News, Culture & Society

9/11 anniversary: Figures from TV and politics recall how they found out about the terror attacks

There are just a handful of moments in history that are so devastating and painful, they bring the entire world to a standstill – and remain forever seared into memory.  

Almost everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. Much like the assassination of JFK, or the death of Princess Diana, the horror and fear of that day is still palpable for so many, no matter where they were in the world.  

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists successfully hijacked four California-bound planes, and by 9.30am the World Trade Centre, one of New York City’s most famous landmarks, had been hit, hundreds killed and many more trapped in the floors above.

From feelings of desolation and moments of sheer panic to surreal recollections about watching the World Trade Center towers crumble to ground, the memories of that fateful day remain forever vivid for those who experienced it.

Many recall watching the scenes in shock and confusion – with several recalling how they assumed it was just a tragic accident, before they received the awful news of what had actually happened to cause the devastating incident: an undeniable act of war, undertaken to strike fear and devastation into the hearts of Americans, and indeed the rest of the world.

Now, 20 years later, politicians, public figures and TV personalities have shared their recollections of that day, revealing where they were when they learned about the attacks – and the feelings of devastation that quickly followed.    

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four California-bound planes, and crashed two into the World Trade Center towers in New York. 20 years later, public figures are sharing their memories of that fateful day

‘For hours I thought my husband was at the Pentagon and had been hit… I was terrified’: CINDY MCCAIN, wife of late US Senator John McCain 

Cindy McCain, wife of late US Senator John McCain, was at home in Arizona with her children when she heard the news - however her husband was in Washington, D.C., and she was unable to track him down for hours

Cindy McCain, wife of late US Senator John McCain, was at home in Arizona with her children when she heard the news – however her husband was in Washington, D.C., and she was unable to track him down for hours 

I remember very well where I was. I was at home, it was very early in the morning I was getting my kids ready for school, cooking breakfast, it was the usual morning routine. 

I turned on the news in my kitchen – it was actually the Today show – and it went straight to the tower coverage. At that point only one tower had been hit and it took me a bit of time to process what was actually going on. 

Then I realized that it was serious, that it had been hit, but I didn’t understand if it was an attack or something else. 

My kids and I were all just stunned. 

As the morning progressed and the second tower was hit, my kids were spellbound. They sat down on the floor and we just watched it all happening in disbelief. 

Then the Pentagon was hit and I took a look at my kids and I knew they were smart enough to know that their dad [then-US Senator John McCain] could be in danger. 

They all reacted differently. Meghan was crying, Jack was very stoic, Jimmy and Bridget, the two younger ones, were just in shock. 

I tried to call my husband to talk to him but I couldn’t reach him. They used to fax me his schedule every day and it showed ‘Pentagon meeting’ on it. I was unaware at the time that it had been canceled so for a number of hours, I thought he was in the Pentagon and had possibly been hit.  

The couple's children, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, and Bridget, were all at home with their mother. She recalled their terror when they realized that their father's life was under threat from the attacks

The couple’s children, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, and Bridget, were all at home with their mother. She recalled their terror when they realized that their father’s life was under threat from the attacks

My kids were smart enough to know that something could aim at the capital, and you have to be brave in front of your children, but I was terrified. I was terrified for him.

The thing I remember most besides the attacks and the obvious things was taking a look at my sons and I knew in that moment that they were both going to serve [in the armed forces]. We had to face a reality in our family.   

I gave the kids the option of whether or not to go to school. Meghan didn’t want to, but Jack and the two younger ones wanted to go.  

The rest of the day was spent trying to find my husband. The odd thing about that was in the evening, I got a message on AOL Instant Messenger, that’s how I found him. It wasn’t until the next day that I talked to him.  

‘New York went from being a playground to a graveyard in an instant’: DORINDA MEDLEY, Real Housewives of New York star 

I know exactly where I was. The moment is seared in my mind forever as a New Yorker. Everything changed in a moment. 

