Jim Humphrey, associate dean of students and director of veteran services, reflects on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, nearly 200 student veterans attend Lipscomb University, many of whom are enrolled because of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the university’s Yellow Ribbon Program.
Below is a recounting of the day’s events by Humphrey.
We take this moment to pause and remember the victims, their families, and those heroes who rose to the occasion during one of our country's darkest moments. 12 years ago today, on a beautiful morning much like this, 19 men armed with small knives boarded four commercial planes destroying the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people during a series of brutal terrorist attacks on our nation.
These attacks were not conducted by a rival nation seeking to extend the borders of its empire, or in an effort to capture vital resources, for economic gain or merely to demonstrate the influence of its power. No, this was an attack from an entity unlike any our nation has ever experienced. Within the space of an hour, al Qaeda-sponsored terrorists inflicted more direct damage on the United States than any communist country during the 46 years of the Cold War.
The first of the four airplanes that would soon be hijacked on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, began taking off at 7:59 a.m. EST. The first attack occurred at 8:46 a.m. EST when Flight 11 with 92 people on board hit the north tower of New York's World Trade Center.
The second attack happened at 9:03 a.m. EST, when Flight 175 with 65 people on board hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. By this time thousands of viewers had tuned in to live news reports just in time to see the plane collide with the tower.
The last communication with air traffic control was made at 8:42 a.m., as several passengers were able to provide details of the flight by contacting their families by phone.
President George W. Bush learned of the attacks at 9:05 a.m. EST while sitting in a second grade classroom at an elementary school in Sarasota, Fla. Then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him of the attacks, whispering into his ear during the students' reading lesson.
Bush shared his memories of that day with National Geographic. When he received news of the first plane crash at 8:50 a.m. EST, just before entering the classroom, he thought it was “a light aircraft, and my reaction was, the weather was bad or something extraordinary happened to the pilot. It wasn't until his Chief of Staff informed him of the second plane that Bush knew America was under attack.
At 9:31 a.m. EST, in an address from Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., Bush called the attacks “a national tragedy” and “an apparent terrorist attack on our country.”
“I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act,” Bush said.
At 9:36 a.m. EST, Secret Service agents evacuated Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides from his office to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, in a bunker beneath the White House. Within a minute, Flight 77, carrying 64 people, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, killing 125 military and federal employees.
A few minutes later, air traffic controllers at Dulles International Airport observed a plane on their radar traveling at “a high rate of speed.” Officials from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport warned the Secret Service of the aircraft shortly before Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
At 9:45 a.m. EST the White House and U.S. Capitol were evacuated.
After burning for 56 minutes, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 9:59 a.m. EST The fall, which killed approximately 600 workers and first responders, lasted 10 seconds.
The fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, with 44 people on board crashed at 10:03 a.m. in a field in Shanksville, Pa.
The 9/11 Commission Report stated several passengers made calls from the plane and received word of the other hijackings. After hearing the news that major cities were being targeted, the passengers decided to take action. At 9:57 a.m. EST, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had ceased phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. It’s believed by investigators, that the intended target of this plane was the White House.
At 10:28 a.m. EST, after burning for 102 minutes, the north tower of New York's World Trade Center collapsed, killing approximately 1,400 people. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani ordered an evacuation of lower Manhattan at 11:02 a.m., alerting everyone south of Canal Street to get out.
At 1:04 p.m., after all American air space had been cleared, Bush addressed the nation from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, informing citizens that the U.S. military "at home and around the world is on high alert status."
"Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts," Bush said.
President Bush gave his final address of the day from the White House at 8:30 p.m.
From the Oval Office, the president informed Americans that he had implemented federal emergency response plans, noting emergency teams and the military were already at work:
“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts,” he said. “The victims were in airplanes or in their offices — secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.”
“The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people have been moved to defend a great nation.”
“Our nation and way of life was forever changed on that day and we have been a nation at war the past 11 years. Almost 8,000 of our nation’s sons and daughters have been lost since September 11, 2001 in defense of the nation and ensuring this form of tragedy does not occur again on our soil.”
Please join me today in remembering the thousands of men and women who lost their lives on that tragic day.