The Day Before America Was Interrupted: Nine People Recall Sept. 10, 2001

Originally published on September 13, 2011 4:25 pm

When Americans are asked what Sept. 10, 2001, was like, many call that Monday "normal" or "ordinary."

"Just a normal summer day," one man said.

That all changed on Sept. 11.

Nine individuals told All Things Considered where they were on Sept. 10. They talked about some of their serendipitous experiences, near misses or devastating turn of events of that day — the day before America was interrupted.


Janet Vincent, rector of St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington, D.C., says she was in White Plains, N.Y., on Sept. 10. That evening, she took her 5-year-old nephew to a Yankees-Red Sox game. The game was rained out. Vincent said she was later haunted by a question that her nephew asked her that evening.


Janny Scott was a reporter on metropolitan news staff of The New York Times. Married to a local TV anchor, they lived up on the Upper West side of Manhattan with their two small children. On Sept. 10, she picked up her 9-year-old daughter from her piano lesson and took her home for dinner.

Two days prior, Scott says, they held a birthday party for her daughter, who was fascinated by surgical paraphernalia. They hired an emergency medical technician with access to an ambulance to teach basic first aid to a couple dozen third graders in their living room. The grand finale, she says, was a tour of an ambulance parked at the corner of 90th — and everyone in their bandages tried out the stretcher.


Karen Parziale, a marketing consultant and publicist, runs a public relations agency in Hoboken, N.J. On Sept. 10, she was planning a "very big and important business trip" to the World Trade Center for Sept. 11. She had suggested 9 a.m. to her partner.

But Parziale's client never called back.


Matt Long, a New York City fireman for 17 years, was headed to Ladder 43 for the 6 to 9 o'clock shift. He says when he arrived, he realized they were missing two men in their roster. So he called up his brother Jim, also a firefighter, to get him to come down to his station. "It's very rare that brothers get to work on the same truck or engine," Long says. "So he did." Jim came down with another firefighter. But the next morning, the brothers decided to have breakfast together. The other firefighter wasn't so lucky.


Alan Wallace, who works for the Fort Myer fire department in Arlington, Va., was one of three firefighters assigned to the Pentagon heliport fire station on Sept. 10. He says that day, they had "a little excitement." President Bush was coming over to the Pentagon to fly out to Andrews Air Force base. The next day, Wallace was stationed again at the Pentagon. Early in his shift, he caught a sudden glint of light in the sky. It was a jetliner coming in at full speed at ground level. It passed over his head. Wallace says when he spun around — there was no airplane to be seen — just a burning hole in the side of the Pentagon.


Former First Lady Laura Bush says she had a luncheon with Janette Howard, wife to the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, on Sept. 10, 2001. That afternoon, she worked on a briefing that she was going to give the Senate Education Committee the next morning. And then her in-laws, President Bush and Barbara arrived late in the afternoon. They were spending the night, while her husband, George W. Bush, was in Florida.


Ted Olson was the solicitor general of the U.S. on Sept. 10. That day, he worked in his office. He says he had spoken at some length with his wife Barbara. It was his birthday on Sept. 11 and he says she wanted to be home with him that evening, so she changed her flight. While she was slated to fly out Sept. 10, she flew out Sept. 11 instead — on Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon.


Rick King, the owner of Ida's Country Store on Main Street in Shanksville, Pa., says the kids were in school on Sept. 10, so he opened the store. He says he would have been down there around 6:30 a.m.

The next day, as Shanksville's assistant fire chief, King was one of the first responders to the crash of Flight 93. It's said in Shanksville that if the plane had remained airborne for just two more seconds, it would have hit the local elementary school.


Rob Quillen, from Omaha, Neb., was a software salesperson on Sept. 10. He was on a flight to New York City for an annual sales meeting. On the flight, Quillen sat next to a man who asked him if he worked for NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon. Quillen was wearing a NASCAR T-shirt. Quillen said he was just a very big fan of the guy. The man said that he and his son were also huge fans.

Later in the flight, the man told Quillen his 15-year-old son had epilepsy. And he had recently asked his son to tell him a place where he wanted to go. His son had said, "I want to go to a NASCAR race and I want to meet Jeff Gordon," Quillen says. Quillen says he had a couple of extra tickets for the first NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway — so he offered the man the two tickets. When they exchanged business cards, it turned out that the man was United Captain Jason Dahl. That next morning, Dahl piloted United Flight 93 — the one that crashed in Shanksville, Pa. But Dahl's son, Matt, did get to see his race car hero in Kansas City. Quillen made sure of that.

Erin Killian is a producer for NPR. Art Silverman produced this story for All Things Considered. The piece in its entirety airs today on All Things Considered so tune in to your local NPR member station. We'll post the as-aired version here later today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

A look now at that moment before America was interrupted.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Everything was normal the day before.

MAN: It was a very normal sort of day.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: On September 10th, it was an ordinary day. I was going into the office.

WOMAN: Same stuff, you know. It was like a normal day the day before.

MAN: It was a normal day.

WOMAN: A normal day.

MAN: This was a normal day.

WOMAN: It was just a normal day that we do every day.