I had just dropped Hannah off at school and I was walking down Park Avenue and I saw this humungous thing of smoke all of a sudden. I was like, ‘What is that?’

Then the doorman was saying to me, ‘Did you hear, did you hear, there’s been an attack!’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ 

Literally in that moment, the whole city changed. I remember that feeling. Everything will change. Time just stopped. 

Information traveled so quickly because New Yorkers are like that. We have a very pedestrian way of living and everyone on the streets were calling people. Husbands calling wives, friends, families. 

All I could think was, ‘I have to go back and get Hannah. This is bad.’ I don’t know why I knew it, I just knew it. 

I went back to the school and I ignored all of the normal procedures of checking in at the front desk and all that, I went straight up the back stairs and into her classroom and said, ‘We’re going home.’ Her teacher told me, ‘You can’t do that,’ and I just said, ‘Oh yes I can.’ 

We went home and started watching the news. 

As New Yorkers we tend to think we are the center of the world as far as the United States is concerned, and to tell you the truth, because we didn’t have full understanding straight away, I just thought, ‘Who attacks our city?’

Real Housewives of New York star Dorinda Medley learned of the attacks minutes after dropping her daughter, Hannah (right), off at school. She raced back to get her so they could flee the city before it shut down

Real Housewives of New York star Dorinda Medley learned of the attacks minutes after dropping her daughter, Hannah (right), off at school. She raced back to get her so they could flee the city before it shut down

Real Housewives of New York star Dorinda Medley learned of the attacks minutes after dropping her daughter, Hannah (right), off at school. She raced back to get her so they could flee the city before it shut down  

We work hard, we play hard, we own it. How could someone do this to our city? Then I thought, ‘What’s next?’ I thought it was going to travel uptown. Was that just the beginning?  

I had to get my wits together. I was like, OK, I need to get the car, I need to get money, I need to get my passports, I need to get Hannah and I need to get her out of here.  

We got everything together, got in the car and started driving. We fled. It took us eight hours to get out of the city. 

But I was lucky, because by the next day they had completely shut the city down. The city became a war zone. What was once this precious city transformed in minutes into a war torn city. 

All the jets and helicopters, police, fire people, fire engines, they were everywhere. 

I felt so lucky [to have gotten out]. I remember going over the bridge just thinking, ‘I have to get over the bridge, they’re going to shut the bridges, I have to get over the bridge.’ 

By the time I got to the Triborough Bridge, I was like, ‘I’ll bribe someone to get over this.’ 

What this made me realize is: we live on an island. We don’t think about it, but we’re surrounded by the ocean and by the rivers. I realized that in a moment. 

It really taught me something – I’m not very aware that I live on an island and I have a plan in place now to get out quickly. Because when they shut down the island, you are stuck there.  

New York went from being a safe haven to a very scary place. It went from being a playground to a graveyard.  

I remember the first time I went near 9/11, I remember going down to that area to see a friend and the air was just a little different. I remember thinking, ‘Am I inhaling someone right now?’ We didn’t have the numbers [of victims] at that point. The numbers just kept going up. 

What really angered me the most is hearing about those people who had to jump to their deaths. Imagine having to make that decision. 

I did a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and they take you to a glass bridge where people jumped out. And you just want to say, ‘I’m so sorry. I am so sorry.’  

We also have to remember the people who run our city. When everybody was running away and out of the city, all of those people who are so valuable, the police, the fire people, they were running towards it.  

When times get tough, they run the city, and that takes my breath away. It is amazing. And that is why every time I see a policeman to this day, I say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ We lean on those people so fast.    

Before 2001, the Twin Towers were a very big visual deal. They were huge and they had the restaurant at the top. You knew you had really made it if your boyfriend took you there. It was just one of those great landmarks and to not have it there, and to know that it was a graveyard, it was just awful.  

I look at old pictures and see them and I’m like, ‘There’s the New York I knew.’ 

