A popular country song asks, “Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?” That September day was of course, Sept. 11, 2001. And as we recognize the 20-year anniversary of the devastating attack on our country we are sharing employee stories from that day. Some were in the military; some were working for Consumers Energy and some were toddlers. Read on to learn more about their memories of that day, how things have changed since and why we must “never forget.”
Editor’s Note: For this article, two employees (Mario Austin and Chris Buday) were interviewed. The other employees sent in their written submissions.
Michael Bostwick, Senior Design Technician
“There was an American Red Cross blood drive scheduled for that Tuesday morning at the Flint Service Center. As an experienced donor, I knew getting there early was the most convenient way to donate blood without taking too much time away from my work, and took some pride being the first donor of the drive too.
At the time my cubicle was on the 2nd floor, so just a few minutes before 9 a.m., I headed downstairs. As I approached the “T” in the main hallway and was preparing to head left to the gas crew room, I looked to my right to see a crowd gathered outside the electric dispatch room door. I thought this was odd, given it was a beautiful September morning, so I turned that direction. Upon reaching the group of fellow employees, I looked inside the room just in time to see the second plane crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
After watching these events transpire, I decided the first thing I needed to do was go ahead and give blood as I had planned, figuring that was one small thing I could do to help the injured survivors. I did so, and to this day my blood donor card with the date “9/11/2001” as a haunting reminder of the horrible events of that day.
Later, I found out that a guy I graduated from high school a year ahead of and had played football with for two years was on the 102nd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane crashed into the building just 10 or so floors below. He was the only Flint-area native to die in the attacks that day.”
Steve Senkowski, Senior Engineer III
“I was working at Detroit Diesel at the time. We were hosting an all-day meeting with the U.S. Coast Guard that day, going over some issues they were having with one of the engine models we provided for their motor lifeboat fleet. At first, a few people were getting messages about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. There were some side conversations such as was it a small personal plane, was it a commercial airliner, etc. Then someone said another plane hit the other tower.
While on a break from the meeting, I found a television in a breakroom broadcasting CNN and got filled in on the story a little better. At that point I knew it was no coincidence. I began thinking, those poor people on the planes, the absolute terror they must have felt before it hit the building. I couldn’t imagine how a human being could be so callous as to even think about doing that to another human being. This was pure evil to me. Later that day, while on an errand for the meeting, I saw on a TV another shot showing the cloud of dust and asked, “Where are the buildings?” Someone told me they had collapsed. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t comprehend how that happened. I remember being sick to my stomach from hearing that and later watching it on the news.
I also remember walking out to my car that day after work. There were no planes overhead coming into Detroit Metro airport. It was eerily quiet. I remember thinking to myself that this is going to change our way of life. The freedoms that we enjoyed would never be the same. This is a turning point for our nation.
I called my parents that evening and we talked about what had happened; they were deeply troubled by it as well. My father had been in WWII in the U.S. Navy aboard LST 223, the “big one” as it’s been called, and was part of the “Greatest Generation” of Americans. Looking back on the history of Detroit Diesel, they had supplied thousands of engines for WWII for a variety of tanks and landing craft, including generators on the very ship my father was on. That became a point of pride for me and helped lift me out of the darkness created by that day. To know that I was working for a company that had in the past been a force to defeat evil and tyranny made me proud. I will never forget where I was on September 11, 2001, and how it affected me. We must never forget.”
Phillip Pancratz, SCC Outage Specialist
“I was stationed at Oceana naval air station in Virginia Beach, VA. I was an electronics technician supporting a communications and radar facility. I was also on the auxiliary security force.
On the morning of 9/11, I was wiring an electrical panel that would feed some new communications equipment. I was called away to see the news about the Twin Towers. About 20 minutes later I got the call that the auxiliary security force was activated. I was sent to stand watch on the roof of an aircraft hangar for the next 16 hours. What I remember most about those 16 hours is the constant fully armed fighter jets taking off one after another after another all day and into the night to patrol and protect our skies. After that I stood watch at various locations around the base 12 hours on/12 hours off 7 days a week for the next 8 months until I left for sea duty. The events of 9/11 disrupted so many lives and so many families not just on that day, but for so long after.”
Mario Austin, Plant Operator
Mario Austin was at work as an auxiliary operator at the Campbell plant on Sept. 11, 2001. He was talking to the control center employees when they received a call from an operator who had just been relieved. “He told us that that one of the towers had gotten hit in New York City. We didn’t know what was going on so we asked a supervisor if we could turn on a TV,” Austin said.
