Millions of Americans watched the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, which resulted in nearly 3,000 people dead. Now, 20 years later, they watch as the "never ending" Afghanistan war ends in calamity.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Most Americans who are old enough to remember can recount their day and when they heard the tragic news, but now there is a generational gap of those who can remember.
“I was only eight months old when 9/11 occurred, so I have relied on stories of the event to remember it,” said Aura Garcia, junior in sociology. “I think it is important to remember because it is an event that shaped the way we live in society.”
Like Garcia, many college students feel the same; listening and reading about 9/11 is the only connection those who weren’t alive or too young to remember have.
It's important to remember the lives lost and the heroes of the day, said Scott Stanzel, an Iowa State alumni.
“This year and every year, I think about them,” Stanzel said. “I think about their sacrifices; I think about their actions.”
September 11, 2001, Stanzel was serving as a spokesman at the White House in the office of media affairs. Stanzel’s responsibility was to serve as a spokesman for the White House to news outlets in 14 states.
Stanzel recounted his day beginning with his arrival at the White House around 6:30 am. He started his workday reading the news and focusing on anything that might be pertinent to issues for the day. Former President George W. Bush was in Florida reading with a second-grade classroom at Emma E. Booker elementary school.
Stanzel recalled the moment when his day dramatically shifted around 8:46 am. A colleague of his said, "a plane has hit the World Trade Center."
“We couldn’t understand what had happened and we were talking about the pilot having a heart attack or if it was a small plane,” Stanzel said.
Stanzel said Bush was informed around 8:50 am once news broke that it was a commercial aircraft.
Shortly after 9:00 am, the South Tower was hit; Stanzel said his boss came to their office and told them to research how presidents respond to acts of war.
Stanzel said his team gathered in an office and discussed what they researched when they were informed that American Airlines flight 77 had hit the Pentagon.
“A colleague of mine, Erin Healy, squeezed my hand tightly; that news was pretty jarring,” Stanzel said. “It was just several miles from the White House and we didn’t know what the rest of the day would bring.”
Stanzel said moments after they received news of the Pentagon, secret service agents began running down halls and yelling at everyone to get out.
“They were saying, ‘you have two minutes, there’s another plane, you have two minutes,’” Stanzel said.
Once the White House was evacuated, the team set up an office in the Chrysler building. Stanzel said they arrived to the news that the South Tower had fallen.
“It was hard to believe that in a matter of minutes, so much had already occurred,” Stanzel said. “Just a few minutes after that, United 93 crashed into the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.”
The team spent the rest of the day tracking what was going on in the news while feeding the information to communications director Ari Fleischer, the press secretary traveling with Bush.
Stanzel was the press duty officer the evening of September 11, meaning he was responsible for answering press calls that occurred after business hours.
At 8:30 pm, Bush delivered his remarks from the Oval Office. Stanzel said he spent the rest of his night with the press pool of reporters and answering calls until around 5:30 am.
Like Stanzel, millions of Americans had experiences similar to his during the 9/11 attack.
Tracy Lucht, Iowa State University associate professor of journalism and mass communication, was going to college in Washington D.C. when the events of 9/11 took place.
Lucht was a teaching assistant (TA) at her college and worked as a part-time copy editor for the Washington Post.
Lucht said her day started like any other; by prepping for a class. She turned on The TODAY show to watch while working. They had just cut to an interview and started showing footage of that the North Tower of the World Trade Center had been hit.
“I remember thinking how beautiful of a day it was because the sky that morning was this really clear blue that I will never forget,” Lucht said. “It was confusing to think that it could’ve been a plane that hit the tower because there was no bad weather.”
Lucht said her instincts told her this would be a big news story, so she interrupted the class the professor was teaching to inform him of what had happened. The class, in turn, went into the professor's office and began watching the news.
“As we were watching as the second plane hit and at that moment, the professor and I looked at each other because we realized that there was no chance it was an accident,” Lucht said.
“No one really knew how to emotionally take in what was happening,” Lucht said.
The class continued to watch the events unfold, and it was just past 9:30 am when news that the Pentagon had been hit came in, Lucht said.
“It really started to feel like the nation was very definitely under attack,” Lucht said.
Lucht said that rumors started to pour in that the White House, Capitol, metro, and other buildings were under attack. Being scheduled to work at the Washington Post later that day, Lucht knew she had to leave and try to make it to the Washington Post office, and the only way was through the metro.
While she was on the metro, Lucht said she could see the giant plume of smoke coming from the Pentagon. She said everyone on the train was silent while staring out the window.
“It was terrifying and it was a day that I'll never forget,” Lucht said. “And the sort of state of hypervigilance continued for a while because living there anytime you saw a plane coming in, your stomach would clench up because of the memory of what happened.”
Looking back, Stanzel said, “Let’s never forget those 24 hours and how they changed the world, how they changed our country, our sense of vulnerability, they changed our politics, they even changed how we communicate with one another."
The organized terrorist attack of 9/11 is an event that America will never forget as it changed the country forever and launched the Afghanistan war. The war is concluded nearly 20 years later, making it the longest war in U.S. history, resulting in nearly 7,000 American service members and U.S. contractors dead, 66,000 Afghan police, and over 45,000 Afghan civilians, according to Associated Press. These tragic events are ones American’s will never forget as they begin to heal.