For a moment, they won. But like the great city and nation that we are, we learned from it. And we now have a beautiful memorial that we are so proud of. It is a holy place now.    

‘I thought we were going to war immediately. I thought we were under attack’: MICHAEL RAPAPORT, New York actor and comedian 

New York-born actor Michael Rapaport was in Los Angeles working on a TV show when he found out about the attacks. He said he was left 'horrified' - and fearful that the country was going to go to war

New York-born actor Michael Rapaport was in Los Angeles working on a TV show when he found out about the attacks. He said he was left ‘horrified’ – and fearful that the country was going to go to war

I was actually working in Los Angeles. I had a one and a half year old son and another one on the way, so you know, you’re already neurotic, sleep deprived, protective.

I was driving to work – I was doing a show called Boston Public – and I was listening to the Howard Stern show. I was driving from LA to Manhattan Beach and they started talking about it.  

It was so early in the morning and I hear about the plane from Howard Stern, then by the time I got to the set of the show, we turned on the TVs and started to watch the news, like everybody else. 

I was horrified by what I saw. 

We didn’t need to be told to leave work, we just left. I drove all the way back to LA and in my mind, based on what I saw and what I was hearing on the radio, I thought it was the end of the world. 

I thought we were going to war immediately. I thought we were under attack.  

Before I went home, I went to the supermarket and got water, supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, like a crazy person. 

Then I sat in front of the TV for the next two weeks just trying to process what had happened. It was brutal. It was brutal for me. It was brutal for everybody.  

My father was 68 at the time and I remember he walked home from work. They evacuated his building. My mother was in Lenox Hill hospital dealing with a kidney stone and they had to evacuate her because they thought there would be survivors that they would need beds for. So they put her out onto the street. But I couldn’t talk to her, it wasn’t a cellphone time. 

It was just such chaos. But I’m not going to pretend my story was dramatic or chaotic because it wasn’t compared to what other people went through. I’m lucky to have not had any drama.  

Hearing the New Yorkers talk on the news was extremely hard to watch. I’m a New Yorker and when you hear the accents of the firemen, the accents of the policemen, the accents of the witnesses, you felt a kinship to them because those are New Yorkers, too.  

It was weird not being in New York. I am thankful in a way that I wasn’t there, but New York is such a part of who I am, who I represent as an actor. I grew up in Manhattan. 

In school we went on day trips to the World Trade Center, and the [towers] were just buildings in New York to us. Honestly the last time I had been in them was in the 5th or 6th grade when we went on a school trip. 

But we never thought anything like that would happen.  

It was a terrible, terrible time for New York, it was a terrible time for the country, for the world. 

Then you hear about all the stories and you realize the reality of the devastation and the number of people that were lost. The families, policemen, the EMTs. 

It was horrifying, it was depressing and extremely sad. I remember it was a lot of crying and concern. You felt like you had to mourn by watching the TV, that was a way of paying respect almost. 

So after two weeks, finally I decided I needed to take a break. I put on Eddie Murphy’s Delirious and that was the first time I was able to give myself a break from all the feelings and thoughts. It was the first time I was able to laugh. I saw Eddie a year later and told him that. He thought it was really cool.  

‘Oh my god, it’s coming down. Run.’ ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, host of Banfield on NewsNation and former MSNBC host

I had the same experience as most people seeing on the Today show that the North Tower was on fire, but at the time, we thought it was just a small plane that had flown into the tower and I thought I would be covering that story all day. 

It was like the 70s movie, Towering Inferno. But then I was watching live as the second tower was hit and I knew right away that this was different. 

I started grabbing what I needed to get down there and report on the story. I went to the subway and right as I got there they announced that all trains had stopped. So I went back up onto street level and flagged down a taxi. The cab driver took me as far south as he would go, before he said, ‘That’s it,’ right around Houston. 

