Local residents shared a mix of emotions and recollections Wednesday as they looked back on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The date still evokes vivid memories for many of seeing the news unfold on television and of events that some say led them to try to make a positive difference in their community as the country grappled with 9/11.
“I don’t think it’s something you would ever be able to forget,” said Loretta Lunsford, a 59-year-old resident of Bristol, Tennessee. She said she remembers watching the Today Show on NBC and feeling shocked when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s north tower in New York City. When the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, flew into the south tower, Lunsford said she knew the first plane crash wasn’t an accident.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Most people learned of the attacks over television and radio — smartphones and social media weren’t key sources of information at the time.
Anthony Lundin, 54, of Sullivan County, said he was on his way to work on the day of the attacks when he first heard of a plane hitting the World Trade Center through a radio report. He didn’t have access to the news while at work and initially figured it was an accident involving a private plane. He didn’t learn the full extent of the events until later that day.
Laura Dobbs was 18 at the time of 9/11 and enrolled in a beauty school in downtown Kingsport. She said there wasn’t a television in the shop where she cut people’s hair, so she heard the first reports over the radio and saw the images for herself on the TV news that night.
“The videos were on repeat all evening — probably for the whole rest of the week,” said Dobbs, who is now 36 and lives in Kingsport.
While working at a blood bank in 2001, Donna Fuller Dillard said she saw one way the community responded to the attacks.
“We watched in shock as the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon burned,” she wrote in a comment on the Bristol Herald Courier’s Facebook page. “Then we saw the local community respond with an influx of blood donors that lasted for days. People contributing in the only way that they knew how in the aftermath of the attacks.”
People still commemorate 9/11 with blood drives intended to honor the attacks’ victims and save lives in the future. Marsh Regional Blood Center organized its 14th annual Patriot Day Blood Drive on Wednesday and set up mobile units outside of the Bristol Motor Speedway.
“In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, people turned out in droves to give blood — they knew it was one thing they could do right then that would help,” Don Campbell, director of Marsh Regional, said in a news release about the drive. “In honor of that selflessness, we’ve held the Patriot Day Blood Drive for 14 years, so people in our region can once again honor that day, give blood and save lives.”
Wednesday was an “emotional day,” said Connie Denton, a donor service recruiter at Marsh.
Denton said she was supposed to be on a plane to Washington, D.C., on 9/11 for a conference, but had a last minute change of plans, and she didn’t take the flight. She said she wonders if she would have been on the plane that struck the Pentagon if she had ended up going to the conference.
“A lot of our younger kids don’t remember what happened,” she said, sitting under the shade of a tent outside the mobile blood donation units on Wednesday.
That generational divide was on the mind of Lundin, of Sullivan County, who stopped to donate blood Wednesday. Some of the U.S. troops currently deployed to the War in Afghanistan — a conflict that started in the wake of 9/11 — may not be old enough to even remember the attacks, Lundin said.
“It’s kind of sobering to think about,” he said.