Even before the last fires were fully extinguished, the U.S. terror attacks of September 11, 2001, had taken on national and international significance. For Americans, the biggest attack on their homeland in its history became a call to arms. For the rest of the world, the sight of such devastation in the strongest nation on Earth meant no country was safe from terrorism.
But for the friends and relatives of the nearly 3,000 victims, the tragedy was deeply and profoundly personal. And although a decade has passed since the horror of that day, the years haven't blunted the sharp sense of shock and loss for those who lost someone they loved.
'9/11 Has Transformed My Life'
Alice Hoaglund lost her son, Mark Bingham, in the crash of United Flight 93 on September 11. Mark was one of a small group of passengers who, after learning that their flight had been hijacked -- it's widely believed members of Al-Qaeda were flying the plane toward either the U.S. Capitol or the White House -- rushed the cockpit in an attempt to overpower the terrorists.
"My son Mark Bingham
was aged 31; he was a rugby player. He had been since high school and played it at college and then helped found the International Gay Rugby Association. He was a gay man and he was really thrilled that gay rugby was coming into its own.
"He was on Flight 93 on September 11 because he had offices for his public relations group, The Bingham Group, on two coasts -- the West Coast, in California, and also back in New York City. He was flying from Newark to San Francisco also to attend the wedding of his good friend who was getting married on the 15th of September.
"He learned about the hijacking not from me, because when he called us we were all still in bed out here in California -- it was before 7 in the morning. But fortunately, another passenger [Tom Burnett] had been able to reach his wife. Tom talked to Deena Burnett and Deena told him that there was a full-blown organized attack going on and that it was very likely that they planned to use that Boeing 757 as a missile against a target on the ground. And, of course, Tom told that little team of guys, that little pick-up team of guys who were working out a plan in the back cabin of this pretty empty 757.
"It was because of them – it was because of Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick and Todd Beamer and maybe Alan Beaven and Richard Guadagno, and my son Mark -- that the passengers were able to understand and size up the situation, make a plan, take a vote on that plan, and then run forward armed with whatever they could catch on the airplane, to try to defeat the terrorists who had already taken over the plane, killed the pilots, ensconced themselves in the cockpit, and had dropped the altitude to a point where it was just about impossible to recover. And they had diverted the flight – it was on a beeline back to Washington, D.C. -- and it's now strongly believed that their intended target was the U.S. Capitol dome.
Alice Hoaglund: "I Was So Proud"
"I’m so proud they were able to stand together and fight. There's not very much good news that came out of September 11, but it does give me a great deal of comfort to know that my son was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with a few other guys and make a real difference that day, even though they weren't able to save their own lives.
"When Mark called us, his message was not one of fear; he didn't even particularly want to tell us what they were going to do. But his message to us was that he loved us and he wanted to tell us that in case he didn't see us again. That phone call was a gift, and that's the way I truly feel about it. I'll treasure that. It meant a great deal to us that Mark, in his last moments, before he went to battle terrorists, his last thoughts were of his family and how much he loved them.
Alice Hoaglund: "That Phone Call Was A Gift"
"9/11 really has transformed my life. My life is all about the issues and the unresolved problems that rose in such stark, big red letters. We still have very shabby, deficient aviation security. I also am very keen on the eradication of terrorism. I'm worried that after this 10th anniversary, we are going to become more complacent. I'm very grateful for every time 9/11 rolls around because it gives America a chance to reflect and rededicate itself to the unresolved issues, and we need that because we still are living with the specter of terrorism -- Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab and every one of the ugly mutations of terrorism all over the world, essentially. And here, homegrown terrorism in the United States -- we are living with that and it will rise up and hit us again as soon as we become unconscious of it. So we need to rededicate ourselves to fighting and eradicating terrorism.
"I welcome the end of the war in the Iraq and I welcome the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But I think that we need to protect ourselves here at home from the specter of terrorism, and that threat has not diminished in any way."
Welles Crowther will always be known as "the man in the red bandanna."