WOMAN: It was your normal summer day in western Pennsylvania.

JANET VINCENT: I'm Janet Vincent. I'm the rector of the St. Columba Episcopal Church in northwest Washington, D.C. And on September 10th, 2001, I was in White Plains, New York, waiting to get to my parish office there at Grace Church. It was a hot and humid day. And that evening, I had tickets for the Yankees-Red Sox game. And it was the first time I was taking my five-year-old nephew to his first Yankee-Red Sox game.

SIEGEL: I don't understand, what does this mean? And as the week went on, that awful week, his words just haunted me: What does it mean?

SIEGEL: After September 10th, Pastor Janet Vincent conducted numerous special worship services. No one from her parish died in the terror attack, but many grieved for colleagues from New York's financial district.

JANNY SCOTT: The grand finale had been a tour of the ambulance, which was parked at the corner of 90th and Broadway. Everyone in their bandages got to try out the stretcher. At the time, it had seemed like an inspired idea.

BLOCK: Janny Scott put aside her ongoing project for The New York Times and started writing about the people who died in the attacks. That project was continued by her and others for the next year. It was called "Portraits of Grief."

KAREN PARSIELE: My name is Karen Parsiele and I'm a marketing consultant and publicist, and I own my own public relations agency in Hoboken, New Jersey. And on September 10th, 2001, I was planning a very big and important business trip to the World Trade Center for September the 11th. And the plan was to meet in the building actually right across the street from the World Trade Center. And my partner said to me, what time? And I said, oh, you know, let's just make it at 9:00.

SIEGEL: But Karen Parsiele's client never called back. Her appointment at the World Trade Center on September 11th never took place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MATT LONG: I guess he beat my brother back to his house by about 15, 20 minutes. And Rob was on the first truck down to the Trade Center and Rob, unfortunately, paid the ultimate sacrifice that day.

BLOCK: Matt Long marvels that his brother survived because he stayed for breakfast that day. Matt Long is now retired from firefighting. His brother, Jim, still works for the New York City Fire Department.

ALAN WALLACE: September 10, we had a little excitement that morning. President Bush is coming over to the Pentagon by way of motorcade. His plan was to get on the helicopter there at the Pentagon heliport. The helicopter, Marine One, would take him over to Andrews Air Force Base. He would get on the Air Force One and the airplane would fly to Orlando, Florida.

SIEGEL: Alan Wallace says when he spun around, there was no airplane to be seen, just a burning hole in the side of the Pentagon. Today, Wallace is retired and living in Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LAURA BUSH: This is Laura Bush and this is what I was doing on September 10th, 2001. I had a luncheon for Janette Howard, the prime minister of Australia John Howard's wife. That afternoon, I worked on the briefing that I was going to give the Senate Education Committee the next morning. And then my in-laws, President Bush and Barbara, arrived late in the afternoon. They were spending the night with us that night.

BLOCK: The next day, Laura Bush would have to wait for her husband to return from Florida. The president's plane was diverted first to an Air Force base in Louisiana.

TED OLSON: And she re-arranged her schedule to leave the following morning, rather than the evening of September 10th.

SIEGEL: Barbara Olsen was a passenger aboard Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon. Today, Ted Olsen is in private law practice in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RICK KING: My name is Rick King. I live here in Shanksville. I'm the owner of Ida's Store on Main Street. I've had the store for about 15 and a half years. I've lived in Shanksville pretty much all my life.

SIEGEL: 30. First employee comes in around eight.

BLOCK: As the assistant fire chief in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Rick King was one of the first responders on September 11th to the crash of Flight 93. It's said in Shanksville that if the plane had remained airborne for just two more seconds, it would have hit the local elementary school.

ROB QUILLEN: He said, Dad, I know exactly what I want to do. I want to go to a NASCAR race and I want to meet Jeff Gordon. And I had a couple extra tickets for the first NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway down in Kansas City, so I offered the two tickets to him. Obviously, I didn't have the tickets with me, but we exchanged business cards.

MAN: 00 flight.

SIEGEL: Dahl's son Matt did get to see his racecar hero, though, in Kansas City. Rob Quillen made sure of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WOMAN: September 10th, 2001, I was just returning...

MAN: On September the 10th, 2001...

MAN: On September 10, 2001, I was...

WOMAN: September 10, 2001, I was sitting in (unintelligible) therapy...

MAN: I was working the overnight shift at Wal-Mart here in Somerset.

WOMAN: On September 10th, 2001, I was flying on a morning...

MAN: On September 10th, my students were working on timelines of their life...

MAN: On September 10th, 2001, we were on the eve of releasing a new album. We actually played in a...

MAN: September 10th, 2001, I was living close to the Hudson River and I ran every morning down to the World Trade Center and back and...

MAN: ...2001, we were changing our core operating system, which is...

MAN: September 10th, my students were working on timelines of their life...

MAN: ...a turbulent...

MAN: On September 10th, 2001, I was visiting my friend from law school, who was in Baylor Hospital and was dying...

MAN: September the 10th, 2001, I flew to Fairbanks, Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MAN: This was a normal day.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.