September 11 memories from Orion

Mindy Carls

Kristina (Meyer) Hillery, Orion High School, Class of 2004: I was sitting in German class when the teacher was pulled into the hallway and came back in moments later with a TV and spoke to us about what had happened to the twin towers.

We sat in silence and in horror watching it unfold. It hit hard for a lot of us who were in New York the year prior for our choir trip and had photos with the towers in the background. There were lots of tears and silence in the room as we watched this occur, but I do remember America came together the strongest it ever had before.

Kayla Arkebauer was in Barbara Norton’s fourth grade history class at C.R. Hanna Elementary School: I remember she abruptly left the room to be told about what was happening with the world, but nothing was discussed with us. It wasn’t until after the walker bell rang that I found out the twin towers were hit.

Mariah Morse: That is a day I will never forget. First hour English class my senior year at Orion High School. TVs were brought in so we could watch the developments.

Donna Metzler: I was enjoying my first day of 'retirement' from Herr Petroleum Corp., Galesburg, on 9/11 and Bill was at work. I was anxiously awaiting dinner out that night. 9/11 was our 25th wedding anniversary.

Needless to say, we didn't get our dinner. We didn't even get to spend the evening together on our farm west of Orion. Bill worked at ANR Pipeline in New Windsor and someone from the pipeline had to man the station 24/7 for a while.

I remember laying on the sofa with my coffee watching a movie that morning and I got a phone call from my sister telling me to turn on the TV — we were under attack. Then Bill called and told me not to leave the house for any reason. I was quite honestly terrified. I remember thinking that my parents had told me that this could never happen in the US - and thinking they lied to me.

More:9/11 brought a sense of national unity. Why has the pandemic been marred by division?

Jane Helke, Orion: I was teaching third grade in Cambridge and the kids were just lining up to come in for the morning when we got the word of the first plane hitting the building. No TV in my room, so just word of mouth from teacher to teacher.

After our beginning of the day activities, I got the kids busy doing something and turned on the computer which was a lot more rudimentary than now. I went to CNN which was totally off screen for a half hour or so.  When it came back on it was like my perception of an AP ticker tape, a listing of the time followed by a statement of what was happening. There were no pictures at that time. Then I turned it off and tried to get on with our day. At a quick staff meeting at noon, we decided to postpone the open house which was scheduled for that night. We thought it was more important for families to be together at home that evening.

Candace Schultz, who lived in Orion with her husband Dave from 2007 through 2020: Dave and I were on the way to Springfield for a luncheon with the governor when we received a call from Dave’s secretary that the federal buildings were all closed due to the attack.  Katie Couric was the anchor on the “Today” show at the time, and they were not sure what was going on. At first they thought low-flying planes.

Our oldest son Jonathan was turning 16 on Sept. 12 and we went to get his driver’s license the following day. The state buildings were closed. As we were pulling away, the driver’s license official came running after us and said she would open for his test.

Julie Bridgewater: We lived south of Andover on the same property we live on now, but in the old two-story house. I normally would have been at work at the hospital, but had just been put on bedrest, doctor’s orders due to problems with my pregnancy.

My husband Don had been gone for military duty to Germany and had just returned the night before, which was a few days early due to my situation. The three boys were at school and I was resting until my doctor’s appointment later that day.

I remember seeing the first plane hit and immediately was terrified and horribly sad for all the victims and their loved ones in the plane and in the World Trade Center. To think they were just at work doing their job.

Then when the second plane hit I knew it was a terrorist attack and immediately was concerned for all flights, including the ones carrying our military home from Germany.

It really began to sink in how horrible this all was when the Pentagon was hit and the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. To think my husband had been on a plane just 24 hours before all of this went down.

The other thing that I remember distinctly was how all flights were grounded. We had stopped at Casey's in Andover to get gas, and all of a sudden we saw fighter jets surrounding a single huge plane overhead. At first we were alarmed, then we realized it was the President of the United States flying overhead, which gave me goosebumps.

Judi Heller: I was working in the office at Orion United Methodist Church. Pastor Becky Lembke came in to say a plane had hit a building in New York City. I told her to run back home and bring her small TV, so we watched as that horrible day unfolded.

Rick Cline: I had just retired from the Army and was subbing in high school P.E., out on the flag football field. Bob Bergstrom (Bergie) rode up on his golf cart and told me that a plane had flown into a tower.

After class, I went to the teachers lounge and watched on CNN as the towers came down. Absolutely surreal.

Lisa (Goddard) McDowell, Orion: Here is what 9/11 was like for me. I woke up early that day, 8 1/2 months pregnant. I wasn’t feeling all that well, so I went back to bed. I woke up to my water breaking about noon. I called my mom and she was telling me to turn on the TV. It took a bit to be able to tell her I needed her to get me to the hospital. My daughter was born at 5:42 p.m. I couldn’t watch what was going on. The nurses had been talking about it most the afternoon. The fear of what I brought my baby girl into was heavy on my heart.

