Kentuckians share their memories of Sept. 11

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From Kentucky News Content Service 



In the moments before the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, officials from 18 states had gathered for the annual Southern Governors' Association conference in Lexington. As Governor of Kentucky and chairman of the association, I was hosting the event. 

Around 9 a.m. we learned that a plane had crashed into the North Tower. At the time, we believed it to be a terrible accident. Within minutes, we were told the South Tower had also been hit. Quickly finding a room with a television, I, along with West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Mike Foster of Louisiana, and several others, watched with horror and disbelief the destruction and devastation unfolding on the streets of America's most famous city. 

When news of a jet crashing into the Pentagon came across the wires we knew our nation was under attack. The governors needed to get home, but couldn't fly since all planes had been grounded. We began sending them out with Kentucky State Troopers who coordinated their safe return with law enforcement officers across the south. 

In the days that followed, we came together as a country and a Commonwealth to pray for those who had paid the ultimate cost in these acts of aggression. Sept. 11, 2001, was a date carved in time for each of us ... a date when our blankets of security and shades of innocence were abruptly swept away by the acts of a few crazed terrorists ... a date when time stood still as millions of Americans were held spellbound as modern technology electronically transferred them to a scene of horror only experienced on one other occasion in our nation's history. Never again will any of us watch an airplane soar or gaze upon New York City's altered skyline without thinking of these horrific events. 

Over the past decade the world has observed firsthand the spirit of the American people, a spirit that others have described as a "sleeping giant," and a giant that reveals its strength and greatness during times of duress and peril. As we mark this significant event in our history, let us pause to remember the bravery and sacrifice of so many heroes and let us continue to ask for God's blessing on this great nation. 

- Paul E. Patton, Governor of Kentucky 



Few people will ever forget where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. I was in Dawson Springs for a few days visiting my parents, as their health had been deteriorating. We were watching television together that morning after breakfast and saw the terrible events as they occurred. Like many people, we stayed in front of the TV set for the rest of the day, trying to figure out what was happening and what these attacks meant for our country.

I remember feeling mixed emotions - sorrow for all the people who lost their lives and for their families, and anger at those who would perpetrate such a horrendous act.

The war on terrorism certainly escalated that day, and it's a war that continues even today. I just returned from a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands of Kentuckians are continuing that fight to protect our freedoms. Those servicemen and women deserve our continued support and gratitude.

- Steve Beshear

Governor of Kentucky


I was in Louisville on Sept. 11 and it was during the early stages of my campaign for Congress. I was working when Elizabeth called me and told me to turn on the television immediately. In an instant I was shocked, saddened and stunned. It is a day that made us all want to hug our families a little closer and commit to being stronger Americans.

- Jack Conway

Kentucky Attorney General


On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was still at home preparing to go to the U.S. Capitol when I heard that a plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Like most Americans, I was glued to the television and watched the attacks unfold before my eyes. I saw the second plane go into the second tower. By then, I communicated with the Capitol Police and they advised me to stay away from the Capitol, to not come into the office. I then reached out to my staff to ensure they, like the thousands of others who work in the Senate and House, had safely evacuated the Capitol grounds. My wife, Elaine Chao, came home from the Department of Labor and brought some of her employees with her, and we continued to watch everything on television. I saw the reports about the plane striking the Pentagon and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania that we now believe was intended to hit the Capitol. By the end of the day it was clear America was at war, and things would never be the same. I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America" to show the nation and the world that our government was united and unafraid.

- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

U.S. Senator/Kentucky


I was in Louisville that day, having breakfast. The restaurant TV was turned on and I remember thinking that the hole caused by the first plane was too large for a private plane. Then I saw the second plane hit and knew it wasn't a terrible accident but an attack on the United States. I felt sickened and everyone was bracing themselves to see what would happen next.

After calling into my Frankfort office to check on where member families were (Sen. Tori's son was on a commercial flight), I drove home by Ft. Knox and not the usual I-65. I remember noticing quite a bit of activity there.

That night, I was eating dinner at a restaurant and they had the TV on to follow the coverage. At one point, the station played the national anthem and there was not a dry eye in the place after.

- Senate President David Williams

Candidate, Governor of Kentucky


I was at the practice facility at Memphis. I had planned a recruiting trip for that afternoon, which was obviously canceled. I was just plastered to the TV the entire day. I was supposed to go recruiting and obviously that wasn't going to happen. Some of it we watched with our team. I was just trying to figure out what in the world was happening. Like everyone else, I couldn't believe it.

