On September 11, 2001, an entire nation slowed to a somber halt as all eyes turned to its largest city. Eighteen years ago, every citizen stopped their routine and watched in utter disbelief; the United States of America was under attack.
President John Pistole remembers the day in great detail.
“I was with the FBI in the senior executive service on the inspection division,” he recalled. “I was in upstate New York, and I had just interviewed some people in the local TV and radio station.”
Although the day seemed normal, Pistole quickly realized that the opposite was true.
“I was getting ready to leave the TV station and they said there was some report about a small plane hitting the Twin Towers,” Pistole said. “I used to work in New York City about eight blocks from the World Trade Center with the FBI, so I thought it was all very strange.”
For Pistole, this event would change his career, and his life, forever.
“When I saw the tower collapse, I just thought ‘this changes everything,’” he said. “What I didn’t have any appreciation of was how it would change my life. Within six months, I was assigned to the counterterrorism division as a deputy assistant director, and it completely changed my career.”
To Pistole, this day came as a wake-up call, not only for himself, but for all of America.
“It was the day that we as a nation realized that there were people out there who hated us so badly for what we stood for that they were willing to attack us,” he explained. “The depth of hatred there was really changed the psyche of the American public.”
Pistole explained that remembering the events of 9/11 is vital to the betterment of our country.
“As Christ-followers, it is a good reminder for us to look to God for wisdom and discernment,” Pistole said. “This is a day we cannot ever forget.”
For Dr. Michael Frank, professor of political science, this horrific day in American history took place just three weeks after he began teaching at AU.
“I had a class that morning,” recalled Frank. “When the class started, I didn’t know anything had happened at that point. It was just a normal day. After my class got done, I came out into the hallway, and there was just a really weird feeling.”
According to Frank, that weird feeling spread across campus, morphing into disbelief as news networks brought confirmation to the rumors.
“We always talk about seeing things and not believing them,” he said. “You know, this was one of those times when that was really true. It’s impossible to capture in words this feeling of ‘I can’t believe what I’m witnessing’ that everyone was feeling; it was almost an out-of-body experience.”
To Frank, no other feeling compares to the one that was experienced by onlooking Americans that day.
“It was just such a different category of event—one we had never seen before,” he recalled. “It was something so different that we were not really certain what to do or even how to react.”
Frank recalled that many students, faculty and staff gathered around a cluster of televisions that had been formed, each television tuned to a different station.
Dr. Brian Dirck, professor of history, recalls this scene vividly.
“I remember this was back when they had media carts, before they had projectors in classrooms,” Dirck said. “Everyone was just really wanting information; that’s what I remember about AU. Students and faculty gathered all the media carts that they could get out of the media center and they lined them in a half circle down at the bottom of Decker.”
According to Dirck, what seemed like hundreds congregated in order to understand what was happening.
“What I remember most of the day is that people were down there in the bottom of Decker, and it was like half of the university was crowded down there,” he said. “They had CNN, NBC and ABC, and all the major news networks, and we were all just watching all the news. People just wanted information.”
Similarly to Frank, Dirck recalls the complete disbelief surrounding the day.
“The idea of a terrorist attack on the US sounded like a plot to a movie, not reality,” Dirck said. “After that, conversations about national security, wars and life just took on a much more urgent tone; students suddenly realized that we could actually be in a war.”