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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Remembering 9/11

Looking back on a national tragedy

Tucker Publishing Group Staff Writer Maggie Valenti lives in along the Ohio River now, but she hails from Connecticut. The product of a schoolteacher and investment banker, her family often worked in New York City and experienced firsthand the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Here, Maggie recounts the national tragedy 22 years ago from her perspective in a neighboring town.

“I was too young to remember, only a four-year-old from Fairfield County, Connecticut. I can’t count down the seconds, minutes, or hours of that day. I don’t know how terrifying it felt to know people you care about who were inside the Twin Towers while cable news aired the tragedy on repeat. So, those closest to me have told me their stories of what happened the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a child, I liked to roll down the short hill during preschool at New Canaan Nature Center in New Canaan, Connecticut, with my classmates, friends, and little sister, Callie. My knees always hurt afterward, but I could not seem to get enough of that slope. I remember school ended early that day, and my stern Aunt Sue came to pick us up. Every time I recall 9/11, I think about that hill and the strained look on my aunt’s face.

From his office with Van der Moolen Specialists across from the New York Stock Exchange, close to the World Trade Center, my grandfather watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center’s South Tower at 9:03 a.m. Eastern. My dad was playing golf in New Jersey, and at the end of his round, he heard the news and immediately headed home. My mom was at work in Armonk, New York, close to my hometown — an hour’s train ride into Grand Central Terminal.

The first of our concerns after getting home was locating my grandfather. No one was sure if the towers fell straight down or on top of any other buildings. Phone lines were down or jammed from an influx of calls, and no one was able to contact him for hours. He and four friends paid a man in a pickup truck $1,000 each to get a ride out of the city, and at the end of the day, he called every single one of his employees to make sure they had gotten home safe.

My mom’s best friend, Jessica, ended up stuck in the city. She had helped train the New York Police Department’s horses and ended up commuting via horseback to the condo she shared with her husband – a doctor called in to handle the emergency – and two daughters.

Another story from my family recalls a husband, Joe, telling his then-pregnant wife, Marni, to stay in the South Tower, for fear of falling debris from the North Tower, which was the first hit at 8:46 a.m. She did not make it out. My parents ended up attending five funerals of friends or former co-workers lost on Sept. 11.

In the aftermath, Grandpa worked the floor of the NYSE, asking for donations to the NYPD’s and New York Fire Department’s orphans and widows fund, which, given both departments’ heavy casualties, was completely depleted. They raised enough to replenish those funds, and in recognition of his efforts, he was given a cross made from melted steel from the Twin Towers. This family heirloom, I’ve promised my parents, I will never lose.

Unlike many of my peers, I did not spend my days immediately after the tragedy watching footage of the attack’s aftermath. Mom and Dad kept the TVs off, knowing people they knew were likely dead and not wanting my sister and me exposed to the tragedy.

Later on, I learned of classmates at King School in Stamford, Connecticut, whose parents and relatives were lost. My junior prom date, Mark, lost his father, a Merrill Lynch employee, that day, too.

Recalling these stories, and writing about them, fills me with grief, even anger sometimes.

My mom always says there were people she wishes I got to know. I’ve never been to the memorial, though I frequented Manhattan before my move to Evansville in 2022. I hope to go one day and place flowers by the names of people our family knew.

Until then, the only thing I can do is try to, in my heart, memorialize those I never got to know and the 2,977 total people who lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, their families, those who were injured and survived, and the rescue personnel who to this day feel the effects of what happened at Ground Zero.”

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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