I got out and started running southwards, running against a flow of people who were running northward. I remember passing vehicles that had their doors flung wide open, and everyone seems to have been listening to the same radio show, so I could hear what was happening on the radio as I ran past these cars. 

I was reporting on my Motorolla flip phone. It was so hard to get a call through, but one of them made it through to the MSNBC control room so I did a live report as the South Tower fell. 

After that, I kept heading southward. I didn’t think the North Tower was going to fall, but as I ran southwards, there were firefighters and police officers telling everyone to turn around. 

Ashleigh Banfield, host of Banfield on NewsNation, was just meters away from the North Tower when it collapsed, covering her in a cloud of debris. She remained near the site and reported on the story, but says she was 'terrified' and 'crying'

Ashleigh Banfield, host of Banfield on NewsNation, was just meters away from the North Tower when it collapsed, covering her in a cloud of debris. She remained near the site and reported on the story, but says she was 'terrified' and 'crying'

Ashleigh Banfield, host of Banfield on NewsNation, was just meters away from the North Tower when it collapsed, covering her in a cloud of debris. She remained near the site and reported on the story, but says she was ‘terrified’ and ‘crying’

I tried to get another call through to the control room and I don’t know what made me look up, maybe it was a noise, but I craned my neck right back and I saw the North Tower coming down right above me. 

I have two memories from that moment. One was thinking: ‘Oh, that’s what it looked like for all the people who were here when the first tower fell.’ The second was, ‘Oh my god, it’s coming down. Run.’ 

A cloud of debris hit me, I could feel my ears bending. I grabbed the sweater that was around my shoulders and pulled it around my mouth to be able to breathe. 

I was enveloped in this midnight blackness and the last visual reference I had was a doorway beside me. A friend I was in kicked in the glass bottom of the door and was crawled through it, then there was another door that was locked so we kicked that in and got into a vestibule where we tried to ride out the dust cloud.  

The TV host will share more recollections on her show on Friday night, during which she will discuss that fateful day with her senior broadcaster, David Theall, who helped to rescue people from the Pentagon

The TV host will share more recollections on her show on Friday night, during which she will discuss that fateful day with her senior broadcaster, David Theall, who helped to rescue people from the Pentagon 

Within minutes, there was a figure at the door. We didn’t know who it was, but we had that thought of, if we open the door, we might die. If we don’t open the door, he might die. So we opened the door and brought him in and it turned out it was a World Trade Center security guard. Then another person showed up and we had that same thought, but we opened the door and it was a New York City police officer. 

I have no idea how long we were in there, but I remember thinking that the building was going to come down around us. It was terrifying to stay in that spot while fearing that the building was going to come down, but knowing you couldn’t go out. 

You couldn’t breathe, we were all chocking and spitting out mouthfuls of debris. 

It was surreal. It was like the apocalypse had hit us. 

Eventually, daylight broke through and we went out. I remember all I could hear was this chirping noise – and I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I learned later that it was the firefighters’ PASS Alarms, which alerts you when a firefighter is horizontal so you know they need help.  

I began looking for a camera and eventually found a German tourist who had a handycam, so we hooked it up to an NBC truck and started broadcasting on that until reinforcements arrived. When they did, I remember being shocked by how clean they all were.   

In that moment, I thought, we aren’t the same, we are very different people. I knew I would never be the same again. It was a very profound feeling, a bizarre epiphany that I had when I saw these clean people arriving. 

I rarely think about how close I came to dying but when I do, I think about all of the little things along the way that saved my life. The taxi driver who wouldn’t take me any further south, the subway that shut down as I got there, the live report that I stopped to make. All of those things stopped me from getting any closer to the tower as it fell. They saved me.   

It was also very strange because I felt like I had to flit between being a victim and a reporter. I went into work mode, but even in work mode, I was terrified. I was crying like a child. I was literally a victim of terror and I knew then what terror feels like. Terrorism works. It really does terrorize you.  