'It Never Leaves Us'
Alison Crowther lost her son, Welles Crowther, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. Using his trademark red bandanna, which he had carried with him since childhood, to protect his mouth and nose from the smoke, Welles helped rescue dozens of people trapped after United Flight 175 was flown into the building by terrorists. Officials told his family that his body was found alongside those of firefighters and emergency workers who had been running a command center in the tower's Sky Lobby. Welles Crowther is remembered by those he saved as "the man in the red bandana."
"Our son Welles was 24 years old and an equities trader for Sandler O'Neill & Partners. He was also a fully trained volunteer firefighter and had been such since he was 16 years old. He had always carried a red bandanna with him because as a little boy his father had gotten him started on that habit when he was getting dressed to go to Sunday school one day. My husband put a little white handkerchief in the breast pocket of [Welles'] jacket and said, 'This is for show; don't mess with it. Here's a bandanna – that's to blow your nose or to use it for any messy jobs you may have.'
"That was how it started. Welles was very young -- 7 or 8 or so -- when he started [carrying] this red bandanna with him. So he had it with him [on 9/11] as he would on any other day, and that's what he used to cover his nose and mouth to protect from the smoke and flames in the building after the attacks. He was in 2 World Trade Center, which was the South Tower. It was the second tower to be hit but the first tower to collapse.
"When it first happened, of course, we were also just in terrible shock and we just knew that we really didn't understand what had happened and what was going on and that it would take a long time to put all the pieces together of what happened that day. It's never out of my mind. My husband and I – and I'm sure all of the affected people – carry this with us every day very deeply in our hearts. The loss of life was horrific. Such very fine people from all around the world who were there who were killed. So it never leaves us.
Alison Crowther: "It's Never Out Of My Mind"
"When I first heard the news [that Osama bin Laden had been killed], I had fallen asleep on the couch and woke up to seeing his picture and 'Bin Laden Dead' on the television, so I was just in complete shock. It was so unexpected and so long awaited that I thought it was some mistake, some part of the program I'd been watching when I'd fallen asleep. And then when I realized it was real, I was just so overwhelmed I was almost hysterical. The floodgates of all the emotion from the last 10 years burst open and this news that we'd been waiting for for so long [had] finally [been] accomplished.
"I went running to my husband who was downstairs and I called him up and I was sobbing. I could barely speak. I said, 'Jeff, they've gotten bin Laden; they've gotten him.' And my husband came upstairs and he said, 'Why are you crying? This is great news.' And I said, 'Well, I can't explain my reactions. It just was all the emotions that had been bottled up.'
Alison Crowther: "It Was A Beautiful Legacy"
"It was a huge relief. It wasn't joyful. And if you talk to many 9/11 family members, there's no joy in it. It's just that we got the job done that needed to be done for our loved ones and to bring this man to justice. And there are more out there; we know that. He's not the last of this. And he had some very powerful people in cahoots with all of this and we know they're still out there; we know that. We're not foolish. It's not over. But it was symbolic for us, and a huge relief that this evil person was taken out.
"This year we will be going down to Ground Zero. We don't usually do that because Welles was recovered and his ashes are with us at our church here in Nyack [New York]. So we generally stay in Rockland County and attend memorial events that are going on here in the county, but this year we will be going down to Ground Zero because it is the 10th anniversary.
Welles Crowther (right) was a volunteer firefighter and helped to rescue dozens of people trapped in the South Tower before losing his own life.
"I'm a violinist and I organize a concert of remembrance of 9/11 every year at our church and it's a beautiful event. The concert is free of charge and professional musicians from the professional orchestras in New York City and the vicinity volunteer their time to play. They come and they play with us; it's very special.
"What we have tried to do is make good come from what happened. And Welles' story has really given us a vehicle to do that. It was a beautiful legacy that he left us. He rescued many lives that day and very courageously faced the horror of the Sky Lobby and the devastation of life there multiple times over to get people...off the Sky Lobby. That was a huge act of courage and selflessness.
"So we try to carry his story with the message that this is what Welles did, but it lies within each and every one of us to bring good into the world. Every day, multiple opportunities arise for each one of us to choose to do the right thing or the kind thing, the good thing, to help others. And that's the message that we try to take from this. We’re very blessed to be living creatures on this planet and we should use our time here not to wreak havoc, not to kill others, not to torture, not to ruin other people's lives but to work together toward making things beautiful on this planet. It's really all within our power, but it has to come from within."
