Sept. 11 at 20: WTOP looks back and forward

More than 200 Arlington first responders paid tribute to fallen first responders by laying roses on charred piece of steel from ground zero in NY. Many of them were at the Pentagon that day.

Up to 700 volunteers worked in shifts assembling 200,000 meals destined for area foodbanks.

Fmr. Battalion Chief Dale Smith placing rose on charred steel from ground zero. WTOP/Gigi Barnett

Up to 700 volunteers worked in shifts assembling 200,000 meals destined for area foodbanks.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Air Force One at Pennsylvania Army Air National Guard Base in Johnstown, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. The Bidens are en route to Washington after visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A sky diver lands on the field with an oversized United States flag prior to the start of an NCAA college football game between Northwestern and Indiana State in Evanston, Ill, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Former President Donald Trump visits the Engine Co. 8 firehouse where he praised first responders’ bravery while criticizing President Joe Biden over the pullout from Afghanistan, Saturday Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Jill Colvin)

A red, white and blue ribbon, to mark Sept. 11, 2001 anniversary, marks the field near the Texas A&M bench before an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

President Joe Biden speaks to people as he visits the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department in Shanksville, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Biden stopped by after visiting the nearby Flight 93 National Memorial to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Mourners stand at the rim of the north pool with the white World Trade Center Oculus in the background after the conclusion of ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of the District of Columbia joined first responders and officers in commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of the District of Columbia joined first responders and officers in commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

A trumpeter plays “Taps” beside the north pool at the conclusion of ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

People tie ribbons to the fence at St. Paul’s Chapel near the National September 11 Memorial & Museum during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, hand over heart, at a ceremony remembering the 3,000 lost and the first responders who entered the Pentagon 20 years ago.

Former President George W. Bush, right, wipes his eyes next to former first lady Laura Bush, after he spoke at a memorial for the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Shanksville, Pa., on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees and guests take part in a moment of silence during an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Springfield, Va. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden lay a wreath at the Wall of Names during a visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. The Bidens visited to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A shadow of a rose is projected onto a flag held by Germano Rivera by the north pool during ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, an Alexandria fire station hosts Sen. Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe for a ceremony remembering that tragic day.

On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, an Alexandria fire station hosts Sen. Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe for a ceremony remembering that tragic day.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff attend a memorial for the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, Saturday Sept. 11, 2021, in Shanksville, Pa., on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and Gordon Felt, brother of Edward Porter Felt and President of Familes for Flight 93, are right.

April Horton, left, Blake Edward Schaffer, 10, and Andrea Stauter, right, sisters and nephew of Petty Officer First Class Edward Earhart, who was killed in the Pentagon on 9/11, pose for a family photo following an observance ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, on the morning of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Nephew Blake Edward Schaffer was named honoring Earhart.

A screen displays a video of former President George W. Bush during an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Springfield, Va.

Bagpipers stand at attention during ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York.

A member of FDNY rings a bell during the singing of the National Anthem at the annual 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2021 in New York City. During the ceremony, six moments of silence were held, marking when each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell and the times corresponding to the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. The nation is marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin speaks during a remembrance ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on September 11, 2021. – America marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Saturday with solemn ceremonies given added poignancy by the recent chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and return to power of the Taliban. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Bruce Springsteen performs during the annual 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2021 in New York City. During the ceremony six moments of silence were held, marking when each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell and the times corresponding to the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. The nation is marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(L-R) Former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, President Joe Bien, First Lady Jill Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg’s partner Diana Taylor, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) stand for the national anthem during the annual 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2021 in New York City. During the ceremony six moments of silence were held, marking when each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell and the times corresponding to the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. The nation is marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (C) attends the annual 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2021 in New York City. During the ceremony six moments of silence were held, marking when each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell and the times corresponding to the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. The nation is marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Delegates from the United States Embassy including Acting Ambassador, Philip T Reeker (L), Charge d’Affaires, attend the changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, on September 11, 2021. – In a royal tribute to the dead, who included 67 Britons, the US anthem was played on Saturday by fur-hatted Welsh Guards at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Windsor Castle. (Photo by Steve Parsons / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A beam of light is visible over the Lincoln Memorial, the day before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as part of the Towers of Light Tribute, Friday Sept. 10, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Pentagon
An American flag is unfurled at the Pentagon in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at sunrise on the morning of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The American flag is draped over the site of impact at the Pentagon. In the foreground, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, opened in 2008 adjacent to the site, commemorates the lives lost at the Pentagon and onboard American Airlines Flight 77. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

