9/11: Andrew Colabella Remembers

On September 11, 2001, Westport native and current RTM member Andrew Colabella was in 7th grade at Bedford Middle School. He remembers:

I was sitting in Mr. Summ’s English class. We were called to the auditorium. Another fire drill? Motivational speaker? A boring play? Seemed too soon in the beginning of the year to be doing this.

Mrs. Wormser spoke with Ms. Reneri, standing with Mr. Delgado, about 2 planes hitting the World Trade Center. They had no other information to give.

Why would they call us to the auditorium about that? Planes crash every year. I started thinking, what if there is more to this? My friends said I had no idea what I was talking about.

Terrorism wasn’t new to me. My cousin John DiGiovanni was killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

We headed to lunch at 10:32. Parents were coming to the school picking up their kids. Some cried hysterically as they left the guidance office. Even teachers tried to hide their tears.

I went into the hall to hit the power button on the TV. There it was: 2 smoldering towers. People jumping from the high floors. Maybe they’ll land safely. Maybe they’re bringing helicopters with water to put it out, or throw rope to get them out.

It was serious. It was real.

The iconic 9/11 photo was taken by Westport’s Spencer Platt. He lived near the Twin Towers on that awful morning.

I called home. Dad was safe.

A girl walked out of guidance, crying with 2 friends. I never forgot that memory.

Later I learned about Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. I stood with my mom at Burying Hill Beach, watching smoke pour out like blood from a bad cut.

We had been cut. Nearly 3,000 people died, including 343 firefighters, 71 police officers, and EMTs and military personnel. That’s not counting the countless number of people who became sick and died long after the attacks.

Sherwood Island State Park, my backyard, holds the memory of 161 names — all Connecticut residents who died on 9/11. On a clear day, you can see the Manhattan skyline from the site.

I never forgot. If you’re reading this, you never forgot where you were or what you were doing that day.

As we grow older, more and more people born after 2001 have no memory of it. I’ve spoken with youth, even people my age, who never heard of the 1993 attacks, Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, the Oklahoma City bombing, even World War I.

Educating future generations is imperative. The history of how we got to where we are today, and what we endured as a nation, is vital. We can never forget those who died for no reason. We can never let our guard down.

Our world changed. The unthinkable happened. We were brought to our knees. But we got right back up, and struck back.

Today I have been selected to read 21 names from the podium of Ground Zero. It is an honor to read names of men and women. I never knew or met nearly all of them, but they are known to and loved by others: a parent, child, grandchild, cousin, spouse, but overall, a soul. These are the 21 names:

  • Boyie Muhammed
  • Manuel D. Mojica Jr
  • Manuel De Jesus Molina
  • Justin John Molisani Jr
  • Franklyn Monahan
  • Kristen Leigh Montanaro
  • Michael G. Montesi
  • Antonio De Jesus Montoya Valdes
  • Thomas Carlo Moody
  • Krishna V. Moorthy
  • Abner Morales
  • Paula E. Morales
  • Gerard P. Moran Jr.
  • John Michael Moran
  • Lyndsey Stapleton Morehouse
  • Steven P. Morello
  • Yvette Nicole Moreno
  • Richard J. Morgan
  • Sanae Mori
  • Leonel Geronimo Morocho Morocho
  • And my cousin, John Di Giovanni

“No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time” is affixed to the Ground Zero wall. Each square is a different color, representing each different, unique person who died that day.

Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing?

Who did you know? Who do you remember?

This is my story. What’s yours?

25 responses to “9/11: Andrew Colabella Remembers

  1. My twins were born on the darkest of days to bring light and love into my
    Life. I will never forget those who we lost and lost who fought to save us.

  2. Charles Taylor

    I was in Louisville working for Vanderbilt University walking into a stock brokers office when I saw people scurrying around talking watching a TV. I asked what was going on. Someone said a plane hit the Tower in the WTC. Then I met with my client. Twenty minutes later a huge gasp and crying started in the tv room. Another plane hit WTC. My client turned to me then in his 70’s and said “ This is your generations version of Pearl Harbor.”

  3. I was 8 months pregnant at work in midtown by 8:30 am that day. My husband called me shortly after the first plane hit to say a news story just came across his Blackberry that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I gathered with colleagues in our 42nd floor lobby that had a clear view down to the towers and we watched in horror as the second plane hit.