‘We thought we would have thousands of survivors at the hospital. We shut down all surgeries… but nobody came’: DR MEHMET OZ, cardiothoracic surgeon and TV host

Dr. Mehmet Oz was in the middle of open heart surgery when he heard the news about the towers collapsing. He instigated a news blackout in the OR so that he and his colleagues could focus on saving the life of their patient

Dr. Mehmet Oz was in the middle of open heart surgery when he heard the news about the towers collapsing. He instigated a news blackout in the OR so that he and his colleagues could focus on saving the life of their patient

I was at New York Presbyterian Hospital and I had just finished giving a lecture to a group of physicians about mechanical hearts. As I’m walking out of the lecture hall across this sky bridge at Columbia, somebody said, “Look, the World Trade Center is on fire.” 

I was on the west side and you could see directly down to the World Trade Center so you could see the smoke and the flames. I assumed a fire had broken out in the building but then someone on the bridge said that a plane had flown into it, but we thought it was just a small plane. 

I entered the OR because I was doing an open heart operation and as I stopped the heart of my patient, one of the people working in the OR with me said a second plane had hit the second tower. I knew then that something was wrong. 

But I had to put a news blackout on the OR. I said I didn’t want anyone going out, I told everyone to turn off their radios, their phones everything. We had only one life that we could save right then and that was the guy whose heart we had just stopped. 

People wanted to leave the room and find out what was going on, but I couldn’t let that happen. I will always remember making that decision. People were worried about their loved ones and we didn’t know how wide the attack was going to be. 

I had to tell them to ignore their families, ignore their own fears, ignore the calls that they were getting from people who were worried about them.  

Nobody argued. 

People always ask what makes a successful doctor, and the truth is you have to be able to disconnect from everything. From the people you love, from concerns about the patient, their families, the world burning down outside where you are. You have to block everything out, and it is in our DNA to do that, but it took a lot of effort that day.   

By the time I left the OR, the world had changed. 

Right outside the OR, I could see the flames and the smoke from the rubble, but the buildings were already collapsing at that point. 

We stopped all surgeries because we assumed everyone was under attack and a lot of doctors had gone down to try and help. 

The one thing that really hurt all of us was that we closed down to take care of survivors. We thought we’d have thousands of smoke inhalations and burns victims and injuries from people who had jumped, but nobody came. I don’t think people really understand the true devastation of an attack where there are no survivors. To have nobody make it, not one… our jaws just dropped.  

I will never forget that.    

‘As I was running I thought to myself, “This is how my life will end”‘: MARIA BARTIROMO, Fox Business Network anchor

I was working at CNBC and was on Squawk Box, the CNBC morning show. I was in my office at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) when I saw the fire from the first plane in the North Tower on TV so I ran outside, to the corner of Wall Street and Broadway immediately. 

I called into show and reported what I was seeing. A group of people had gathered around me on the corner and we were watching as the second plane hit the South Tower. 

When the second plane hit, a guy behind me said, ‘Oh my god, the world will never be the same. It’s a terrorist attack.’ 

I went back and forth inside and outside the NYSE on the air and I was outside when a third explosion rocked the area as I watched the first building begin to collapse in front of my eyes. That’s when I ran for my life as did everyone on the corner. 

I felt shock and fear. For a split second as I was running for cover when the first building collapsed, I thought to myself, ‘This is how my life will end… ‘ But I also knew I had to stay. I wanted to communicate what had happened and what I was seeing. 

I watched people line up on the road along the East River and walk uptown. I did not want to leave. I stayed there all day to report on what I saw. 

I saw heroes and I saw leadership in the face of evil. I saw firefighters rushing to go into the buildings as the rest of us rushed to get out.  

By that time, the NYSE was all locked up and there was wood put in all windows, it was all boarded up. I couldn’t get back in for a few minutes. So I stayed in an outside stairwell across the street from the NYSE in the MetLife building. 

