It was 20 Years Ago Today — What Do You Remember?

Jim LaBate
4 min readSep 10, 2021
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A new academic year had just begun. After 10 years as a high-school teacher and after another decade as a technical writer, I was in my second year as a writing specialist at a community college in upstate New York. My desk stood in the midst of a large, open room on the lower level of the library, a place we called the Learning Assistance Center. I remember the day was bright and warm, and the early morning sun streamed through the windows that lined the southern wall. Since it was still early in the semester, we were not yet crazy busy, and I was standing in the kitchen nook near the rear stairway when the day’s atmosphere changed completely.

As I munched on a homemade chocolate-chip cookie, one of my co-workers mentioned a radio report that indicated a plane had flown into one of the towers at the World Trade Center. That’s unfortunate, I thought as I visualized the wing of a small Piper Cub clipping the corner of the building. I hope the pilot and the passenger are okay. I could never have imagined what I was about to see on the television screen that another fellow teacher wheeled into our Center.

Then before me, I saw video footage of an American Airlines plane crash directly into the North Tower. Like all Americans that day when they viewed this footage, I was stunned and speechless, a wordsmith completely without words to describe what I was feeling.

When I finally gathered my thoughts somewhat, I realized I had to call Barbara immediately. She was at home, having just watched our two daughters board their school bus for their tenth- and eighth-grades classes. “Hi, Sweets,” I choked out nervously. “I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but there’s been a big accident in New York City. You should probably turn on the TV.”

I had used the word “accident” because at the time, I had no idea of what had really occurred, and I couldn’t even imagine a terrorist attack on our shores, just three hours to the south. Yes, I knew that the Japanese had once attacked Pearl Harbor, but that was 60 years earlier, ancient history as far as I was concerned, and, surely, it couldn’t happen again.

Barbara and I shared a quiet prayer over the phone before I hung up, knowing that I had to be present for my students. By then, most of the students in the…

Jim LaBate

Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.