- John Calipari

University of Kentucky Basketball Coach


I remember Sept. 11 being a pretty morning. I was home in Prestonsburg and my wife, Mary Karen, was watching television. I heard her scream that the news was showing a plane had hit the World Trade Center. When I came in, I could tell that it almost certainly was not a small plane, given the damage. When you've been a pilot for years, as I have, you look at things differently. There were perfect weather conditions, making it unlikely that it was unintentional. I told her that someone had to fly that plane into the building on purpose. Then we saw the second plane hit, and we knew for sure.

Nobody seemed to know what to do. Would there be more attacks on government buildings? They closed the courthouse, we closed my law firm, and I told my legislative staff at the state Capitol to go home. It was a total feeling of frustration and fear. Then you began to feel, as the details emerged throughout the day, that fear turn into sorrow for the victims and then anger.

- Rep. Greg Stumbo

Speaker, Kentucky House of Representatives


On Sept. 11, 2001, I was living in Utah whereas most of my activities, professional or otherwise, revolved around our ongoing preparations for the 2002 Olympic Winter games - in every category. I was intricately involved, having served as VP/Marketing Director for three of Utah's ski resorts.  

Utah is of course two hours behind the east coast, so it was early. I woke up, took a shower and began to return phone calls - I did not turn on the TV. I noticed that I had 20 or so missed calls but honestly I didn't really give it a second thought considering all the ongoing activity. It wasn't THAT unusual.

The first phone call I made that day was to an associate who so happened would be celebrating his 50th birthday. He had told a group of friends the night before that no one ever remembered his birthday. He explained he had one of those birthdays that no one ever remembered because it was an odd number in the middle of a month with no real holiday so it was a boring sort of birthday.  Because of his comments I was determined to make a special effort to remember and be the first to call him that morning. I dialed him up and said "Happy Birthday!" Rather than "thank you" or "you remembered" he responded "Dea go turn on the TV." I knew by the tone of his voice something was very wrong.  

While holding the phone, still connected, I stared in silence at the TV watching the images of the first tower burning. I asked if he knew what had happened? At that time no one knew exactly what was going on or even if it was intentional - well at least the press wasn't saying what they knew, although several were eluding to the fact it was an attack in their commentary. Within minutes I watched as the second plane flew into the remaining tower. Then I knew the U.S. was under attack. My children were waking up in preparation for school and I told them they would be staying home. First, I was shocked but that was immediately replaced by the realization as to where or if the next attack would be. My thinking switched from trying to absorb what had just happened to what could happen to who and which of my friends or associates would be most under threat. Many of my clients, friends and associates did business all over the world so they regularly commuted. Utah had become an international port both in business and in preparation for the Olympics. We were less than four months away from pulling off the largest sports event in the world, an event we had prepared for more than four years to accomplish. I knew everything in that regard was about to change.

I stepped out onto my back porch, a cold September morning spitting snow and looked around at the surrounding mountains. I knew nothing would be the same after today. I was right. There was an eerie silence as phones jammed too congested to handle the number of calls. The only planes overhead were Hill Air Force fighters obviously patrolling being in itself a terrifying visual as to the reality of the situation. It was the first time I declared it was time for me to go home to Kentucky. I don't know why I felt that way, other than when one is faced with such uncertainty one longs for those things that mean the most to them. Kentucky was one of those things for me. 

The impact was indescribable. Everything did change. Luckily, I did not lose any friends to the attack, but many were affected financially and generally business stood at a stand still for nearly a month. We did host the Olympics without a hitch or attack. To say the least I have never forgotten that day nor have I forgotten the birthday of my friend who now shares his birthday with one of the most memorable events in U.S. history. I call him each year and wish him a happy birthday.

- Dea Riley,

Candidate, Kentucky Lieutenant Governor


The memory of the events of September 11, 2001 will forever stir the emotions of rage and sadness within me. The rage is directed at those terrorists who target innocent women and children as a part of their war mongering and the sadness is for the victims and their families who bore the brunt of it. 

I was driving to my law office and listening to WVLK's Jack Pattie who reported that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade buildings. No details were immediately available and, of course, I believed it was an accident. When he reported the second attack, I was dumbfounded. Who would do such a thing?

Thereafter, like tens of millions of other Americans, I was glued to the nearest TV set and watching in disbelief at the utter destruction and chaos. The later reports of the attack on the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania crash would only fuel my fervent hopes and resolve that whoever was responsible for this could and would be brought to justice.

Therefore, I was highly gratified when Osama Bin Laden was dispatched by a courageous band of Navy Seals who risked their lives in service to their country. This does not, however, remove the risk of further terrorist attacks on Americans around the world and the lesson we should all take from 9/11 is to be forever vigilant in protecting our American way of life from those who will never accept the fact that our way cherishes individual and religious freedom. 

We are, in fact, at war with those people and let the memory of 9/11 remind us never to weaken our resolve to win it.

Gatewood Galbraith

Candidate, Governor