I was at work with American Airlines at O'Hare airport the morning of 9/11/2001. I was originally off that day and had planned to take my Mom to Boston on a day trip to celebrate her birthday. But, the flights filled up and there was no way we were going to get there flying standby, so we scratched the plan. My coworker needed the day off, so I offered to work for her since it was early morning part-time hours.
It was a beautiful, clear morning and the Anchorage flight I was working had boarded and was ready to take off. We saw a crowd around the television monitors and went to see what was going on. Initially, our supervisor came up and said that the World Trade Center had been bombed and to wait for further information. That's when the second plane hit. That's when we learned that several planes had been hijacked, including our own. I remember feeling disbelief, as if it really wasn't happening and that the information was a mistake. But, looking at the television monitors and seeing the World Trade Center up in flames made it very real.
I can't remember much immediately after we learned that. I recall the chaos throughout the airport as thousands of people scrambled to get out. I was on the phone with my Mom and she was sobbing, begging me to get out of there and come home. But, I couldn't. Security had closed the gates and I couldn't get through to go to the employee lot. My boyfriend (now husband) couldn't pick me up in front because they had stopped all vehicle traffic from entering the airport. I was stuck and panicking. I can't remember how much time passed before security was cleared to allow employees through. I do know it was after all planes had been grounded. The bus ride to the employee lot was quiet; the air full of shock, disbelief, and grief. Little did we know that we were right in the middle of tragic history in the making.
I had to work the days following the attacks, even though the entire airport was a ghost town. The silence was eerie, but inside and in the air. All bag belts were stopped and all of us agents took a seat on them - reading books, playing cards, chatting with one another while passing the the time.
A couple of years ago a (former) friend from Spain had posted on Facebook that Americans needed to "get over it". If any of y'all know me, then you'd know that I blasted her (and she unfriended me shortly thereafter). We will not forget. I told her that working with the airlines, we all became one family. We lost our fellow employees that day. My neighbor, who was a flight attendant for United, lost her friend and former roommate who was working on United flight 175. It rocked our nation to its core and changed our way of life completely.
When the airport reopened and the lines were a mile long, I met so many people who were on their way to New York to search for their loved ones who were missing. I looked into the eyes of these people who seemed to be in a daze of grief. Every year I think about this one woman who said with anguish, "I'm going to look for my son. He worked in the World Trade Center and I can't get a hold of him. I'm almost certain that he's dead." I cried with her, hugged her, and told her I would pray for him. I wonder if she ever did find her son and I still get choked up thinking about it.
So, no, we will not forget. We will remember for as long as we're alive.