As they watched the news, he experienced a whole range of emotions because they didn’t have a lot of information about what was happening. “A plane had hit the tower, but we didn’t know if it was an accident or what the reason behind it was,” he said. Then they watched the plane hit the second tower. “Now we’re figuring this is a terrorist attack. You go from being sad to getting angry,” Austin said. But he also still had a job to do so he left to do his work but would return often throughout his shift and watch as the towers began to fall.
The biggest change Austin noticed at work after 9/11 was increased security. “Our perimeter security and our cyber security improved for the better,” he said.
Austin, who had previously been in the military, remembers an increase in enlistments after 9/11. “I remember seeing people volunteering more for the military, people wanting to do something,” he said. “We all weren’t in a position to volunteer to help but I think most people felt like they wanted to do something because it was such a tragedy where there were so many innocent lives lost.”
“It was a lot of sadness and it’s something you never want to happen again in our country, but it’s also sad as a country, those are the only moments that people really rally together as Americans is during tragedy, when we forget all our differences,” he said.
Chris Buday, Facility Field Leader Northwest Zone
Chris Buday was working for Grand Traverse County on Sept. 11, 2001. After the first plane crashed, employees switched to watch the news on desktop computers and watched the second plane crash into the building. “There was a lot of confusion and fear,” he said. “As a leader, coworkers expect answers, even if you don’t have the answers.” Buday said the fact there weren’t any answers helped drive the fear, “We had no idea what the nature and extent of the attack was, and if it was going to continue – I think that was the biggest fear for everyone wondering if that was the end of attacks or what would be attacked next.”
Buday said they talked about what had happened and how we were protected locally to keep employees calm. They discussed what was known and what was unknown at the time. Employees continued to work after viewing the tragedy on television.
As a Navy Reservist, “I was halfway through my 28-year career and had been through a lot of field training and emergency training that was useful in addressing the situation,” he said.
At the time, Buday was switching to a unit based out of South Korea as a public works officer. “Every enlisted person we had in the South Korean unit was mobilized and their duties changed from being builders, electricians, cooks and clerks to security guards. Their duties changed overnight and after more military training the enlisted were sent to South Korea to work as security guards.” Security at all military bases increased significantly after 9/11.
“I don’t know if it changes your perspective, but it makes you much more aware, which I think is a good thing,” he said. Whether it’s a possible terrorist attack, a natural disaster like a hurricane, violent storm or other natural disaster, Buday feels we need to be aware and prepared for unforeseen events.
“There are certain days in my life I will never forget; when President Kennedy was assassinated, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and 9/11,” he said.
Robert Titsworth, Gas Operations System Manager
“I was working as a contractor for Consumers Energy installing a gas service to a home in South Lyon. Strangely enough, I heard about it from the homeowner we were doing the installation for. Her husband worked at the Federal building in Detroit and was being evacuated due to the lack of information about more planes and possible threats.
By this time, I had been out of the military for 14 years, but my heart certainly went out to all the people who were affected here in the United States. Also, I couldn’t help but feel concerned for my military brothers and sisters, both those who I had served with and all others, as I knew our country would soon be engaged in a war in which they would be called to defend our nation.”
Stacey Vanwynen, Technical Assistant III
“I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was at home with my two small kids, doing normal things around the house, folding laundry and cleaning up after morning breakfast. The TV was on in the background, I always watched the “Today” show.\ When the news broke, I remember feeling confused and in disbelief. As I sat at the end of my bed watching the TV, I remember thinking these everyday tasks no longer mattered. I picked up the phone, called my husband first, and then everyone in my family. I was talking to my mom when the second tower was hit, thinking this cannot be happening. I sat there and just cried.
Lauren Foyteck, Engineer I
“I was only two years old when 9/11 happened so I personally don’t remember much. At the time of the attack, my mom was getting ready for work and getting me ready for daycare. In the middle of getting ready, the attack showed up on the news and my mom was horrified. She was a single mother wondering what the best thing was to do for her and her toddler, and just didn’t know what to do next. Apparently when she was standing there watching the news, understandably terrified, I pointed towards the TV and said “bear.” I thought that the smoke from the buildings looked like a bear. We have visited the memorial in NYC, and she shared this story with me during our visit. Growing up, I was used to the amount of intense security at airports and never thought anything of it until I had a middle school teacher explain how you used to be able to easily walk through airports and travel with little to no security before 9/11.”
We know these are just a few of the stories our employees have from that day. As we all take time to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11 we also remember the heroes of that day, the first responders who ran into the crumbling buildings as everyone ran out; the military that responded to assist in rescue efforts, the citizens who volunteered in the minutes, hours and days that followed. We may not be able to thank those who were on the ground that day, but we can thank a local firefighter, active military member or veteran, EMT or police officer.