  4. James Honeycutt

    Here’s a snapshot of 9/11 for me… On the morning of 9/11, I was teaching a TV Production class at Staples High School in the old TV studio that was adjacent to the school library at the bottom the ramp. The phone in my office rang and I excused myself from my class to answer it. It was my daughter who was then in her senior year of nursing school watching the Today Show as she was getting ready for class. She told me to turn on the TV because an airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers. So being a TV class, we turned on the TV to watch the news. As we watched and began to realize what was happening, each student pulled out their flip phones to call their parents many of whom worked in the City. Others called students in the school. Word began to spread around Staples. Class time passed and we watched the second airplane hit the second tower on live television. We were stunned. My office phone rang again and it was the Staples principal Gloria Rakovic. We discussed what was happening and it was decided to turn off the TV. The TV Studio, my classroom, had the only working television in the school then so it was turned off to control the panic that was spreading. My wife was then a Staples Guidance counselor and her day was far worse than mine as the counselors scrambled to locate students whose parents might have been in danger. One Staples student father worked at the World Trade Center and was assumed to have perished in the attack only to learn that he had gone to a doctor’s appointment that morning elsewhere in Manhattan. The counselors stayed that day into the afternoon and into the evening trying to make sure each student knew the location and status of their parents. Amazingly no Staples student lost a parent that day. It was a miracle as so many Staples parents worked in and around the World Trade Center that 9/11 day.

  5. Lucy Ambrosino

    I am one of the fortunate ones who survived. I was on the 62nd floor of the first building hit. It was a confusing walk down the 62 flights of stairs. We had no idea what happened. Someone had a two-way radio and learned from the outside that a plane hit the building. When we learned that the second building was hit, there was total silence as we escaped. After what felt like a lifetime,I made it out of the building and just kept walking so as not to be one of those blocking the exits for the others. I never saw the buildings collapse – for that I am grateful. I lost many colleagues and friends. I was there in 1993 when 1 WTC was bombed. That time, I spent several hours on oxygen in the ER. My heart goes out to the families of those who didn’t make it. there is so much more to the story, but it would take chapters….

  6. The Twin towers were very familiar to me having a number of large clients there such as American Express & Battery Park City Authority where we had installed a large 3D model of the Battery Park. Having just finished attending a month-long seminar series in the towers on Sept. 4th I had been lunching there every day. Sept. 11th Driving into work on the Westside Hwy listening to NPR they announced that a small plane had hit one of the towers…then the radio went silent. (Later I learned their broadcast antenna was at the top of one of the towers). I was just passing the Javitts centre giving me a view of the towers as the Hwy turned to face the narrow end of Manhattan. Traffic started grinding to a halt and all I could hear was sirens blaring. I exited the Hwy at 23st and zig-zagged down the west side to my studio on Prince & Varick. Getting out of the car I watched as the second plane hit. When I got to the 14th floor my staff was huddled at the window facing the towers. I grabbed my video camera & tripod and filmed. Watching it happen was the closest I had come to understanding insanity as my brain couldn’t process these massive building collapsing onto themselves… silently. The silence was eerie as the billowing cloud worked its way toward us. Having watched the towers being built as a Stuyvesant High School Student on 15th St. & 1st ave. their size & height made them visible from all of downtown for years of construction. Watching them come down it didn’t seem possible it could happen in just a matter of minutes and disappear as if they were never there. Since the subway wasn’t running I walked up uptown to the Red Cross Centre near the Metropolitan Opera to donate blood only be turned away after hearing there wasn’t any need for blood since there was no crush of injured. This too seemed incomprehensible. The streets were completely empty devoid of people cars and buses. Born & raised in NYC I felt the world had fundamentally changed that day. The following morning I got back in my car to drive home, the streets were e..m..p..t..y. I dutifully stopped at each red light since there was a cop on almost every corner until one officer gave m a strange look that indicated don’t stop…get out of here! I raced up 1st ave without stopping till I got on the FDR north to head back to Westport.

  7. I was watching TV while on my treadmill. The first plane hit, and my thoughts were those poor people, but we were thinking it was a small plane. I then saw the second one hit and it caused me to stop instantly. We lived at the top of a hill overlooking Sikorsky helicopters. I went on the balcony and was looking at the skies. After a bit of time, I saw helicopters returning, and then plainly remember the eeriness of not seeing planes up in the sky for several days. I also plainly remember my first flight since 9/11 and going to Aruba. I usually sleep on the plane, but I stayed on alert ready to react if anything untoward happened. God Bless all of those people whose lives were cut short, their families, and of course all those who toiled at the World Trade Center in the aftermath. We can never forget. It is so true when you say we must educate. History has become forgotten, or corrupted. People need to know history; the good and the bad.