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo was reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange when the attacks happened (left) and she ran out into the street, watching on in horror as the towers fell

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo was reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange when the attacks happened (left) and she ran out into the street, watching on in horror as the towers fell

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo was reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange when the attacks happened (left) and she ran out into the street, watching on in horror as the towers fell 

I was crammed into the stairwell with a few others as the first building came crashing down and the entire area turned pitch black. There was debris flying. Steel and papers all flying from the buildings throughout the area. I was covered in soot and white smoke. I still have my burgundy suit and black patent leather shoes I had on. The shoes were white.

I then went back across the street to try to get back into the NYSE and Eric, the security guard saw me and grabbed me and took me in.

I stayed at the NYSE all day that day reporting mostly from inside because the camera was operated by our New Jersey headquarters. I stayed at the NYSE until at least 9pm that night. 

Before I left I went up to the exchange CEO Dick Grasso’s office and asked him what the plans were. He was not sure when the NYSE would open again. Then around 9pm I walked uptown with my colleague Bob Pisani. We walked from Wall Street all the way up to 23rd street together to get a train that was running. 

All trains were out downtown. We took the train uptown together in shock. When I walked into my apartment, my husband grabbed me and hugged me after watching my coverage and all of the coverage all day from home. It was surreal. And then I remembered, ‘Oh yeah, it was my birthday.’ 

‘Now I look up and I am much more aware… it’s an unease that makes me unhappy’: MARTHA STEWART, businesswoman, lifestyle expert and TV personality

Martha Stewart provided catering to FBI agents who set up an emergency office in the garage of her office building on 26th street

Martha Stewart provided catering to FBI agents who set up an emergency office in the garage of her office building on 26th street 

Before 9/11 I walked the streets of New York City with abandon – always happy and relaxed and then things changed. 

Now I look up a lot and I am much more aware of my surroundings. It’s an unease that makes me unhappy.

In a new Paramount+ documentary, 26th Street Garage: The FBI’s Untold Story of 9/11, Martha reveals how she provided catering to FBI agents who set up a home base in the garage of her former office on 26th street. 

The lifestyle expert provided food for the agents out of her test kitchen – all while keeping their operation a closely guarded secret. 

I was pretty frightened when I saw the building with the new occupants. 

You could see the guns clearly over the parapets, this was warfare. 

I thought, ‘Well either we’re a target, or we’re protected.’ 

‘I think about trying to process the clear realization that our lives would be forever changed’: CHRISSY HOULAHAN, US Representative

Senator Chrissy Houlahan was left reeling in shock after hearing about the attacks

Senator Chrissy Houlahan was left reeling in shock after hearing about the attacks 

As the daughter of a career Naval aviator, I moved a lot growing up and it was hard to feel like I belonged anywhere. 

The attack on our country on September 11th changed that for me. I vividly remember thinking about my small kids in school – not quite old enough to understand why teachers were crying or why kids were going home early. 

I think about standing in shock with co-workers and trying to process the very clear realization that our lives would forever be changed in that moment. 

The experience rooted me, and so many other Americans, in our nation’s values in a newfound way. Irrevocably, this horrible, traumatic shared experience is forever seared in our collective minds. And while the attacks that day bring about so many feelings for our veterans, myself included, is was also an opportunity to come together. 

As we reflect on the 20th anniversary, I invite all of us to recommit to our common humanity and shared values. We honor those we lost by continuing to serve one another and our country.

‘I thought it was an advertisement or a trailer for a new movie. But it was not to be’: ROGER MARSHALL, US Senator 

Today marks a solemn day in our nation’s history – 20 years since one of the most devastating attacks on our nation’s soil. Most every one of us can remember exactly where we were on September 11, 2001. 

For me, I was talking to a family after a surgery as I saw in disbelief the first, and then the second tower come crashing down. With the TV volume turned down, I thought it was an advertisement, or perhaps the trailer for a new movie. But it was not to be.