Barb Wiedenmann, rural Coal Valley: I was home with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, and had “Good Morning America” on, and saw it on TV. I was not sure what was going on, and then I sat down and watched. So sad. I went to church that night at about 5 p.m., and 23rd Avenue in Moline was NUTS. Lines out of gas stations, backed up onto 23rd. The city was in a panic. The gas stations raised their prices. Scary day and times. They shut down the air flights, and it was so quiet outside. I never realize how much outside noise there was in the skies until that week.

Tricia Engstrom-Gehring, who lived in Coal Valley and now lives in Orion: I was a senior at St. Ambrose University. I was getting ready to go to my reading methods class when my dad, who was at work, called me to tell me what had just happened. I immediately started watching the news.

I drove to SAU, only to find my class had been cancelled. In the classroom of Ambrose Hall, the previous class had drawn a beautiful mural on the three walls of chalkboards depicting the tragic and showing American patriotism. I hope SAU has pictures of that mural. It was breathtaking.

Brittany Meyers, who now lives in Orion: I was a senior at United Township High School during Homecoming week. I was heading into my social studies/English course when we heard the news. We watched TV in every class that day.

I got called down to the principal's office because my dad called me to let me know he was fine but they were on lockdown (he worked at the Arsenal, which is in the top 10 for terrorist attacks — if you didn't know that). I remember crying a lot and I'm pretty sure that's when my anxiety issues started.

A lot of my friends entered the armed forces, and while I had planned to move far away, I decided to live closer to home and went to Iowa State University. USA Today ran a story today actually after interviewing several of my classmates.

Dianne Graham, who now lives in Orion: I was getting ready to go to a meeting. Men were at our house in Hickory Hills, Blue Grass, Iowa, installing a new furnance. Then it happened. I went to the basement and told the guys there working, “I might as well turn on the television so you can see what is happening in our world. Take a break whenever you need to.”

Of course all air traffic was ordered out of the air. We had a young man that is like a son to us stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, which is where they rushed then-President Bush.

Well, my phone rang and I heard my "son" say, "Are you home?" I said yes.

He said, "Go out on the deck and look up." I said, “Why? There is nothing in the air.”

He said, "Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Now!! Look up!!!"

There were three planes way above us flying over. He said "That's Air Force One and a fighter jet on either side. Not supposed to be on the phone! Love ya! Bye!" and he hung up. That was impressive.

This is the saddest day I have ever lived so far.

Irene Conklen, Andover: I had just pulled into the clinic where I worked at when the news came over the radio. I went in and saw on TV that the towers were hit. We did not see many patients that day, because they stayed home to watch the unbelievable. Needless to say, most of staff were glued to TV. There were many tears shed that day, as we sat there, taking it all in. Every year since then, on that date, we share our memories with some of coworkers from that day.

Kala Parrish Linder, Orion High School graduate: I was at the University of Illinois in my sophomore year. I was scheduled to work at the graduate college. I remember waking up and going into work, unaware of what had happened, and I walked into an eerie atmosphere. I remember everyone sitting around quietly listening to radios.

We all ended up being dismissed and I rushed back to the sorority house and immediately turned on the news. I remember just feeling in shock. How was this happening in our country? Was this real? What did this mean? We all were trying to understand and take it in.

Classes were cancelled that day, which allowed us all to try and comprehend the events and as the school scrambled to find a way to help support the students and staff, while keeping us all safe.

I also remember going to fill up the gas tanks along with most everyone else, just in case we needed to get home to our families, and talking with strangers at the long lines as we all tried to comprehend.

Nancy VanDuyne Hancock, Orion: I dropped one child off at middle school and the other off at daycare, and I can remember vividly as I was driving through Colona small bits of information were coming through the news on the radio.

When I arrived at my client's home she had the TV on and out of the corner of my eye I saw the first tower fall. It was very surreal and confusing as no one knew what was actually happening.

I left, picked up my son from daycare, waited for my other son to be released from the middle school, and we just sat home and felt so many emotions.

Nikki Seabloom, Orion: My husband was Active Duty Air Force. We lived in San Antonio. We had only been there a couple months. He was TDY (temporary duty) in South Carolina.

I waited in line for hours to get on base to get my 6-month-old from daycare. And another hour or so to get off base to retrieve my other child at school. I was terrified as I could not reach my husband.

I remember feeling guilty because I knew so many families lost loved ones and at the same time I was so worried about what was about to happen to us as a military family.

I also remember the quiet skies. That absence of the jets flying and smell of jet fuel was very strange. I remember my crying daughter worried about her daddy and asking God for strength to keep calm and strong for her.

