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The south tower begins to collapse as smoke billows from both towers of the World Trade Center, in New York, on Sept. 11, 2001. That morning saw one of the most horrifying attacks ever against the United States.

Sept. 11, 20 years later: Where were you that day?

Sept. 11, 2001, lives on as a permanent memory for many, like the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor does for older generations. Many have strong memories of where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the planes hitting the World Trade Center towers. Here are just excerpts of stories from 9-11 shared by our readers:

Donna Casino of St. Anne

Donna Casino arrived at 7 a.m. that day at O’Hare International Airport, where 12 members of her family were leaving at 9 a.m. to vacation in California. She watched as one family member received calls about the World Trade Center and their flight schedule changed from “on time” to “delayed.”

“Soon all the TV monitors in the airport were turned off and people started making a mad rush for the public phones,” she said. “It wasn’t very long before an announcement came across that all flights in the United States were grounded and we were to go to baggage claim to get luggage and leave the airport.

“That’s when it got chaotic with so many people trying to get their things and leave. We had to wait until we got home to see for ourselves on TV the horror that had invaded our homeland.”

Kristine Condon of Homewood

Kristine Condon arrived to teach her computer course at Kankakee Community College when she was met with students clamoring for information. She said she shared with them everything she had seen or heard from the news but the school didn’t have TVs on campus for students to stay informed.

Students petitioned the college president for that technology, now a standard of the campus.

“It was student advocacy in action, and it was an important reminder of why we teach in the first place,” she said.

Rose Walls of Kankakee

Passing through a hallway at Je-Neir Elementary School in Momence where she worked as a SPEC coordinator, Walls was informed that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Meanwhile, her grandson, Trystan, was flying to Birmingham, Alabama.

Efforts were underway by many to try and track Trystan’s flight. Fortunately, he arrived safely in Birmingham Airport and his mom later took him to school, she said. When he tried to tell the students about his experience, no one would believe him.

Megan Kerulis of Wilmington

Just a kid at the time of the attacks, Megan Kerulis remembers not knowing what happened until she got home from school and listened to the answering machine.

“There was a voicemail on there and someone was talking about people dying, New York being attacked, and I didn’t understand since I was so young,” she said.

Her mom started crying and Kerulis asked what was wrong. “She said, ‘Megan, something really bad happened in the world today,’” Kerulis said. “I still remember her saying that to me really vividly to this day.”

Mike Lehning

A social science teacher at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, Mike Lehning was in his classroom that morning when “suddenly teachers were going to other classrooms.”

They told him to turn on the TV. He did and they watched as the second plane hit the second tower.

Later that day, between 3 and 4 p.m., Lehning was outside when he saw a large plane pass overhead with an escort of two or three fighter jets.

“It was flying very low, lower than normal,” Lehning said, adding that all air travel was grounded by the FAA at the time. “It was surreal. There was no doubt in my mind it was Air Force One flying back to Washington [D.C.].”

Andrea Keith of Bradley

Living in Kenwood, Mich., at the time, Andrea Keith remembers a deeply personal connection to the day’s happenings. She just learned the day before she and her husband were expecting their second child and had plans to share the news with others at her church that morning. When she saw reports of the crashes on the TV, Keith immediately thought about her brother and his family who were en route to Italy. They arrived safely, but a week later, Keith miscarried.

“I don’t blame the emotion of 9/11 for the science of my body, nor am I ashamed to admit I was relieved at the time to not bring another life into the world,” she said.

As the country regrouped, so did Keith’s family. They had a daughter the following summer and later visited the Pentagon memorial together.

“Hopefully, all of the kids born before and after the 9/11 tragedy will know the realness and never let history repeat itself,” she said.

Read the full memories shared by our readers here.

'I'm angry': Withdrawal from Afghanistan leaves veteran wondering

BRADLEY — Shea Nanos, like nearly every U.S. citizen, remembers where he was when he heard the news that the north tower of the World Trade Center complex had been struck by a commercial airplane.

He had just started his freshman year at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School. He was seated in a health class when news began to swirl of the events taking place in New York City.

Televisions were brought into many classrooms so students could witness the tragedy, and the history, unfolding before them.

“The rest of the day I would describe as eerie silence,” the now 34-year-old Bradley resident said. “It was crazy.”

For Nanos, that day’s events changed the trajectory of his life — just like it did for thousands of other young men and women.

Basically, Nanos explained, the decision to join the U.S. Army may not have been determined on that day, but the seed for the eventual decision was planted.

“It’s fair to say 9/11 had a long-lasting impact on me,” he said. “That day helped create who I am today.”

