In their own words: TCOM family shares memories of 9-11 terrorist attacks

By Steven Bartolotta

Flag Day Ceremony

Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing during the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

This Sept. 11 marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the crash of a hijacked airplane in a field in Pennsylvania.  

The attacks gripped a nation and touched the lives of Americans. Faculty and staff members of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) shared their stories and recollections of that day. 

Dr. Frank Filipetto, Everett Endowed Professor, Dean of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine

“I remember it vividly. I was actually doing office hours in Williamstown, New Jersey when I had heard that a plane crashed into one of the towers. Because we were in the middle of seeing patients, I didn’t get much information until much later in the day when office hours were over and I finally learned about the extent of the 9-11 attack.” 

“I remember watching the news channels that evening and getting emotional over the lives lost and the scene of family members and friends not hearing from their loved ones. I remember the first responders NYPD and FD who ran into the buildings to save lives only to lose theirs. I remember wondering if any of Janet’s family members were involved (a cousin was in FD, another cousin did business in WTC).”

“Thankfully, they were OK.  I remember Americans actually coming together as Americans, flying flags in solidarity and supporting each other as opposed to what we see now as a country politically divided over nonsense.” 

Dr. Sajid Surve, Professor of Family Medicine

“I was a medical student in Stratford, New Jersey.  My brother worked on Wall Street in the financial district, my best friend commuted from Brooklyn through the World Trade Center to his job in Newark and my mother-in-law was working in Midtown Manhattan.” 

“It was exam week, which meant we had big exams on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  My brother woke me up on Tuesday morning, calling me urgently to turn on the television.  I turned on the TV just in time to see the plane hit the second building.  My girlfriend (now my wife) and I spent the next two days straight sitting on our couch watching the news and calling our family to make sure everybody was OK.” 

“My brother overslept his alarm that morning or else he would have been at the World Trade Center right around that time.  My best friend was on the last train to leave the World Trade Center for New Jersey before it was hit.  The whole train shook, and it lost power temporarily, but they were able to make it to the station.  My mother-in-law didn’t have a cell phone, so nobody heard from her as she left her office to return to New Jersey; she ended up on one of the last buses to leave New York City before they locked down all the bridges and tunnels.  This time will forever be seared into my memory.”

Dr. Nancy Tierney, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Education

“I was in Wurzburg, Germany on Sept. 11, 2001. I was with a group of friends on a 2-week tour through Europe. We arrived in Wurzburg on Sept. 10. On Sept. 11, we had just gotten back to the hotel to clean up and change for dinner. It was 4 p.m. there. I turned on the TV while we were getting dressed for dinner and there were the Twin Towers against a clear blue sky, smoke spewing from the upper floors. The commentary was all in German, but I didn’t need a translator to know something really bad had occurred. Next thing we see is the second plane fly right into the tower.”  

“I was crying and was very upset…my ex-husband’s uncle worked on the 77th floor of the North Tower and I was frantic. I tried calling my ex to find out what was going on and if he had any word from his uncle. I could not get through to the United States. I tried all night without success. Finally, I got through at 4:00 a.m. Texas time. His uncle made it out alive and the story of how he got out and how he got to his wife was harrowing.” 

“There was nothing any of us could do so we continued with the planned itinerary. We could not have gotten home even if we wanted to … nothing was flying into or out of the U.S. One specific thing I remember is the reception we got everywhere we went. Every person we met, from the local people to the tour guides to the shop owners, expressed their support for the United States and our people. Everyone wanted to help in any way they could. It was so wonderful, the feeling of comradery and being ‘in it together.’ There were people who were supposed to leave to go home to the U.S. on Sept. 11 but couldn’t leave. They literally had no place to stay, since they had checked out of their hotels. However, hotels and private citizens in all the countries we visited found places for them to stay until they could get home. We watched and listened to the news everywhere we went … and it was on all the time, everywhere.” 

“The U.S. opened up just before we were scheduled to leave. We toured Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and France. Every stop we made included our bus being boarded by soldiers with machine guns while others surrounded the bus. Several times, two of us were taken off the bus and had to pull out luggage so it could be checked along with the luggage compartment. We circled back to Germany to leave from Frankfurt. I remember soldiers everywhere in the cities with machine guns. Soldiers with machine guns and a no-nonsense attitude heavily guarded the airport in Frankfurt. I remember being thoroughly frisked by a female soldier while another soldier stood next to me with the machine gun.” 

“We made it home safely but it was a nerve-wracking flight. When I think about it now, I wish I had been here but feel very fortunate to have been in Europe and personally witness the reaction from around the world.” 