Katy Clark, then in Geneseo, now in Orion: I was sitting in class my junior year. My teacher's phone rang and she answered. I could see the look of shock on her face. She immediately ran to turn on the TV. We watched as the second plane hit the tower. A few cried out and some even shed tears. We all gathered in a circle, held hands, and our teacher offered a prayer as we watched the towers fall. A day I will never forget.

Charlene Loding of Orion: I was relieving a nurse in Pediatric unit for break. She left and I went into a patient room and started to feed a fussy baby.

The TV was on and the announcement was that they thought a private plane had crashed into the 1st building.

A few minutes later there was more information and it all unfolded as the day went on.

All patients had televisions on watching the horror and trying to figure out why and who had done such terrible things.

Larry Dierikx, who grew up in Orion: “I was stationed in San Diego on a frigate. My buddy and I were on board ship already working on something when one of the guys came barreling into where we were and said we had to see what was on TV in the shop. We got into the shop just in time to see the second plane hit.

Five mins later, the base was locked down and we were starting to go plant hot (getting ready to get underway at a momentary notice) just in case we were ordered to get out to sea.

My wife couldn't bring me anything since the lines to get into base were two hours or so. They searched every single vehicle. No air traffic at all. No jet noise, just ships steaming at the piers waiting for the next word on what to do.

Amy Huitrado, Orion: I was forward deployed to Itay on the USS Emory S Land. We had just pulled into Gaeta, Italy, to work on some submarines and another ship. I had walked into the shop after getting dressed to go on liberty and I see the first plane on the TV. Our cable line had just been hooked up.

I remember looking back at my chief, confused. His first words were, “Go change, this is not good.” I went back and threw on my uniform and raced back to my shop and watched it unfold.

I don't know if it had already happened when we saw it because of the time difference and not having TV underway. But I knew it was fairly current.

The next thing we heard was our commanding officer telling us we were leaving immediately, and we all just went into getting everything back to underway mode.

I remember hiding in one of my firefighting lockers telling my mom that we were going back out to sea with a unknown destination and we will have no communications. I said, “I love you and talk to you soon.”

There was no communication for 2 weeks and what we knew, our captain shared with us.

I will never forget that day or the days following when a, entire battle group of ships surrounded us to protect us since we were a Navy subtender that had no way to defend ourselves. We just carried all the weapons and bombs for the other ships. Our bombs were the first to hit Afghanistan.

Tiffany Underwood, Orion: I was a high school senior. My first-hour class was an art class. My teacher came in red-faced and obviously upset a few minutes after the bell rang. She turned on the TV and turned off the lights. She told us. "Today is your generation’s JFK."

I had no idea exactly what she meant until I watch the airplane hit the second tower. I knew then and there I would never forget this and the world we lived in would never be the same.

I was confused that something like this could happen in America. All I wanted to do was call my mom. The art teacher allowed me to go to the payphone and call my mom. She was relieved to hear from me. Apparently she had been trying to call the school and couldn't get through.

She told me to go find my brother and head for home, and to call her once we were home. When we got home, my mother instructed me to go get gas at our small town Casey's. I was to have my 15-year-old brother drive the truck with some gas tanks and I was to take my car and get as much gas as we could. After we waited in line for 45 minutes, we got gas and came home.

The rest of the day was filled with people calling and coming over to the house.

The Rev. Sharon Wilbur, now co-pastor of a church in Orion: I was 19 years old. I was in an orientation assembly at the start of my second year at Rhema Bible College in Tulsa, Okla. We had sung a few songs when the dean informed us something had happened in New York City and if anyone in the building had connections in that area to please be dismissed. We waited awhile longer, we prayed, we wondered and we left.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I called home, which was in a city about 20 miles north of the campus. My Mother answered and told me, with tears thick in her voice, there was an incident in New York. They thought a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Surely this was an accident?

I drove to my parent’s house. I walked in the door at the perfect time to see the second plane hit the second tower live. I was screaming. My mother was screaming. We cried out, terrified, realizing to our horror that this was no accident.

I sat there next to my mother and my youngest brother and watched. We couldn’t comprehend the new age of terror that we saw with our own eyes, heard with our own ears. We prayed for mercy. For protection. For wisdom.

We saw the rescue vehicles and the smoke pouring from both of the buildings. Then, if it was not beyond our capacity to imagine the present horror, the firstt building began to collapse. Oh God. The people. The first responders!

The Pentagon is hit. Who would do this? Why? Who could hate us so much?

The second tower falls. I remember the sound, the sirens going off under the rubble. It was indescribable.

The last plane hit a field in Pennsylvania. There are reports of terrorism. In America? Unfathomable. Disgusting. Agonizing. We gathered our loved ones and we wept. And we watched the images of destruction.

Today, I am a pastor in Orion. At my church, all of my youth were born after that day when the Twin Towers fell. Everything they know about 9/11 is from videos, history books and testimonies.

I sing and I still pray. Pray for mercy. Pray for protection. I pray for the city on the hill.