As a combat medic in the U.S. Navy, Abe Tamayo had seen bombed-out buildings, mass casualties and death.
Memories of that time came back years later as he watched TV footage of the terrorist attacks and collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Tamayo remembers the feeling of wanting to help, but being too far away.
He thought about re-enlisting.
But by 2001, Tamayo was a captain for the Salvation Army in Fremont. He’d previously comforted those affected by the Oklahoma City bombing and had seen the horror of domestic terrorism.
Now, he — like people around the world — was seeing the horror of international terrorism.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day known as 9/11, when terrorists hijacked and rammed commercial airliners into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
A fourth plane, headed either for the White House or U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers fought the terrorists.
History records that the attacks claimed the lives of 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000; 19 hijackers committed murder-suicide.
Most people today remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. Although two decades have passed, memories of that day are etched in their minds.
Tamayo, now a Salvation Army Major living in Fargo, North Dakota, served as a Navy combat medic from 1976 to 1982.
While the U.S. wasn’t engaged in war at that time, there were conflicts in other parts of the world.
Tamayo remembers the death and destruction he saw overseas.
Then on April 19, 1995, anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh perpetrated the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At least 168 people, including 19 children, died in the blast.
Tamayo was serving in Garden City, Kan., at that time, but came about a week later to help relieve Salvation Army workers who’d become exhausted.
He remembers the aftermath and the emotions. Seasoned law enforcement officers wept as they removed bodies from the building’s daycare center.
After the building was secured and a roadway made in front of it, families and other survivors could come to grieve. Tamayo spotted a boy, about 11 years old, who was by himself.
The boy put his hands on his head and looked in horror at the scene.
“I talked to him and he’d been orphaned by the bombing, so I hugged him and talked to him and prayed with him until he told me he had enough strength that he could move on from that site and, I think, also to move forward in life,” Tamayo said.
Tamayo never heard what happened to the boy after that.
“I think of him often,” Tamayo said, quietly. “I still pray for him.”
Looking back, Tamayo remembers the devastation of that time in history.
“A domestic terrorist attack was so shocking to me and to the country. We assumed it had been foreign terrorists,” Tamayo said.
It was devastating to learn the attack had come from an American.
Then, six years later, the nation faced an attack by foreign terrorists.
Tamayo and his wife, Rhonda, were serving the Salvation Army in Fremont in 2001.
He was at home when he heard about the attack. As a veteran, he felt anger about the attacks and empathy for the families who lost loved ones.
A Salvation Army advisory board meeting was scheduled that day. Tamayo set up a television in the gym and the board watched the events unfold as they conducted their business.
Tamayo and others saw the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapse.
During his time in the Navy, Tamayo had seen a military aircraft attack in which a building was blown up and people killed, followed by another wave of aircraft to complete the task.
Seeing the twin towers collapse brought back those memories.
Tamayo also was in the Salvation Army gym when he heard jets fly over Fremont. He recognized the jets by the roar of their engines and how fast they were flying.
They were flying low.
“It was shocking to me because I didn’t realize President Bush was being flown to Offutt (Air Force Base in Bellevue),” he said. “Then it made sense to me that they were securing the airways.”
In September 2001, Donna Meyer of West Point was living in Pennsylvania and was a legal assistant at a law firm in Morristown, New Jersey.
She’d previously taken her parents, the late Mary Ann and Edwin Litz, and brother, Ron, to the massive World Trade Center. She’d been in the WTC and looked down at the lights and traffic in a place known as “the city that never sleeps.”
And she’d found the sight to be beautiful.
Meyer was an early bird commuter, who was working at her desk on Sept. 11, when one of the partners in a law firm next to her began yelling her name.
“Come check this out,” he said. “Some plane just hit one of the Twin Towers.”
American Airlines Flight 11 had slammed into the WTC’s North Tower.
Meyer and others saw watched news coverage on a TV in the man’s office.
They wondered how such a thing could happen considering all the approval it took to fly an aircraft — even a helicopter — over Manhattan.
“News reporters had to get permission to fly over an area just to do a story,” Meyer said.
After seeing the large billowing cloud of smoke coming from the tower via TV coverage, law firm personnel went to the back of their building.
They could see the smoke from their building, which was about 30 miles away from the WTC.
“We just stood there literally dumbfounded,” Meyer said. “It was a huge, huge cloud.”
