Darkest Day in American History

by Sarah Masih

Imagine being in New York on September 11th, 2001, the darkest day in American history. It was a day of terror, grief, and darkness. What used to be the proud skyline of Manhattan, was now hidden by gray clouds of smoke. Screams and cries echoed around New York City.

On September 11, 2001, an Islamic extremist group named Al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks in numerous areas in the United States.

Two passenger planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day.


At 8:45 AM, an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

9:02 AM: A second Boeing 767 United Airlines Flight 175 sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.

9:45 AM: The third American Airlines flight 77 circled over Washington, D.C before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters.

10:07 AM: The fourth plane crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. All the passengers aboard were killed.

10:28 AM: The World Trade Center’s North Tower collapses, 102 minutes after being hit by Flight 11.

11 AM: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani evacuates lower Manhattan, including more than 1 million workers and tourists. Firefighters spent the fateful afternoon searching for survivors in the midst of the World Trade Center’s rubble.

Imagine the condition of schools in that area. Imagine feeling the terror that those children must have felt. No phone signal. No assurance that their parents were okay, or even alive. News channels were flooded with scary headlines and frightening images.

Only six out of the many people inside the World Trade Center survived. Almost 11000 others were severely injured.

At 1 PM, President George Bush announced that U.S military forces are on high alert worldwide.

2:51 PM: The U.S Navy dispatched missile destroyers to New York and Washington, D.C.

5:20 PM: The 47 story World Trade Center, the last of the Twin Towers to fall, collapses after burning for hours.

8:30 PM: President Bush addresses the nation, calling the attacks “evil, despicable acts of terror” and declaring that America, its friends, and allies would “stand together to win the war against terrorism.”

The Pentagon Attack

The attack on the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S Department of Defense, led to a structural collapse of a portion of the building.

125 military personnel and civilians died in the Pentagon along with 64 people aboard the plane.

While all the losses on that day were devastating, structural damage analysis revealed that the death toll at the Pentagon could have been far worse if not for some critical engineering decisions made 60 years earlier. The construction started, coincidentally, on September 11th, 1941.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers built the Pentagon with excess strength because they thought that it would be needed to store heavy supplies. Though the Pentagon never became a storage house, the excess strength did end up saving potentially thousands of lives on 9/11.

Pennsylvania Crash

The fourth plane was hijacked about 40 minutes after it left Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. The passengers inside were well aware of the events going on in New York and Washington. They knew they weren’t going to return to an airport after the plane had taken off.

One passenger named Thomas Burnett Jr. called his wife to say ‘I love you’ and ‘Goodbye’. An air hostess named Sandy Bradshaw called her husband. Her last recorded words were: “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye”

Several other passengers made their final phone calls to their loved ones.

Then the passengers attacked the four hijackers. They snuck into the cockpit with fire extinguishers. The plane flipped over and crashed in a rural field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The 44 passengers aboard were all killed but they protected hundreds of other lives. The intended target was unknown but theories say that the target could’ve been the White House, the Camp David presidential retreat, or a nuclear power plant along the eastern coast.

The American Come-back

President George Bush was in Florida at the time of the attack. He was shuttled around the country due to security reasons and returned to the White House at 7 PM.

At 9 PM, he gave a speech from the Oval Office, declaring that in this time the nation must remain as united as ever.

Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, began on October 7.

Within two months, U.S. forces had effectively removed the Taliban from operational power but the war continued as coalition forces attempted to thwart a Taliban insurgency campaign based in neighboring Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks, remained hidden until May 2nd, 2011, when he was finally tracked down and killed by U.S forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In June 2011, President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

In the wake of security fears raised by 9/11 and the mailing of letters containing anthrax that killed 2 and infected 17, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was signed into law by President George Bush.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for preventing terror attacks, for ensuring border security, immigration, custom, and disaster relief.

Economic Impact

This attack shook the American economy to its core. Many Wall Street institutions were evacuated during the attacks. On the first day of trading after the attacks, the market fell 7.1%.

New York City lost more than 143,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in wages in the first three months after the attack. The heaviest jobs were lost in the financial and air transportation industries (roughly 60% of the jobs lost). 60 billion U.S dollars worth of damage was done to the World Trade Center. 750 million dollars were spent to clean up the debris at the site.

From 2001 to 2004, over 7 billion dollars were donated to families of the 9/11 victims. The same funds were also used to pay for the bills of the injured.

A Day to Remember

December 18th, 2001: Congress approves for naming September 11th as Patriot Day to always remember the anniversary of the darkest day in American history.

January 14, 2004: The design for a permanent 9/11 memorial, created by Michael Arad, “Reflective Absence,” was chosen. It stars two reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood.

9/11’s first memorial was marked around the world. In the U.K., Queen Elizabeth sang the American National Anthem at Buckingham Palace.

Rio de Janeiro put up billboards showing Christ the Redeemer statue hugging the New York City skyline.

September 11th, 2002: Two bright columns of lights were shot through the ground where the twin towers once stood. The “Tribute in Light” became an annual event run by the Municipal Art Society of New York. On a clear night, the lights can be seen from over 60 miles away.

The names of all 2,893 victims were engraved on bronze panels which were arranged around the locations where individuals were on the day of the attack.

The 9/11 attacks were the most terrifying and horrible incidents in American history. They changed many things in American culture. American residents lost the sense of safety that they once felt.


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