Remembering 9/11: As children, the world changed in front of them
Three lakes area residents who were children when 9/11 happened have clear memories of that fateful day.
Sept. 11 is seared into memory.
The day after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, Jodie Tweed from the Brainerd Dispatch went to Pequot Lakes to talk to school children and teachers.
Twenty years later, the memories for three of those students, including one who went on to serve in Kuwait and Iraq, remain clear on those events the same way other generations remember the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“I remember the moment clear as day, sitting in English class, Mrs. Dotty, my teacher at the time, coming in projecting a sense of disquietude,” Beth Raasch wrote of her memories of the day. “Her voice trembled as she announced what was happening. She turned on the news and we all sat stunned. A reel of emotions playing out within me, yet a sort of disconnect began taking hold. The feeling as though this isn't real, soon however it did in fact set in. Anger and fear settled in the pit of my stomach knowing war and much death would follow. Even if at the time I didn't understand the full scope of it.”
"It’s hard to believe it’s even been 20 years."
— Jessi Martino
Raasch, then 13-year-old Beth Rieschl, was standing outside the Pequot Lakes School with friends on the day after the Twin Towers burned and collapsed, killing nearly 3,000 people. At the time, the teenager said she was worried about the boys at school and if they’d be drafted to fight a war in response to 9/11.
“My teacher said it was a real dramatic thing and we were too young to understand it,” the 13-year-old said. “But I understand it.”
Now 33, Raasch remembers thinking with the foolishness of youth that she did understand it all, but she said she did grasp there would be losses to come in a war to follow. She said they didn’t do much academically the rest of the day on 9/11. All the adults were so stricken she doesn’t think they could have taught lesson plans even if they wanted to.
“It's incredible the way everything is so crisp and I found that it's crisp for anyone,” Raasch said of the memories of that day, down to the vibrant colors in the memory. Raasch remembers going to her classroom and seeing her teacher Mrs. Dotty’s face as the teacher came into the English class.
“The look on her face and just the energy coming out of her was just full of this trepidation, this fear and disbelief,” Raasch said. “And she goes and she announces to us what is happening as she is quickly going to the TV and turning on the news, and just the whole class was just silent and tears were coming to her eyes and everything. In the whole school, there was just this silent somberness throughout the whole school. … And it wasn't until later when we really saw, you know when you go home and you see the news footage much more clearly, that it impacts you even harder as you see people leaping from the building to their death because it’s on fire and they can’t get out.”
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Raasch remembers the news coverage lasting for days. And then, as it happens, life slowly began to get back to normal. But even then, Raasch said that day remains in the background, always there along with what happened following it, like the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing health issues for the firefighters and first responders, police and helpers in New York who worked on the Pile.
Raasch, Pequot Lakes, is the mother of two and her daughter is now nearly the same age she was on 9/11. For her children, Raasch said the big event in their lived history is the pandemic.
"In the whole school, there was just this silent somberness."
— Beth Raasch
Jessi Martino, now 36 and a mother of three including a 15-year-old son, was herself 15 on 9/11 at the Pequot Lakes School.
“It’s hard to believe it’s even been 20 years,” Martino said. She remembers riding the bus to school that morning and coming into the school’s common area, where tube TVs were on carts and all playing CNN coverage of what seemed to be a continuous loop of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. The TVs were on in the classrooms as events of the day unfolded.
The memory felt fresh. She could still see the people jumping from the Twin Towers, making the desperate decision to fall to their deaths to avoid the raging fire consuming the building and the people in it. That is still hard to watch, she said, knowing they didn’t want to jump either but felt it was their better choice.
A lot has happened since that day but nothing as big as that moment happening in the United States, Martino said. During 9/11, Martino was reminded of the records her grandparents played of old radio shows, including the 1937 Hindenburg disaster when the airship caught fire just as it was docking for a landing in New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crew members. Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who was there for what he thought would be a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, documented the event in a coast-to-coast radio broadcast.
“And it was like that — with a visual,” Martino said of 9/11.
As a teenager talking to a reporter on 9/11, Martino said: “It’s living history. It was hard to believe it was actually happening.”
Martino also remembers doing school drills in the aftermath that seemed as though they couldn’t possibly work to get people away from the school in time if there were an explosion, even as Pequot Lakes seemed far removed from terrorist targets.
But things did change after 9/11. Martino went on a trip with her grandmother to see Portugal the year before the attacks and later, after 9/11, when her family members were going to Europe all the items they thought of as routine — like knitting needles and crochet hooks — were no longer allowed and had to be left behind.
"They helped us, why aren’t we helping them?"
— Joseph Arens
For then 9-year-old Joseph Arens, the thoughts were already on the terrorists behind the attack.
“I’m scared of terrorists,” the 9-year-old told the Dispatch on Sept. 12, 2001. “Every news channel says terrorists are doing it and they don’t know who it is.”
Arens, now 29 and living in Brainerd, served with the Minnesota National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Arens was in the National Guard for 10 1/2 years, retiring as a sergeant E-5 after serving with the 1-194 Headquarters and Headquarters Co. in Brainerd.
Arens also remembers the television coverage at school but what stands out more for him, at a younger age than Martino or Raasch, is the reaction of the adults around him.
“The kids were — and we were obviously concerned, but at that time, I didn’t understand it as much as I would now if it happened,” Arens said. But the teachers’ reaction wasn’t as impactful for Arens as was the reaction of his parents when he got home. With his dad’s reaction, Arens said he had more of a grasp and understanding of just how bad the events of that day were.
“I just remember my dad being worried,” Arens said, and there was the tension of what was going to happen next. “My dad, he didn’t have the news off for the next few days. … and for weeks after, that was all anybody talked about. Everybody on the news. Everybody you see, parents, friends, your friends. I mean everybody was talking about it.”
Arens said he knew even then things would change, but he wasn’t worried about where he was. After high school, Arens joined the Minnesota National Guard and deployed once to Kuwait/Iraq in 2011-12 as part of Operation New Dawn and Enduring Freedom with the Red Bulls. He said as an adult to witness something similar to 9/11 would be mind-blowing.
“My outlook has definitely changed and there’s more opinions now that I was more involved,” Arens said. His brother was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. Arens said 9/11 probably had an impact on his decision to serve. As he got older, he felt serving was the best thing.
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Seeing the Sept. 11 memorial is on his bucket list and an experience he expects would increase his perspective of that day.
Now with the fall of Afghanistan, Arens said there are confusing times as the 9/11 anniversary approached. Arens said he felt they had good relations with the locals when he was deployed.
“So that’s one of the things that kind of hurts the most with what’s going on and the current news is, like, there’s people that we helped and they more than helped us, and they are kind of stuck on a runway. … They helped us, why aren’t we helping them? … Just leaving them there is not a good thing and we’ve just got to wait and see what happens next, unfortunately.”
Arens said he’d rather the country fulfilled its promises with the visas for those in Afghanistan who did help, like the interpreters.
“As a country, a promise is a promise and we still should have helped those people. I hope we still do or still will help them,” Arens said.
Looking back at 9/11 and the anniversary this weekend, Arens said he looks at it as a big event in his lifetime and one that has importance for a lot of people in the nation if not the world. “We’ve got to make sure we're protected and we protect other people,” Arens said. “I just kind of look back at it that a lot of people lost their lives back there back then. And hopefully it can be prevented from happening again.”
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.