9/11 Experiences Across Different Generations

Aaron Becker, Reporter

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Sarah Vartabedian still recalls the first time she was at the airport shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the bright sunny day at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. She, along with her father Bob and her brother Rob, immediately noticed the more intense security checks. Also, she recalled the extra security TSA afforded her family and the uneasy glances of others boarding the plane for the east coast. As frustrating as her teenage years had been up to this point, she was not prepared for the obstacles of the future.

Born of Lebanese heritage into a diverse culture in Wichita, Kansas, she embraced the all-American lifestyle of her youth and young adulthood, but as a teenager, she was readily accepted and made friends fairly easily. Upon graduating high school near the top of her class, she was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Connie McKee’s memory of the horrific attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 recalls vivid images of the terrible lynchings, fire bombs, beatings, sit-ins, and marches of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the terrible conditions facing soldiers in the jungles of the Vietnam War and the abuse they faced when they returned home during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Growing up in the segregated south, during this time violence was nothing new in Connie’s young life, however, she never lost hope that with time these heinous wounds would heal, black and white communities would be reconciled, and a lasting peace would be possible. McKee graduated high school and earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Arts degree from West Texas A&M University. She began a teaching career at Amarillo High School, where she assisted the current events team. After the Gulf War and the 1993 garage car bombing of the World Trade Center, the American populace was still not overly concerned about reports of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, until the morning of September 11, 2001.

To Bradley Pennartz, growing up on a farm in Herald, Texas, time seemed to move a little slower in his corner of the world. Although, he grew up on a farm, he never actually felt like a farmer because his father and older brother, Anthony, shared the responsibility of waking up at dawn each day to attend to the daily farm duties. Born in 1993 in a relatively unpopulated area, Bradley had never witnessed any kind of violence, other than when he and a friend would sneak mature rated video games home to play, during this easygoing lifestyle of growing up.

The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, one of the darkest days in American history, began peacefully for Sarah Vartabedian. Approximately 6:45 a.m., she woke to her normal routine: pour a cup of coffee, eat a slice of leftover pizza, take a shower, fix her hair, put some make-up on, dress for the day, quickly go over notes class because there would probably be a pop quiz, and then leave for. On her commute she began to notice the strange behavior of her fellow students. Then a close friend, Amber, excitedly approached her, and with a terrorized expression on her face, “were under attack”. Dumbfounded, Sarah thought “could we really be under attack?” They joined the horrified crowd watching with rapt attention as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center and later as both towers collapsed. concerned that people might view her differently because of her ethnicity, Amber quickly assured Sarah of their continued friendship and acceptance, easing Sarah’s fears and helping her to realize that she could still continue her American lifestyle.

Just as McKee was beginning her speech class freshmen and sophomores, she received a phone call from her sister-in-law alerting McKee to the events on 9/11. At this point she thought it might be similar to the first attempt on the World Trade Center nearly a decade before, so she was and was not too concerned until she, along with her students, began watching the live coverage on television. By this time, McKee realized she must remain calm and composed for the students’ sake. Although some teachers lacked this incentive allowing their students to become hysterical. Later, the principal requested the TV’s be turned off when rumors began to circulate that the Nuclear Pantex facility might be a potential target. As McKee watched all this unfold, it began to bring back the memories of the cruelty of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War era, and it was then that she realized this was simply just the next chapter in American history.

On the morning of 9/11 Bradley followed his usual routine; his mother dropped him off at school at 7:00 in the morning because she needed to be at work at 7:30, and to fill the time between being dropped off and class starting, Bradley found solace playing his Gameboy, using borrowed earphones from his brother without permission. When classes began he first noticed teachers talking in what seemed to be a state of panic and shock. He then began listening to what fellow students were saying. Kimberly claimed a bank robbery had happened, Jackson said an asteroid must have hit earth, plus dozens of other random tall tales. Finally, Mrs. Goodson began class and she informed the uneasy students there would be a reading day. This annoyed Bradley immensely because of his foul taste for reading. Doing as instructed, however, he soon curiously noticed teachers he did not recognize come and go after whispering something in Mrs. Goodson’s ear. He realized soon she was upset, as a result, he completely lost focus on his book. Repeatedly, Mrs. Goodson would leave the room unattended for several minutes which was an

anomaly for the veteran teacher. He soon began to worry about his family. At lunch time, the principal, Mr. Mayes, announced on the loudspeaker that school was to be dismissed and students were to report to the cafeteria where parents would pick them up. This put the students in a joyous frenzy. When his father finally arrived, Bradley noticed immediately that he was as silent as a ghost. As they were in the car he told him that although he was too young to understand now, this day would forever change his life. It was several years later before Bradley fully understood the magnitude of his fathers’ words, and it was then that he fully understood the attacks on 9/11 and the changes they wrought.

9/11 was a dark day in not only American history but human history as well. For adults, 9/11 was a profound blow to the American people that forced them to realize they were not invincible and that they could indeed be attacked on their own soil if given the opportunity. For most children it may have taken a little longer to grasp the situation, but once children understood what had happened it was a realization that this one day would alter society. For people living in America who were of Middle Eastern descent, it was realized that they were going to be under a more watchful eye by those who were unfamiliar to them.

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9/11 Experiences Across Different Generations