Remembering 9/11 after twenty years

Mackenzie Bookamer, News Editor

9/11 memorial in charlotte
9/11 memorial in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Teresa Bookamer)

8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. A date and time that would come to affect the lives of thousands of people. A date and time that changed American society.

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Casualties occurred in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Lives lost included first responders, Pentagon officials, bankers, mothers, fathers, children and spouses.

Fifty thousand people were working in the World Trade Center the day of 9/11, with both the north and south towers containing 110 floors. Working on the 60th floor of the south tower was a salesman for one of the larger financial institutions in the tower. He recalled that prior to the attacks, the day was quiet, nothing out of the ordinary. The day had just began and people were still making their way into work. That salesman was my father, Rick Bookamer.

Rick Bookamer stands in front of a 9/11 memorial in Charlotte. (Teresa Bookamer)

Growing up, I never heard much about the 9/11 attacks. Not until much later in my life, did I know my father was involved in that day. It was never a heavily discussed topic in my house past the annual remembrance specials and extra hugs on Sept. 11. The older I got, the more I realized the extent of 9/11’s devastation. I became even more grateful that my father was one of the lucky ones to make it out alive. I have heard snippets of his memories of 9/11 but never the full story. On the 20th anniversary, I wanted to learn more about what he really experienced: an eyewitness account.

“My first thoughts were that it was some type of explosion in the other building, and without knowing what it was we all decided pretty quickly to leave just to be safe,” Bookamer said. “It didn’t even enter my mind that it could have been a plane, which, had I known, I may not have evacuated so quickly since I would have never thought two planes would hit the same area on the same day.”

When the attacks first occurred, my dad had no idea of their severity.

“I didn’t know what had happened until after I had evacuated my floor.  We were on the north side of 2 WTC so we saw the after effects of the first impact and chose to leave pretty quickly since nobody knew what was happening,” Bookamer said.

My dad was one of the fortunate to make it out of the twin towers alive. He said his family motivated him to leave, and with my mom being five months pregnant with me, he wanted to be there for the both of us. Along with people on his floor, my dad evacuated safely.

“We took the stairs down. I was about halfway down when my building was hit, and even not knowing what had happened or what was going to happen, the majority of the people there with me remained calm, and we worked our way down in a pretty orderly fashion,” Bookamer said.

People may sign these replicas of WTC as part of a memorial. (Teresa Bookamer)

Like many others, my dad was in shock that such a destructive act could happen on American soil. He knew terrorist attacks like these happened around the world but did not think it was possible it could happen in the United States.

Life in New York did not stop for these attacks, as my dad went back to work the very next day on Sept. 12.

“They set us up in another office temporarily until we found permanent space. The financial markets were closed for a few days so it was fairly quiet at first,” Bookamer said. “I spent some of that time getting in touch with some of my contacts and preparing for when things opened up again.”

The temporary office was located in Midtown, away from the financial district where the World Trade Center once stood. My dad recalled seeing smoke for days after the attacks on his daily train ride into the city. My father continued to work in the financial industry after 9/11, working in New York City until 2004 when we relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Reflecting on how the 9/11 attacks have impacted his life 20 years later, my dad shares that he chooses not to dwell on the experience and rarely talks about it when presented with the opportunity.

“To be honest it was something terrible that happened, and I was one of the fortunate ones that made it out, but I don’t spend too much time reflecting on it. I am sure it has had some impact on me but I don’t dwell on it or attempt to understand how it may have changed me,” Bookamer said. “It is not something that I go back to that often or fit into things I may be feeling now.”

My dad and I stand in front of the 9/11 memorial in Charlotte.

My dad did not keep in contact with any of his coworkers in the south tower, and he has only met one person in the last 20 years that was also in that building that day in 2001.

Twenty years after 9/11, there has been much reform to the American security systems. Former President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into office in November 2001, increasing the security in airports.

Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that will be etched in American history for centuries to come, as thousands of innocent lives were lost at the hands of a massive terrorist strike. My dad is my 9/11 hero, and I am so thankful he has the ability to tell his story to me 20 years later. May we never forget the lives lost on such a tragic day in American history.

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