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Where were you on 9/11? Faculty, staff and students share their stories

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(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Fifteen years have passed since the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, but for many the memories of that day are still vivid and real.

Senior Airman William Burgess was stationed in the Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England when the attacks happened. He said he watched the second plane crash into the twin towers live on TV while he waited at the dentist’s office.

“Even in that moment, I didn’t put it in my head that it was some kind of terrorist attack or something because terrorists using planes as a form of a weapon had never been heard of up to that point,” said Burgess, who now works at the UCM Military and Veterans Success Center. “So you’re just like, ‘What is really going on with the air traffic controlling in New York City?’”

Burgess said everyone in the waiting room was glued to the TV. He was called back for his appointment when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

American flags line the quadrangle at the University of Central Missouri before the Patriot Day 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11, 2015. A flag was placed for every person who lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. (Photo by Samantha J. Whitehead)

PHOTO BY SAMANTHA WHITEHEAD / PHOTOGRAPHER American flags line the quadrangle at the University of Central Missouri before the Patriot Day 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11, 2015. A flag was placed for every person who lost their lives in the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

“I’m sitting in the chair and the doctor was beginning to start the exam, and all of a sudden you heard a lady scream from the waiting room, and that was when the Pentagon got hit, and that is when it clicked in everybody’s head that this is something different than just a huge crazy accident going on,” he said.

Burgess said the staff was panicked and the dentist told him to leave and report to his duty station.

“I had a really long drive around the end of the runway to get to where my work was, and that whole drive I’m just like, ‘What is going on? I’m overseas in England, there’s an attack on my home soil, there’s nothing I can do personally other than just sit back and watch all of this happen,’” Burgess said. “So I get to work and we’re all in a frenzy, of course, you know, threat levels go up – pretty much the base is on a whole lockdown. We don’t know if it’s just going to occur there or if it’s going to occur somewhere else.”

Burgess said he noticed a heightened sense of camaraderie amongst Americans when he returned to the U.S.

“We all kind of looked at each other differently, smiled at each other a little differently,” he said. “I kind of felt bad. I kind of missed out on a little of that, but I still got it, you know. I still understood.”

While some people remember where they were and what they were doing on 9/11, some UCM freshmen barely recall the events of that day. Erica McCann, freshman hospitality management major, was only 3 years old.

“I remember my mom picking me up from day care and rushing me back home to watch the news,” McCann said. “I do remember my brother, like, running around the house too, going crazy because that’s what he does.”

Although McCann didn’t really understand what was going on at the time, she finds herself drawn to footage and documentaries about the events of 9/11.

Bryson Kenworthy, senior theatre performance major, said he remembered seeing it on TV.

“I do remember seeing a shot of it on the news and seeing the first tower, but otherwise, nobody really explained to me what was happening because I was in second grade, so it was kind of, like, kept away from me in a way,” Kenworthy said. “But I do remember the year after on the exact day we all stood out in front of my elementary school with flags, and we had a long moment of silence.”

Jay Steinkruger, assistant professor of chemistry, was a senior in high school when the attacks happened. He heard other people talking about it in the hallways but wasn’t sure if it was just a rumor or not.

“So I remember getting to a class, and there was a TV in place, and you were actually seeing live coverage of the events,” Steinkruger said. “I guess there’s a whole range of emotional things you could say to describe it, but suddenly it was a very real thing that you didn’t imagine could ever happen that was happening.”

Stephen Ciafullo, assistant professor of valuing differences, had two classes to teach that morning. When he got to campus and heard that the first plane had hit the twin towers, he had to decide whether to continue with his classes or not.

“(I) didn’t have a whole lot more information. I had a 9:30 and an 11 o’clock class and I was doing a culture shock exercise, which is kind of freaky anyway in there. And I had to make the decision whether to go on with my two classes or not, and I did,” Ciafullo said. “And when I got out and found out that another plane had gone into the twin towers and the Pentagon, I was shocked. You could tell it was probably planned terrorism.”

Ciafullo said he can remember seeing some of his students walking around the Quad in a daze.

“And one of my students, a young lady, came up, and I just held her for about 10 minutes,” Ciafullo said. “And it’s interesting because I got an email from her about two or three years ago. She’s down in Texas in her career, and she says she always remembers that day.”

Ciafullo said the community gathered by the Friendship Tower that night as a show of unity and resistance.

“It’s that type of stuff that brings us together.”

UCM will have a similar show of unity Friday, Sept. 9, to remember those who responded and those who lost their lives in the attacks. The ceremony will begin at noon near the flagpole on the Quad and will feature U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Arnold N. Gordon-Bray (Ret.) as the keynote speaker, according to a university press release. The event is free and open to the public.

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