was late getting ready on this morning. I watched the tragic events unfold in real time, not believing what I was seeing. I was glued to the TV, motionless, with one emotion after another going through my head. My first reaction was total disbelief, then fright. I can remember crying and praying so hard for those who were caught up in the middle of what was happening, even though it wasn’t clear what that actually was at first. I called my offices to alert them and told them to turn on the office TV, then quickly left. As the owner of three travel agencies I knew I had to get to work … I had already made a mental calculation of where my personal clients were, but did not know where all of our clients were. Needless to say, we had travelers stuck all over the world after the nation’s airplanes were forced to land at the closest airport, and those that had not yet left to fly to the US were forced to stay put. After speaking with most of them, I thanked God for their safety and the safety of my family, then prayed even harder for the victims of the morning’s tragedy. On that one solitary day I experienced more emotions than any other day in my life. And I have never forgotten it.
President, NC State Alumni Association
NC State ’72
Like many others, I was at work on 9/11. I remember seeing the horrific images on the TV monitors that were set up in Talley Student Center for students to keep informed with what was happening around the country. Feelings of shock, uncertainty, sadness, and disbelief filled my day. As many of us were trying to support one another and process what we were seeing, others were tying desperately to reach their loved ones. Cell phone lines were jammed, which added to the stress of the day. As the day went on and we started to get a clearer picture of what was happening, the desire to be in community engulfed many of us. Later that afternoon, planning began for a campuswide gathering in Reynolds Coliseum in order to pull the Wolfpack family together to grieve, comfort and reflect. As I worked with my colleagues to plan the event, I found myself feeling empty inside, unsure what the next day would mean for our world. We gathered the following morning, several thousand of us, and reflected on the events of the day before.
That evening, I met with a group of students leaders and we organized 9/11: A Call to Action. The campaign focused on ensuring all members of the university community felt safe on campus, especially those who were from the countries which the terrorists were believed to be from. In addition, the students raised over $10,000 in support of the American Red Cross’ victim relief fund. In the months after 9/11, members of CSLEPS and our partners reflected on the impacts of 9/11 and how we could make a positive difference moving forward. From those discussions, a partnership was developed with the Interfaith Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to implement an Alternative Service Break trip focused on interfaith dialogue and service.
Director, Center for Student Leadership, Ethics & Public Service
The first aircraft crashed into the Twin Towers a little before 8 a.m. Central time. I was en route to an off-site meeting for some of the senior leadership for Harley-Davidson. I walked into the conference room of the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee. A couple of my colleagues were looking at a live shot of the Twin Towers with smoke billowing out of one of the buildings. As we were watching, we saw the second aircraft hit it in real time.
While I was at the Naval War College, I was part of the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group. I wrote my thesis on asymmetric warfare [in 1995]. I described the potential threat of people who have an intense hatred of others, coupled with religious fanaticism, little regard for life and an obvious avenue that they sincerely believe [leads] to martyrdom. You take that volatile combination and you couple it up with resources, you’ve got yourself a serious threat.
Ralph “Benny” E. Suggs
Director, NC State Alumni Association
Rear admiral, US Navy (ret.)
NC State ’69
As the scope of the attack and potential death toll became clearer, I made the decision to cancel my 10:15 class, just as the South Tower started to collapse. As I walked to the classroom I observed shocked students, some in tears, trying to figure out what had happened and contacting relatives and friends. I told my students to return to a safe place and contact family to let them know they were OK. One or two students were from New York and were clearly distraught over the events and the uncertainty about what else may occur. I spent the rest of the morning with a reporter and camera crew from the local NBC affiliate, responding to their questions cautiously as I tried to sort through the information they were feeding me (internet access became unreliable over the course of the morning). After lunch I talked to my colleague Marvin Soroos about combining our afternoon classes. We spent about two hours talking through the events of the day with 40 students interested in international politics.
William A. Boettcher
Associate professor of political science