Fifteen years ago, two hijacked passenger airplanes brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department. A fourth plane crashed in a field in the state of Pennsylvania.
The areas where the September 11 attacks took place have been repaired and rebuilt, but the ground — and the lives of many Americans -- were forever changed.
The Pentagon is a large, five-sided building in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Reporter Jamie McIntyre was following the U.S. military for CNN television on September 11, 2001. He spoke with VOA near the place where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.
"You know, I always feel like this is sacred ground... I stood here on September 11…."
And McIntyre reported what he saw – smoke rising from the building. He reported information that, at the time, seemed hard to believe.
"Which would indicate that the entire plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon…"
The events of that day are now known as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.The attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists. Fifteen years later, McIntyre cannot forget that day. He calls it “a defining moment in your life.”
"And to see this building, which is such an iconic structure, and almost looks like a fortress, to see part of it just crumble down into rubble and realize the number of people who died in the building and on the plane, it was one of those days when you could feel the world changing."
In all, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon that day. One hundred twenty-five were in the building. Fifty-nine others were on the plane.
James Laychak’s world changed that day, too. He lost a brother. Now he is president of the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Fund. The fund was set up to raise money to build a memorial near the place where the plane came down.
"My brother Dave, my younger brother, was killed in the Pentagon on 9/11. I do this to honor my brother's memory and to honor all the people who died here so we never forget them and remind people about what happened that day...”
World Trade Center Towers Targeted
In New York City, the look of lower Manhattan changed when the two World Trade Center towers were brought down on 9-11.
Now, One World Trade Center stands close to where those twin towers once stood. The new structure is taller, and serves as an example of the city’s strength, and ability to come back from such a tragic event.
Alice Greenwald is director of New York’s 9/11 Memorial Museum. She says there is progress at “ground zero”— the name given to the area where the towers once stood. It is the place where almost 3,000 people lost their lives.
"You have magnificent new towers that are standing. You have tower three rising, you have the new transportation hub and you have this magnificent memorial in the center of it. So it is a place now of commemoration and of life..."
People who were there that day will never forget what happened.
Flora Mazzariello was a school teacher.
"There were people who were involved and working in that area and they came to school to pick up their kids, they were full of plaster."
Many New Yorkers who survived the attack can still agree on one thing: there is no place they would rather be.
A Field in Pennsylvania: They Fought Back
The fourth attack on 9/11 gets less attention than the ones in New York and the Pentagon.
The Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, remembers the 40 passengers and crew who died there. The huge 757 plane crashed into a grassy field, killing everyone on board.
Terrorists had taken control of the plane. It was decided later that they were on a suicide operation to Washington.
The passengers knew about the other attacks that had taken place a short time earlier. They understood what was probably going to happen to them, and decided to fight back.
The plane then crashed into the ground.
The U.S. National Park Service operates the national memorial in Shanksville. It has recordings of messages some passengers left on loved ones' voicemails.
“Tuesday, 9:47 a.m. Hi Baby. Baby, you have to listen to me carefully. I’m on a plane that’s been hijacked, I’m on the plane, I’m calling from the plane. I want to tell you I love you. Please tell my children that I love them very much..”
CeeCee Lyles was a flight attendant on the plane. She tells her husband three men had hijacked the plane and that she was trying to stay calm. Then, just before the plane crashed, she ends her heart-breaking message this way:
“I hope to be able to see your face again baby, I love you. Goodbye...”
At the Shanksville memorial, CeeCee Lyle’s name is on a wall in her memory, along with the other people who lost their lives in the Pennsylvania field on 9/11, 2001.
I’m Anne Ball.
Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English, with reports by VOA’s Carla Babb, Ramon Taylor and Julie Taboh. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
iconic – adj. widely known
fortress – n. a place that is protected from attack
crumble – v. to break something into small pieces, fall apart
rubble – n. broken pieces of stone, brick, etc. from walls that have fallen
skyline – n. the outline of buildings against the sky
twin – n. one of two exactly the same
magnificent – adj. very grand
commemoration – n. something that honors an important event or person in the past
plaster - n. a web substance that hardens when it becomes dry and that is used to make smooth surfaces