NEW YORK CITY — Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world forever. For most Americans, it’s a day to reflect on a terrible tragedy that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. For those who were inside the twin towers, it’s a day they’d rather forget.
“I was in my living room in Minden, Nevada,” said Roy Hutchings, from Baker City, Oregon, “I couldn’t believe my eyes, just like everybody else in America that day."
“I was living and working in Washington D.C. It was really a weird morning, the blue sky and chilly,” said Dot Hoffman, who lives in San Francisco.
“My son was four years old and I was taking him to childcare,” said Tina Demarco from Cincinatti, “I get in the car and turn on the radio and instantly I hear that the airplanes crashed into the towers.”
“Probably took me 45 minutes, maybe an hour to actually draw in that this wasn’t Orson Wells and ‘The War of the Worlds’, it was actually a true event that was unfolding 3,000 miles away,” said Hutchings.
Just about every American remembers where they were on 9/11.
“I worked for C&L commodities. We worked in 4 World Trade Center and I was coming out of the elevator when the first plane hit,” said Paul Leale.
His office was on the seventh floor of the World Trade Center. He was able to escape using the stairs.
“While we were standing there, we saw papers coming out, then some bigger objects coming out. Then we realized it was bodies jumping out of the building and we heard it on the other side of one of the trade centers just hitting, pounding,” he remembers, “A buddy of mine that worked in the commodity exchange with us stopped in a convenience store to get a water and picked up just a throwaway camera. Just started snapping pictures of everything.”
20 years later, that day remains a vivid, painful memory.
“I still haven’t been down there to this day,” Leale said.
“I keep thinking about going down there to see the new freedom tower, see everything they’ve done, but I don’t want to go down,” he added.
While Leale did not make the trip to the memorial for the 20-year ceremony, tens of thousands of Americans did.
Hutchings was one of them. The terror attack inspired him to serve his country.
“I went back into the Marine Corps. again and I went overseas,” Hutchings said, “As soon as I found out about it, I put my name in the hat and I went back overseas again.”
The memorial holds a special place in the heart of Hoffman, too.
She lives in California now but traveled to New York to visit the Freedom Tower this week.
“I always come when we come to New York, we come down to say hi because I do feel like this is where he is,” said Hoffman.
"He" is her brother Stephen, one of the 2,977 lives taken that day.
“He was just a force to be reckoned with," she said.
Hoffman says she misses her brother every day.
"I miss our family the way it was before he was gone, I still miss the family he left," she said.
Leale understands the grief felt by people who lost someone. He values the time he gets to spend with his family and loved ones.
“I would never have seen my kids graduate. Grammar school, middle school, high school, college. You know, I got to see all that,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get to see my daughter get married, my son get married, all that wouldn’t have happened. They would have had their whole life without me if it had worked out differently.”