  8. Daryl Styner-Presley

    On 9/11, I was in the air, on a Delta flight from West Palm Beach to Laguardia Airport (returning from a visit with my parents). We were right over Washington, D.C., when everything was happening (in both D.C and NY), and now the FAA was looking to clear the skies. My flight was diverted back to Atlanta, because we had enough fuel to get there, where I was stranded for 4 days while all airports were closed down. We had 2 people with spouses in the Towers (and on the phone with them until the building came down), and passengers who collaborated together to protect the cockpit, and to be alert because of weariness as to could we have someone on board looking to highjack our plane. We were met in Atlanta with a SWAT team and doctors for the 2 passengers with spouses in the Towers. It’s a Day I’m sure like myself, you never, ever forget.

  9. I was in Fairfield preparing to move from our house in Westport to another in Fairfield the very next day. I got in my car to go back to Westport and tuned on the radio, but couldn’t get anything. I finally got a station, and the announcer was sobbing. I got back to the Westport house and yelled to my husband to turn on the TV, but he was already watching. We saw the second plane hit and watched in horror.

    The next day we moved in a state of shock. As we unpacked, our “precious” belongings seemed so trivial.

  10. Arline Gertzoff

    I was subbing at St Luke’s in New Canaan.A student ran into the room screaming She was nearly incoherent .She explained her father was there.Her parents were divorced and lived in different towns.The father had dropped her and her brother off late at St Luke’s.She calmed down enough to call her mother All I could hear was Daddy is ok.By chance that evening her Dad was on tv He got to NY late and told his associates to jump in a cab and meet him at then called Helmsley Plaza near GC.They arrived shortly before the first hit so three lives were saved because the kids were late to school

  11. Steven Halstead

    I happened to be Chairman of the Westport Board of Education on that Day. We had roughly 5000 students, roughly 1000 employees. All had families. No one knew what was really was happening as the day progressed.
    I remember the professionalism, courage and empathy of the administrators and staff in these horribly uncharted waters. Westport was very lucky that day. I also remember so much more.

  12. Ellen Lautenberg

    Very well said, Andrew! It’s a tough day for all of us, especially those of us who lost someone close to us – I lost a very close friend. Thank you for sharing those difficult memories.

  13. I was in Mr. Honeycutt’s class (as he referenced above). Being able to watch it transpire live on TV is a memory I’ll never forget.

  14. Yes, it’s true we “struck back,” and continue to strike back. But have we, do we, always hit the right targets? Has our response been strategic, appropriate and effective in improving our safety and security while preserving our freedom, liberties and way of life?

    I agree that educating future generations is imperative. The history of how we got to where we are today, and what we endured as a nation” is, indeed, vital. Part of that education should include an ongoing, thorough, honest discussion, analysis and examination of our policies and actions.

  15. Thank you, Andrew & All for sharing these beautiful & terrible memories.

  16. Candace Tonnessen

    Thank you for sharing your experience and it’s so true scary how little Americans know about American history! I was at work in MD when I saw the horror of the second plane hit the towers! My brother in law worked at the World Trade Center and I feared the worst! I tried calling for hours all circuits were busy or not in service! They had a baby who was 6 weeks old! Finally I found out he was off that day! I will never forget 9/11!

  17. Linda Grabill Parker

    This is extraordinary , Andrew Colabella .Thank you and best to you , always

  18. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    Was house hunting in Wichita Falls, Texas for my new assignment at Sheppard AFB and working out at the base gym and saw it on the TV. Once I and my fellow airmen processed what was happening we all knew that things were never going to be the same again. In less than a year I was deployed for OEF and 10 months later I was in Iraq for OIF. I’m retired now and still don’t know if if what followed was worth it or not…but gratified we finally got OBL.

  19. Jennifer Purdy

    I had just dropped off my four year old for her first day of preschool five blocks away from the towers. As my friend and I walked away from the school, we heard the noise of a plane and looked up. My friend said, “I can’t believe they let planes fly that low over the city,” and as we watched, the plane flew right into one of the towers. It was truly horrifying, but we thought it was a terrible accident, not an attack. I ran back to the school to retrieve my daughter, and we began to walk north, staying close to buildings so she could not see what was happening above her. I remember her asking, “Why are there so many fire engines?” Then we heard a second, very loud explosion. People were screaming and running in our direction. In my mind it was a part of the original crash, but from listening to people around me, I learned that it was another plane and not an accident at all. My family managed to make it out of the city before the bridges closed, but my husband and I returned the next day to volunteer to help fire fighters who were part of the search and rescue. We helped to make sandwiches and set up mattresses for them to sleep. My daughters school, PS 234, was unrecognizable, covered in ash. We returned to live in our apartment on N. Moore for another 6 years before moving to Westport.