We will never forget those lost lives or the heroism of our first responders that day. We all remain grateful for those brave men and women who risked their lives to save countless others on September 11th, many of whom have suffered or having succumbed from illness as a consequence of putting their bodies in harm’s way. They all ran to the battle, as Americans always have. We must never forget their sacrifices.

This anniversary also holds a special significance as we pay tribute to all of our American heroes who did what they were sent to do in the war on terror: they decimated Al-Qaeda, they eliminated Osama bin Laden, and they kept America and our allies safe for 20 years from another September 11th event.

‘It was scary and threatening and terribly sad all at the same time’: BRET BAIER, Fox News’ chief political anchor and anchor of Special Report with Bret Baier 

I was driving into the Atlanta bureau to start my day. I had news radio on in the car and heard coverage of the first plane hitting the tower. 

I arrived at the bureau to watch our coverage on Fox. We were being mobilized to help with Fox affiliate coverage of the incident – and then the second plane hit.  

A producer and I were told to get in a car and start driving to New York. We always had bags packed in the office and started driving. 

Fox News anchor Bret Baier was sent from Atlanta to New York when the attacks first happened - before being diverted to the Pentagon, where he reported on the devastating news as it unfolded (pictured)

Fox News anchor Bret Baier was sent from Atlanta to New York when the attacks first happened - before being diverted to the Pentagon, where he reported on the devastating news as it unfolded

Fox News anchor Bret Baier was sent from Atlanta to New York when the attacks first happened – before being diverted to the Pentagon, where he reported on the devastating news as it unfolded (left) 

On the highway outside Atlanta, we heard reports on the radio about the third plane hitting the Pentagon. I was thinking: ‘How is this happening? Who is doing this? And then what’s next?’ My immediate thoughts were for the people in those buildings and the fireman and police running into the buildings. But then I thought about how I could get information and cover this as we raced toward New York.

I felt this was going to change everything. It was scary and threatening and terribly sad all at the same time. 

We were [then] rerouted to the Pentagon and I started doing live reports for Fox affiliates outside the Pentagon. It was a massive story – the loss, the pain, the continuing threat, and the war that would begin days later changed our country forever. I never left. 

After a short time, I was asked to be the Pentagon correspondent. Fox packed up my apartment in Atlanta and that was the start of my career in Washington – and covering the military around the world. ‘  

‘Everyone was fearful… my daughter and her husband were my first concern’: MARSHA BLACKBURN, US Senator 

I remember the moment so clearly. I was getting ready for a busy workday, and I was listening to the morning news. I heard the broadcaster mention an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was it must be a small plane, and the pilot lost control. 

Quickly it became obvious this was not an accident. My daughter and her husband, who lived and worked in D.C., were my first concern. Everyone was fearful, and I too was worried. 

I was encouraged by how Americans came together that day to pray for those who lost their lives, our first responders, and all who were affected. We will never forget September 11 nor allow the rewriting of this history.

‘Everything went from confusion to disbelief to shock and, finally, horror’: AL ROKER, Today show weather anchor  

I still remember remarking on air during our 8:30 open that morning, ‘What a perfect morning. Not a cloud in the sky.’

Everything after that was a constant transition, from confusion, to disbelief, to shock and finally, horror. 

20 years later, it is still a testament to unspeakable inhumanity but also to ordinary people stepping up to do heroic things 

Al Roker recalled reported on what a beautiful sunny day it was in New York, just minutes before he learned about the attacks

Al Roker recalled reported on what a beautiful sunny day it was in New York, just minutes before he learned about the attacks

 Al Roker recalled reported on what a beautiful sunny day it was in New York, just minutes before he learned about the attacks

‘I remember my parents coming home from work and crying’: BROOKS NADER, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model 

I was four years old on 9/11, but I remember my parents coming home from work and crying. I remember saying prayers with their neighbors for all the victims and first responders. 

I live in Tribeca now, close to the memorial, and this day every year is always so somber in our neighborhood. 