"I can't think of anything else that would have been worse," says Barry Zelman (right) about losing his brother Kenneth (left) in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11.
'There's No Closure'
Barry Zelman lost his brother Kenneth in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. Kenneth was working in the offices of the insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan and was one of 358 company employees and consultants who died in the attacks. Since that day, Barry says has been looking for answers about how and why the attack happened – answers he says he and others who lost loved ones haven't yet received.
"[My brother Kenneth Zelman] was a consultant. He was on a project for Marsh & McLellan. His employer was Oracle Software, but he was doing contractual work for Marsh on the 99th floor of the North Tower, the first tower. He was 36.
"In the beginning, I was very strongly connected to families that were after [the] facts of what happened on that day, exactly what happened, and why we were so vulnerable. I kind of connected and stayed with that group of people. I've been sort of a quasi-activist in that sense, still having my ear to the wall, listening and trying to find out all that we can about protocols and the events prior to 9/11 and after 9/11.
"I don't know the reality of why [the Bush administration] classified stuff that should have not been classified, why they weren't transparent about the facts surrounding 9/11. I don't know why. I can speculate that they had some other interests that to this day I don't really understand, but I know there're so many things that we still don't have answers about. And I wish there was transparency and there never was.
"So when you talk about the facts surrounding 9/11, I think you have to be careful because you have the world looking at it, [the world] that wasn't involved, that looks at it [on TV and thinks], 'Terrorists did this.' And then you have the family members that are really saying, 'It doesn’t fit; things don't fit.' Why was there no military intervention [during the attacks] at all, with four planes going awry? We just never got satisfactory answers. Even the [9/11] Commission was even a lackluster kind of commission if you look at it from the standpoint of who was on it.
Barry Zelman: "Things Don't Fit"
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't shake my head and say, 'Is this real?' My only brother, he was very close to me. I can't think of anything that would have been worse in my life that would have happened, to be honest with you. If I brush it aside and say, 'I don't really need to know exactly what happened. It was something outside the realm of our capability to stop as a nation – There're no nuances. There's no accountability that I'm looking for' -- then I say, 'What does that say about my brother's life? It wasn't important to me enough to find out?'
"There's never any closure [after] the death of 3,000 people. There's no such thing. I think 10 years is too little, too late as far as [the death of Osama] bin Laden is concerned. I think it's a good thing that he was killed, as the political figurehead of Al-Qaeda, but is it a rejoiceful moment for me? No, it's not.
Barry Zelman: "I Live 9/11 Every Day"
"The attacks have changed this country. I'm humbled in a way that we memorialize it every year; it's such a big national event. There's such an outpouring of sorrow on that day. You went to work one day and you didn't come home. So I think a lot of people can feel what I went through in their head. It opens people's awareness to their vulnerability. And it's changed me, the way I view my life, the fragility of life.
Kenneth Zelman and his daughter Olivia
"And then on a broader level, it's done some bad things. It's created some paranoia. I don't agree with a lot of things that they have in the PATRIOT Act. I don't think that's to our advantage; [but] certain things are. It's a horrible thing to go through. I can watch my brother's murder anytime I want to watch it, and I do watch it, on video. I go back to the word 'closure.' There's no closure when someone just disappears and you don't know what he went through, how afraid he was, or the pain he suffered. There's no closure.
"A lot of times [the 9/11 anniversary events are] something that I question. A lot of speeches are given and comparisons to world events [are made], and political speakers use it as a platform. To me, it's about the loss of 3,000 lives, and that's all it will ever be on the anniversary. I live 9/11 every day and every morning I wake up and think about it, so it's really not an anniversary for me. I live it on a day-to-day level. I probably have some post-traumatic stress myself because I do have some symptoms of it. It's an ongoing thing for me; it doesn't subside. I learn to live with it throughout the years. I know my brother would not want my life to end; he would want me to be productive. But it's something I'll take to my grave – the memory of him, and asking, 'Why?'"