  20. Joan Tricarico

    My son was 13 months old and I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter. My husband was home on the couch with a bad back. We were watching Good Day NY with Dick Oliver doing a segment downtown about something and he said what was that? (I googled the segment and watched today, incredible). My husband said to me the tower collapsed and although I was looking at the tv I said no it didn’t that’s impossible but looking again I realized it did.

  21. I was just starting an audio conference call at 6am in Los Angeles when someone during the call said nonchelantly “Isn’t that terrible what happened at the WorldTrade Center?” And I said, “What happened?” I then hung up and ran to the TV and watched all day and night.

    I can still remember like it was yesterday the towers being built during 1970/1971 and being able to see them clear as could be from Compo Beach. You could see the cranes on top of the building as it rose and that was all you could see, along with the top of the Empire State Building.

  22. Elizabeth "Bette" Popovich, SHS '65

    SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT (following is an article that appeared in the newspaper’s October 26, 2001 issue) – On Sept. 11, Elizabeth “Bette” Popovich, director of the Sullivan County chapter of the American Red Cross in Greater New York, was headed into the city for a routine meeting.
    She was surfing radio channels, trying to find something of interest, when she heard news station commentators talking about reports that an airplane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.
    “My initial reaction was, ‘Is this a radio drama?’” she recalled. “I was waiting for the disclaimer, and then I thought, ‘This is really happening!’ so I took the next exit off the Palisades Parkway and called [the head of American Red Cross (ARC) disaster services in Sullivan County to let her know of the attack].
    Continuing on to New York City, Popovich decided to take the Tappan Zee Bridge rather than the “high visibility target” George Washington Bridge. She watched emergency services vehicles race down the West Side Highway towards the WTC disaster site.
    “On the way down, I heard about the second tower getting hit and then the Pentagon,” she said. “It was getting progressively worse.”
    Although NYC was shutting down in the wake of the emergency, Popovich was allowed to proceed with her marked Red Cross vehicle to the ARC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Red Cross’ headquarters at 150 Amsterdam Avenue, about 4-5 miles from the WTC. (A couple of weeks later, the ARC EOC was relocated to their Brooklyn chapter at Cadman Plaza East, across the Brooklyn Bridge from lower Manhattan.)
    “Since Day One, it was a national operation overseen by the Washington, D.C. Office for Recruitment and Deployment,” said Popovich.
    In the hours following the attacks on the nation’s mighty symbols of international commerce, the Sullivan County chapter received dozens of phone calls from ARC volunteers and people who wanted to help in any way they could. Priority was given to medical professionals, mental health workers, people with specialized emergency services expertise, members of the clergy and trained ARC volunteers.
    “The Red Cross started calling in Local Disaster Volunteers as part of our disaster services deployment activation,” said Popovich. “Basically, within the first 24 hours, the local chapter does whatever it can to set up an operation and provide assistance.
    “They really hit the button,” she said of the national response, adding that the first busload of volunteers arrived from the nation’s capital later that afternoon. A blood drive was set up in the ARC’s NYC headquarters lobby – “hundreds and hundreds of people just wanted to do something” – but that after about 4 p.m. they couldn’t process any more, and people were asked to come back the next day to give blood.
    Popovich said that, in the hours following the WTC terrorist attacks, blood drives were going on all over the city, but as rescue efforts turned into a recovery operation, the hope of helping casualties faded as people began to realize the extent of the atrocity when the odor of death spread across lower Manhattan into neighboring boroughs.
    “Everyone was working hard,” she added.
    At about 1 p.m. on 9/11, a bus full of local volunteers left the Sullivan County Government Center enroute to the WTC disaster site. Hundreds of area residents also headed into the city, either as official representatives of law enforcement/emergency incident management agencies, or on their own.
    From the government center, the bus traveled to the ARC Orange County center, and then on to the Westchester chapter in White Plains (at that point, still the staging area for the ARC Northern Tier) for medical exams and paperwork.
    The bus then departed for the ARC NYC HQ and arrived at approximately 9:30 p.m. According to Popovich, most of the volunteers were dispatched to what became known as Ground Zero, while several volunteers went into the buildings in search of survivors.
    “The first responders saw people jumping out of the buildings and then had to escape as the buildings started to collapse,” said Popovich of the initial rescue efforts.
    In the wake of the fall of the Twin Towers, ARC volunteers “were emotionally drained. They saw [EMS rescue personnel] covered in soot and walked past bodies and parts of bodies.”
    After Popovich left the city around midnight, several local ARC chapter volunteers returned to the site several times to assist in the massive recovery operation.”