Dr. Janet Lieto, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Education

“I was driving to office hours to see geriatric patients listening to the radio when I first heard that New York City was being attacked.  There was a lot of confusion.  When I got to work, we turned on the TV to watch what was happening.  Patients came in distressed and questioned what was happening.  There was a lot of disbelief and confusion.” 

“My mind went to my family.  My cousin is a firefighter in Brooklyn. His department/precinct went to the scene to help with what we still thought would be casualties, not knowing that there would be just deaths.”

“My other cousin’s husband’s company was in the Twin Towers and he was late going to work.  They lost employees that were there already.  There were a lot of family calls checking in with each other to see if others were in New York City.  Thankfully, my family did not lose anyone. What I remember most:  the frantic calls to make sure family was not in New York City or in the Towers and then the disbelief and sadness as to what occurred.” 

Clarence Sparks, TCOM Class of 2023

“I had just graduated high school in May of that year. I was working a morning shift at Mr. Gatti’s in Midland prepping dough for the day. Our general manager came in and told us a plane had hit one of the towers. I recalled reading several instances of small prop planes hitting buildings in New York in the past, so I didn’t initially think much of it.” 

“He then told us they think it was a terror attack and had us watch the news on one of the larger screens. I recall watching the buildings burn and thinking about how things like this just do not happen. I remember the dread while watching the first building collapse, mortified by the thought of how many people were in the building and surrounding area.” 

“The first few hours were filled with so much uncertainty. The reports of the attack on The Pentagon and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania came in. People speculated on how extensive the plot was. How many more planes were vulnerable? How many were stopped when all of the planes were grounded?” 

“I recall thinking of how much things would change. No longer were we insulated from world events. We had been attacked on our own soil and taken completely by surprise. It seemed like a sense of dread and fear began to settle over things that day, visible on the faces of everyone I interacted with.” 

Dr. David Mason, Assistant Dean, Osteopathic Medical Education

“I remember vividly where I was and what was happening on Sept. 11, 2001.”  

“I was seeing patients in our Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine clinic on the campus of Rowen University School of Osteopathic Medicine.  I was between patients when staff member told me about the first plane hitting the first tower.  The first thought was, ‘What a horrible tragedy and terrifying accident.’  My next patient was ready so I saw the patient and as I was finishing the visit, the second plane hit the second building.  There was an immediate realization that this was no accident. The rest of the day was filled with news reports and media communications.  Our school decided to cancel classes and allow people to get home and be with family.  There were many people on that campus directly affected by these events.  That day I questioned what life was going to be like going forward.  My wife was pregnant with our first child, and I wondered what type of world we were bringing my daughter into.” 

“Patients and colleagues of mine spent time as first responders and physicians at the site over the next few months.  My brother-in-law was in the World Trade Center one week earlier working as an energy trader.  He had friends who died on Sept. 11.” 

Dr. Rynn Ziller, Assistant Dean, Office of Medical Student Success

“I had taken the day off work to take my mom down to Scott and White in Temple for a doctor’s appointment. Because we weren’t at home, I wasn’t planted in front of a TV and could only catch snippets here and there.” 

“I started getting texts from my students. (I probably had hundreds by the end of the day.)  One of my 1st year student’s husband was a pilot for American Airlines and he was scheduled to fly out of Boston that morning. It was late in the day before she got confirmation that he was not on one of the planes taken over by hijackers. Her TCOM family really rallied around her, and I remember feeling so far away. I couldn’t wait to get back the next day to hug my students and grieve with them.” 

Dr. Kate Taylor, Assistant Professor of Geriatrics

“I was stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington working as a cardiovascular intensive care staff nurse. I was coming home from a night shift from moonlighting. I was backed up in traffic on the highway and I had no idea what was going on.” 

“I got home and heard the news. I want to say that I had to go to the hospital for a mandatory check-in and it took hours to get onto base. The shift work at the hospital did not change. I remember mostly that I was feeling grief for all the people who died, their families, the healthcare workers, firefighters and the City of New York. It was so sad, and it took some time to digest what happened.” 

Dr. Curtis Galke, Chair of Family and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

“I was in private practice in rural Idaho.  My wife and I were watching a morning news show while finishing breakfast and getting ready for work.” 

“I remember feeling that everything in the world was just about to change.   I had no idea what that change would entail, however in my gut I knew that life would not be the same. Naturally, my thoughts quickly turned to family and friends.   It was disconcerting watching the planes hit the towers and then The Pentagon and even later losing the plane in Pennsylvania.  I couldn’t get my head around what could be next and when it would end.  I felt relatively safe in rural Idaho, but within hours of the event it felt as though the entire USA were my neighbor and what was happening to those on the East coast was also happening to us in the rural West.”

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