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The September 11 Digital Archive

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Jean A. Bruening
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 24 June 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

My husband worked in One World Trade Center - on the 85th floor. On September 11 I called him to discuss where we were going to meet for lunch - I had to come into the city for an appointment with a doctor at NYU and he was coming with me. I really didn't want to go though the security hassel in his building so we were discussing where else we could meet. Suddenly I heard him yell "Oh my God!" as the phone dropped to the desk (or floor) and this was followed by a loud sound and things falling and people screaming. My first thought was that Ray had a heart attack. He picked the phone back up and told me, "I just saw a plane hit our building. I'm O.K. but I have to go". I don't know what I said or if we even talked any more. I did try to call back a few minutes later after what he said sunk in but no one answered. I was frantic. I called my dad in Michigan - thank goodness my mom had flown in the night before to watch my 23 month old son because Ray and I were scheduled to leave for a short trip on the 12th. I don't know how I would have dealt with keeping it "together" in front of him by myself. I then called ABC news to see if they knew what had happened but got no information. Finally, the news stations began to show live pictures. This is when I thought Ray must be dead. It looked as though the plane hit right near his floor - I knew if it hit below him he wouldn't be able to get out. I can't even describe the next 3-4 hours. I just "lost it". At one point I drove to the ferry station in Atlantic Highlands (New Jersey), to try to get into the city to find Ray - the police stopped me and told me the city was closed down. I was driven home by EMS where I watched 2 WTC collapse. I really didn't think Ray could have gotten out. I think it was just over three hours before I heard from him. He called me from a Banana Republic in Seaport - they were letting people use the phones to call home. I couldn't believe he was alive! I told him the ferry was evacuating people and to get on one quick. I really didn't believe he was alive until I saw him in the Highlands and was able to put my arms around him.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

Every morning when I get up the first thing I do is to turn on the news to see if something happened. I can't hear the sound of an airplane without looking up to see if it is O.K. I worry about my husband every day he goes to work. Since September 11 he has been evacuated from the ferry and his place of business due to bomb threats and his place of business (The New York Mercantile Exchange) is on heightened alert for attack. I used to take my son into the city to surprise his dad for lunch - I wont think of doing that again any time soon. I can't imagine what my husband has had to deal with walking past that site every day since they went back to work on the 17th. I now have an emergency kit in the basement in case we need to evacuate quickly and I never let the gas tank in the car get low. I take notice of my surroundings more now and discuss possible senarios with my husband. He has now been though two terrorist attacks (both WTC attacks) and he's only 36. You can't think that it wont happen to you because it can.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

There is so much to remember. The senseless act that took so many lives - so many people with a future now gone. We don't know what we lost in all those lives. The men and women that lost their lives trying to help others. The way communities pulled together to help eachother. I have never felt so close to complete strangers in my life. The feeling that our nation pulled together as one - suddenly all the differences that we seem to fight about on a daily basis didn't matter.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

I never owned an American flag prior to September 11th. It took me weeks to finally get one from a site on the internet - I even tried to buy them from gas stations that had them flying. I will never look at the flag again without a sense of pride in our nation.

Cite as: Jean A. Bruening, Smithsonian Story #27, The September 11 Digital Archive, 24 June 2002, <>.
Archival Information: 457 words, 2162 characters

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