Reports surfaced about possible hijacking, which turned out to be true.
Seventeen minutes after the first plane hit, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the WTC’s South Tower.
“You could hear sirens from where we were,” Meyer said. “Everybody was told, ‘If you’ve got family in the city and you need to leave — you guys need to go — and they were sending everybody out and told us to be careful.”
Meyer and others would need to be cautious.
“In Jersey, it was chaos,” she said. “They were driving crazy, crazy, speeding, not thinking clearly when they were driving, cutting people off. It was total panic.”
Meyer drove home to Pennsylvania and picked up her son, Richard, then only 9 months old, from his babysitter and they got home safely.
Like others around the world, Meyer continued to watch news coverage of the attacks.
“We discovered that the law firm next to us had a number of clients in the North Tower. They all had perished,” Meyer said.
Meyer recalls the tremendous and devastating loss of life.
And like others, she knows it could have been even worse had the attacks occurred a little later in the day when the buildings would have been filled with even more people.
“The devastation was huge, but part of us felt kind of blessed that those buildings weren’t full that morning, that it was just too early,” Meyer said. “It would have been worse — and it got worse with the loss of all the first-responders, the firemen, the police officers. It was a tremendous loss of people.”
Meyer recalls how she and friends would go into NYC on weekends and how the skyline wasn’t the same without the Twin Towers.
While this was unfolding, Meyer’s mother was making a baby album/scrapbook for Richard, which included photos of him and news clippings of those times.
Among the clippings were those of 9/11.
Meyer’s mother died of breast cancer — exactly one year later — on Sept. 11, 2002.
The scrapbook is precious, Meyer said, adding that her mother captured the history of that time for Richard, but looking at it is difficult.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to look at. You’d think I’d want to look at my baby’s album….”
More recently, Meyer was asked to join a Facebook group called, “The 9/11 Tower Memorial … A Place to Reflect and Connect.”
“I’m so drawn into it,” she said.
Meyer said the page has wonderful photos of the Twin Towers before the attack and stories of police officers, first responders and families.
“When you’re a person who goes into the city and you’ve been in the buildings and this happens, you feel like it’s a part of you,” she said.
Meyer and family members went to the Freedom Tower memorial in NYC when it first opened.
“I look at the fountain they built in front of the Freedom Tower with all the names of the victims,” she said. “It’s a great way to honor them.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kathy Monaghan was getting ready to take her dad, Marvin Jensen, to radiation treatment at Fremont Cancer Center.
Jensen had lung cancer.
Monaghan reached the house where her dad and mom, Lois, lived.
“They were glued to the TV so I could tell something was wrong,” Monaghan said. “I briefly watched the TV with them. As we were watching, we saw the second plane hit.”
She remembers her reaction.
“It was shocking,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Monaghan took her dad to his radiation appointment, returning to watch TV news coverage.
She recalls hearing the report that all airplanes had been grounded. Shortly afterward — like Tamayo — she heard jets in the skies over Fremont.
“I ran outside and I could see the jet fighters crisscrossing the skies above us – later to find out that President Bush had been taken to Offutt Air Force Base,” she said.
She watched TV coverage of firefighters going into the chaos and people, bloodied and ash-covered, coming out of it.
“I can’t even imagine what it was like to be there during that time,” she said.
Monaghan watched TV coverage of the attacks.
“I was glued to the TV from then on out for days,” she said. “It involved attacks on our soil. We’ve gone to wars, but this hit home.”
Looking back, Monaghan thinks about how innocent people were.
“We kind of felt safe here and that just kind of breached that and you felt vulnerable and that still continues to this day,” she said.
Monaghan’s dad died in February 2002 and her mom in March 2005.
Today, she and her husband, Mark, have six adult children and 13 grandchildren.
One of their sons, Lt. Brian Monaghan, is a firefighter at the Fremont Fire Department.
Firefighters put their lives on the line.
“Most days, they don’t have those types of emergencies, but should they arise, they are the first ones to jump in to try to help,” she said. “And you never know when that happens, because it happens so suddenly.”
Twenty years after 9/11, Tamayo thinks about that terrible tragedy and the Oklahoma City bombing.
“The parallels I recall is that generally people are pretty good,” Tamayo said. “There’s always evil in the world, but that doesn’t make Middle Eastern people bad people. That doesn’t make American people bad people. As a whole, people are good.”