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A decade later, Americans remember

By Megan Eckstein

Sunday - 9/11/2011, 7:33am  ET

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

Looking back on that morning 10 years ago, people frequently remark about how beautiful the weather was. How clear and blue the sky was. And how quickly and unexpectedly the day turned ugly.

A decade later, as Americans still live with the fallout from the attacks, emotions run high as people reflect on where they were when they heard the news. Questions swirled: Who would do this to us? Were loved ones all accounted for? Were more attacks imminent?

The Frederick News-Post's readers wrote in about their memories of that day, how their lives have changed, and how they think society has changed.

Michele Perry worked as a police officer with the Arlington County Police Department, assigned to the Crystal City and Pentagon City beat. She was four blocks away when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the side of the Pentagon.

"Of my nearly 10-year career with the department, there were many tragedies and intense situations that I responded to as a police officer; needless to say this was the most frightening and surreal," Perry, a Frederick resident who now works at West Frederick Middle School, wrote in an email to The News-Post.

After initial reports that the plane had crashed into the nearby 14th Street Bridge, Perry finally got a dispatch stating the plane had slammed into the Pentagon. She followed an ambulance into the Pentagon parking lot and used her cruiser to block traffic from entering.

"I then began to pick up pieces of the airplane that were sprinkled about along Rt. 27/Washington Blvd. and put them in the trunk of my cruiser," she wrote. "Washington Blvd. was a parking lot of chaos with people stuck in their cars, horrified. I was soon joined by an ATF agent who assisted me in getting the plane pieces secured in my cruiser."

Perry, now 41 and the mother of two, said the rest of the day was filled with fears of another attack and the helplessness of not being able to do much on the scene. She and her husband were supposed to fly to Florida the following morning for their first vacation since their daughter was born. Instead, she stayed in Arlington.

"The next days were spent donning a hazmat suit and helping sort through debris at the Pentagon, with garden shovels, rakes and hoes," she wrote.

Bulldozers moved debris around, and teams used rakes to separate out whatever evidence they could find into wheelbarrows.

"This was a very organized and methodical event," she said. "There were assigned wheelbarrows for: documents or paperwork of any kind (we were strictly instructed NOT to read or look at anything), body parts, plane pieces, building pieces etc. I remember finding a NY baseball hat as well as a small photo album, airplane pieces and building pieces among other items."

n Harris Johnson and three co-workers boarded an Amtrak train at 6:25 a.m. and left Maryland for New York City. They were scheduled to arrive at Penn Station at 8:59 a.m.

At 8:43, the train left Newark, N.J., the last stop before Penn Station.

"I continued looking out my window as the train edged toward New York," Johnson, 49, of Frederick, wrote in an email.

"Soon, I knew that I would have an unobstructed view of Manhattan as we headed across the wetlands and toward the Hudson River.

"When I first saw the World Trade Center, I thought, oh God, fire," he wrote, adding he tried to rationalize that it must be a smokestack in front of the tower or an optical illusion.

Then, "with the casual tone of a tour guide, the conductor announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out the right side of the train, you'll see the World Trade Center on fire.'"

Johnson had been in touch with his wife, Michele, throughout the morning as he tried to gather any details about the fire. When he got off the train, everyone was still going about their daily routines.

Nothing seemed wrong until he tried to call home again and couldn't get through. Emergency vehicles started speeding by him, all headed south. Everyone in Times Square stopped to watch the news on the Jumbotron. But the gravity of the situation hadn't hit the crowd.

"Except for the crowds fixated on the horrific images on the news -- and the emergency vehicles racing to the scene of the disaster -- life at Times Square was relatively normal. There was no hysteria: just looks of concern," he wrote.

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