There are always lots of firefighters and policeman gathering for lunch and remembering their friends who were lost during the attacks. 

‘I cannot imagine anything that looked more like the Gates of Hell’: HILLARY CLINTON, former Secretary of State  

As told to CBS This Morning 

What stands out is the overwhelming sense of devastation and tragedy.

I was on my way to the Senate for a hearing about improving education, actually. Laura Bush was scheduled to testify when the first plane hit, and after making sure that my entire staff was safe and that they could relocate out of the Capitol area, so that we could begin working, I was on the phone, endlessly, talking with elected officials in the state, obviously people in Washington. And looking at the television like every American was, glued to the scenes of devastation.

But I have to tell you that when I went the next day with my colleague, Senator Schumer, we were the only plane in the sky, other than fighter jets that were keeping the cover over New York and other parts of our country.

We landed at LaGuardia, we took a helicopter, and we circled over Ground Zero.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS This Morning that Ground Zero looked like 'the Gates of Hell' when she arrived not long after the Twin Towers collapsed

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS This Morning that Ground Zero looked like 'the Gates of Hell' when she arrived not long after the Twin Towers collapsed

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS This Morning that Ground Zero looked like ‘the Gates of Hell’ when she arrived not long after the Twin Towers collapsed 

And I cannot imagine anything that looked more like the Gates of Hell.

I thought I’d be prepared because I’d seen it on TV but the TV screen contained it and circling over it was something that I think about and will never forget.

But then quickly, we had to support our first responders, other emergency workers who were running toward danger not away from it and we had to support the families whose loved ones were literally lost in a second. 

We had so much work to do and in a way, it kept me going, in the face of such overwhelming tragedy and of course we were concerned that there might be more attacks elsewhere in our country.

And really it’s the people who I met that I worked with over those years and still today, I was interviewing some for my, my podcast that reminded me of the heroism and determination and tenacity. And as you said, the overwhelming sense of that time was of unity. And it really was an incredible moment of the country in the world coming together.

‘My dad was President… I couldn’t talk to my family’: JENNA BUSH HAGER, former First Daughter and host of Today with Hoda and Jenna 

As told to the Today show 

I was in college and my dad was President, so I had Secret Service. Up until then we had kind of made a deal with our parents that the Secret Service would stay back so we could live and be in college and not see them very often. 

That day, I looked out of my apartment window and school had just started in Texas, and I looked out of my window that morning – I was just getting ready for school – and there were a lot of Secret Service sitting in the back courtyard of our apartment building in plastic chairs. 

I knew something had happened. 

I went somewhere to a location where I could be away. I couldn’t talk to my family, I couldn’t get in touch with them. And my sister, who was going to Yale, was with a lot of the Secret Service, the Secret Service field office was in one of the towers. So she was with these men and women whose families were trying to get them and they were mourning together because they were worried about colleagues. New Haven was so close to New York City. 

I just think it was one of those days where everybody remembers. 

‘I saw her shoulders heaving and I thought, “My god, she lost him”‘: HODA KOTB, Today show anchor and host of Today with Hoda and Jenna

As told to the Today show  

I was working [at the Today show] and I was actually going to the dentist. I remember because I was in the car and the radio was on, and they said that something had happened. 

I was going down Broadway and there was smoke, so I went back to work. I went into work and they were scrambling to figure out what was going on. 

You were assigned to go to [different places] but for some reason I have one enduring image and it was one of the makeup artists who I didn’t know very well and she was searching for a loved one. She kept trying to hit redial and she was freaking out. 

I still remember I was sitting there waiting to get ready to go on air and I saw her pick up the phone and she turned her back. And I saw her shoulders heaving and I thought, ‘Oh my god, she lost him.’ And then she turned around and she goes, ‘That was him.’ 

And I remember, there was something about that small image in that moment, I thought, how many people on that day were going to get a call one way or another. It was either going to be the worst possible day or the biggest relief you have ever felt.   

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