    Memories of 9/11 will be with me forever.

  23. Thank you Andrew. I was sitting at the Circulation Desk of the Greens Farms School Library when parent volunteer came in and told me about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. We thought, “Oh, how terrible and weird”. I was not even sure I believed her. The next thing I knew Dan Sullivan, Principal at the time, called all staff in small groups to the auditorium to tell us what was going on and to make sure we were okay. Bill Derry, Library Media Specialist, arranged for TV to be on in Dan”s office only and Eliot Landon, Superintendent, had the internet shut off in the schools so the kids would not see the news. The staff was unbelievable at keeping the day running as a normal school day. I think 2 teachers left but all was very quiet. The support staff, Dr. Panico and Dr. Judge were all over the place helping everyone deal with the tragedy and we were free to go in and out of Dan’s office to see what was happening. No, I will never forget that day or forget trying to explain it to my second grader in the car on the way home. We went home and were glued to CNN. I dreaded what the next day might be like but luckily everyone at GFS that had relatives in the building were spared. I do remember Principal Welch at CMS and his wife Grace, who worked at GFS had a hard time locating their son, but finally did. We were all a bit dazed for a long time but the learning just went on at GFS as it always did. Very lucky students in Westport to have such caring and responsible people always taking care of them in so many ways. I will always be proud to have been part of that amazing community.

  24. Thank you, Andrew. Here’s some of what I recall…

    I was in New York that day, making my way to my office in the Flatiron District, on 26th and 5th.

    I recall walking along 7th avenue from the subway and being on the telephone. The roar of a low flying jet – the first plane – passing above caused me to say “hang on” until it had passed.

    A few minutes later, I wandered into the cafe in our lobby. Usually bustling, the place was empty. I asked where everyone was and was told that “a small plane had hit the World Trade Center”, and that everyone had gone to the roof to see what was going on”. I raced up to see for myself, and was shocked by what I beheld: a gaping hole in the side of the tower.

    We soon moved a few floors down to our conference room, which had a large TV and a clear view of the towers. Our team gathered, and watched in horror as the building burned, and papers flew about, like confetti. Though horrified by what we saw, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what was happening until the second plane barrelled into the second tower. It was at that moment, with a collective gasp, and tears streaming, that we all realized that this was a deliberate act of terror. From our vantage point, though we saw that something terrible was occurring, we were spared the full horrors of seeing what those closest to the scene were experiencing.

    What made this unfolding saga ever more surreal was that I had been in Tower 1 the night before, attending a seminar. I was in the process of renovating 20 story hotel at the time and, as I was passing through the lobby on my way home at 11pm, I remember wondering how such a magnificent structure would be dismantled at the end of its useful life. Never did I imagine that I’d find out only several hours later…

    So many memories from that day, and the days that followed…the ash covered “ghosts”, walking shell-shocked up 5th Avenue from “ground zero”, Washington Square Park and the thousands of images posted by people searching for their loved ones, the fire house on the Upper West Side as the engine returned with it’s weary, ash covered, and heartbroken firefighters who knew what we would later learn, the lines of people at blood banks ready to spill their blood for the survivors we all hoped would emerge from the rubble, the lines of ambulances and rescue workers from everywhere that assembled by Chelsea Piers on the West Side Highway with teams gathered hoping to be pressed into service as rescuers, only to learn that it would be a recovery operation…

    And, there was so much more…and, with it all, as a constant reminder that this was not a dream, was the acrid stench of the burning pile that went on for many days.

    In the days that followed, I was humbled by the extraordinary way New York, and New Yorkers, managed their – our – grief. We were kinder to one another, we offered our blood, we helped those rendered homeless by the tragedy, we gathered supplies for survivors that didn’t exist…

    In the wake of those towers falling, New York chose to rise and shine…

    That day changed me forever.

    I will never, ever, forget.