An American flag hangs from the side of the Pentagon to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, on September 11, 2021, in Washington,DC. – America marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Saturday with solemn ceremonies given added poignancy by the recent chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and return to power of the Taliban. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

An American flag is unfurled at the Pentagon in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at sunrise on the morning of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The American flag is draped over the site of impact at the Pentagon. In the foreground, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, opened in 2008 adjacent to the site, commemorates the lives lost at the Pentagon and onboard American Airlines Flight 77. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A rose is seen at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial that commemorates the lives lost at the Pentagon and onboard American Airlines Flight 77 at the Pentagon in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at sunrise on the morning of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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Pentagon
It’s impossible to forget the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the plane crashes at the World Trade Center, in New York; the Pentagon, and into a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania — the scuttling of a hijacking that was likely headed for the Capitol.

While the attacks themselves are unforgettable, so much of life in America, and the D.C. area has changed since then it’s easy to lose track of it all.

At WTOP this week, we’ve tried to highlight some of those changes — both systemic ones, and changes in the lives of people affected directly by the attacks.

It’s a long list, but we did our best.

The people

Racquel Kelley was feeling under the weather that morning; she almost didn’t go in to work at the Pentagon. But she made it in, and saw the planes crash in New York.

After that, her memory goes in and out. Some of what she does remember after a plane plunged into the Pentagon is pretty rough stuff, but she told WTOP’s Mike Murillo about the events of that day from the inside, as well as her road to recovery.

The fire departments in the D.C. area had a long, difficult day that day, and John Aaron spoke with four firefighters — one of whom is now D.C.’s fire chief — about the horrific things they experienced, and how they still deal with it.

One of them gets triggered whenever he sees a building being torn down; another simply says, “That was that, and I’m going to move on.”

WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green and reporter Neal Augenstein both remember the attacks in different ways.

Green, who was at Voice of America at the time, remembers seeing the smoke rising from the Pentagon on what had been a beautiful Tuesday morning.

He spoke recently with current and former national security agents about what they remember and how they reacted — including one agent who responded by doing “something that we teach team members not to do.”

Augenstein, meanwhile, was headed to Reagan National Airport to report on the reaction there to the crashes at the World Trade Center. Only while he was on the way did he find out he would be covering the crash into the Pentagon.

This was before smartphones or social media, and the cellphones weren’t working well either. Then he found out another plane was headed toward the area.

You can read about his experience, and what a vice president of the Poynter Institute has to say about how journalism has — and hasn’t — changed in 20 years.

Many Americans were affected in long-lasting ways, even if they survived. The attacks left Samaria Braman with a badly injured husband and three daughters who hoped to go to college one day.

Melissa Howell spoke with Braman about the nonprofit that allowed their children to go to college and “took such a weight off our shoulders.”

Mental health

The attacks took an emotional toll on everyone, whether they were at the sites of destruction or not.

But one psychiatrist told Kristi King that aftermath of Sept. 11 — along with other traumatic events such as the Beltway snipers and the pandemic — remind people that we all need help sometimes.

Are we prepared?

On the morning of Sept. 11, much of the D.C. area was evacuated — but actually getting out of the area was a nightmare: Many people ended up simply crossing the bridges out of town on foot.

Kristi King talked to emergency preparedness authorities about what went wrong, and what they’ve done since to make large-scale evacuations easier.

A matter of history

The attacks were long enough ago that two girls who were in the day care at the Pentagon that morning are in the military now. It’s a historical event now — taught to children who weren’t even alive at the time, in many cases by teachers who were children themselves 20 years ago.

That poses challenges in the classroom, and a professor who has studied how Sept. 11 has been taught explains what teachers wish they could have to teach it more effectively.

On the Hill

Remember how Democrats and Republicans came together, put aside partisan differences and got to the bottom of the attacks? Well, WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller remembers that setting up the 9/11 Commission wasn’t as smooth a process as you might remember.

If you’re wondering why the battles over the nascent Jan. 6 commission are so contentious — well, they didn’t come out of nowhere.

‘We are as American as anyone else’

The attacks were a dark time for all Americans, and for Muslims in the United States, there were more problems to come in the aftermath. (Plenty of knuckleheads went after Sikhs as well, and still do.)

One activist explained what the worst time for American Muslims started — it’s not when you probably think — and explains why he sees signs of hope that treatment of his community will get better.

More information

The attacks and their fallout have generated two decades’ worth of stories, and we couldn’t get to all of them ourselves.

You can read more from our news partners — a look at where some of the artifacts of the attacks are being stored; the shockingly small number of victims who have been officially identified; a look at how air travel has forever changed, and a whole lot more — on WTOP’s Sept. 11 anniversary page.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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