This Sunday marks 10 years since the day Americans have come to know as 9/11, a day we all know too well. Not only were New Yorkers affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, Virginians, too, experienced a bitter taste of the aftershock when the Pentagon was struck that day as well.
Now that these 10 years have passed, two Chester residents – transplanted New Yorkers – take a look back on what happened that day, sharing with our community insights we would have never found on televised accounts.
Jillian Charter, a resident of Chester for seven years, recalls how the news struck New York City. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Charter worked in uptown Manhattan when the attacks occurred, where the company she was worked with for over 20 years, Phillip Morris, once had a major office site.
Each morning, Charter habitually called her mother when she would arrive at work. It was during the morning phone conversation with her mother when she first got the news that the “twins” were struck by a flying plane.
“She said, ‘Jillian, hold on. Something just hit the twins.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about, something hit the twins?’ Because that’s what we called them,” Charter said. “They were not just buildings to us; they were people. My mom saw those buildings go up. She used to go outside at lunch to watch them build it.”
As the antennas on the building generated communication all over the city, she recalls, the phone call went.
Charter herself had visited the Twin Towers numerous times in her life but only made it up to a little more than the 100th floor because, she said, her ears would pop. Nonetheless, she remembers the buildings representing something sacred for New York City. “It was a world by itself,” she said.
She remembers the days to come to be sheer devastation, and doesn’t want to revisit many of the memories she experienced. According to Charter, it didn’t just affect people in the business sections of lower Manhattan; it disrupted the normal patterns for the entire city, including the five boroughs which comprise New York City. Like when Hurricane Irene struck, the city basically shut down. The subways system shut down and people were in panic, she said.
“It made a lot of people stop for a minute. It made them stop a whole lot. It made them stop and think: I’m a little too full of myself. Let me slow it down.”
But in these many days afterward, she still smiles when remembers the unity she saw in people all over the city. American flags were sold on every corner, and some people were even giving them away.
In the aftermath of it all, she said it was an opportunity to demonstrate the resilience of the American people.
“We bounced back … but it was bad for a long, long time,” she said. “There was unity. People were proud that we survived, and it meant that those who attacked us didn’t win. They didn’t win, they didn’t break our spirits. They broke a lot of people’s hearts, but our spirit is still there, and it has to be because the people who died would be angry that we stayed depressed because that would make it seem like they won – but they didn’t.”
Joe Karakasians, a Chester resident for six years now, is also a former New Yorker. Born in Queens, New York, Karakasians, moved to Long Island, New York, when he was 12 years old – which is east of Manhattan where the attacks occurred.
Working nights at that time, he discovered what had happened not long after his wife had put their children on the bus for school. However, the hardest part for him that day, he said, was going to work after the second plane hit the twins because he knew something wasn’t right, that something was terribly wrong.
A custodian at Ecoff Elementary, he, like Charter, recalls the widespread “feeling of togetherness” days after the attacks.
“It was devastating, but I’ve never in my life seen people – particularly New Yorkers – just get together like that,” he said. “Everybody was kind of just together after it was over, after the anger dissipated.
“Church attendance was swelling up over the country, and New York is not really known for that, but church attendance was swelling up there too … New Yorkers, and Americans in general, can and will come together in a time of need like that, and thank God they do.”
Ten years later, Karakasians prays for those who lost people in the attacks.
“After it was over, everybody came together and there were American flags everywhere. I can’t explain it; there was just this feeling of total unity, that we’re going to win, and no matter what it takes, we’re not to be hiding in our basements,” he said. “We’re going to live our lives no matter what. We win, they lose – there’s no other option. I guess you could say horror turned to anger; anger just turned to determination that we were not going to lose.”