Fast-forward from that sunny, late summer day of 2001 to a few years later and Nanos was signing his name on the dotted line as he committed himself to the U.S. Army.

In 2008, he was deployed to Afghanistan for the first of his two tours of duty there. The second “tour” was actually with a private security firm called Triple Canopy of Reston, Va. Nanos worked for the security company in 2012 and 2013 following his tour with the Army’s C Company 1/178th Infantry.

Watching America’s rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan these past weeks has left Nanos — as well as perhaps millions of others — wondering what was accomplished in 20 years of war since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

The lives of thousands of servicemen and women — as well as their families — have been forever altered. But, in the end, what has been accomplished?

“It’s crazy. In a matter of two weeks, everything we had done all went away,” he said. “I did not like the way our troops were taken out. This could have been handled in a better way, like a more gradual pullout. ... It’s like it was all for nothing.”

Perhaps not nothing, he quickly followed. He said for at least 20 years the people of Afghanistan were allowed to experience freedom, and Afghan women were not forced to live as second-class citizens.

“I watched as they enjoyed freedom. They now know what freedom was and they wanted to experience it,” he said. “Freedom is powerful, beautiful and earned.”

But he certainly has sadness because he knows thousands of Americans and Afghan people bled for freedom that is now lost.

Lasting scars

In his time of service, he experienced pain himself and recalls fear from being on patrol in dangerous situations. He said it’s hard to get out of living in such an environment unscathed, and he didn’t. Nanos has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Looking back, I saw so many bad things,” he said. “So many people tell me I’m so lucky to have gotten out.”

For now, he works at the Bradley Post Office to keep himself busy. He also works to control his anger.

He takes nothing in life for granted as a result of his experiences, and for that, he is grateful.

Asked if he could go back to that health class and again watch those images being broadcast from New York, would he have done anything differently? The now father of two young boys doesn’t offer a moment’s hesitation.

“I would do it all again without even thinking about it,” he said.

Soldier: War is over but the pain remains

At the young age of 17, Eric Peterson of Manteno made the life-changing decision to enlist in the military. The year was 2005, just four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. While Peterson was a kid at the time of the attack, he remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I remember what happened the next day, which was, for the first time in my life, I saw a country coming together, looking out for one another, helping each other out, dusting each other off and letting [each other] know they were going to be OK,” he recalled.

With his uncle being a Vietnam veteran and his grandfather a veteran of World War II, Peterson said that there was a “military association” with his family but that he was never pushed in that direction. That association coupled with the events of 9/11, though, gave him a sense of patriotism and the realization that he’d one day like to serve his country.

Peterson said a recruiter’s presentation at his high school proved to be the catalyst for his enlistment. That was when the 17-year-old finally found where he fit in. He joined the Illinois Army National Guard as a Private E1. By the time his service in Afghanistan came around, he was a team leader ranked as an E4 (specialist) — which was the rank he held when leaving the service.

He served in Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan, from 2008 to 2009 for a total of nine months. Then he was in Kabul and Gardez, Afghanistan, intermittently from 2014 to 2015.

Now, the war is over. It ended 20 years after it began, ending up back to Square One and leaving Peterson in a “precarious position.”

“On one hand, I’m incredibly proud of my service,” he said. “I do believe that I did my job and the men and women that I served with can attest to that. On the other hand, I am very angry and frustrated to a degree that I have never been before.”

Like the rest of America, Peterson watched from afar as Taliban forces reclaimed the area American soldiers occupied for two decades.

“What was so disheartening and gut-wrenching of it all,” he said, “is that these were people that we worked very closely with over there that I would call my brothers and sisters, like anybody that put on the uniform. Now to see these pictures of planes getting out of the country with the locals hanging off the sides and falling off to their death to try to escape what could potentially happen when dealing with the Taliban — that kills me.”

Peterson explained that he, and many others he served with, became close with the Afghan locals, making what’s happening now even harder to witness.

“We enjoyed working with the local communities and playing games and teaching things to the kids,” he recalled. “We promised those kids that we’d help keep them safe and now it feels like a promise that was broken outside of our control.”

That broken promise will “leave a lot of anger and frustration in a lot of veterans’ minds,” he said.

Believing that America “pulled the rug out” from under the Afghan people is causing internal struggles for veterans who served there, he said.

“I have a nonprofit organization, Project Headspace and Timing, and I started due to the pain and suffering endured by my brothers and sisters, many of which — including myself — cut their teeth in that war. All to find out, essentially, that war never mattered,” he said.

When discussing the war’s outcome, Peterson believes it is not about politics or who is in charge. It’s about an overall mission, he said.

“Our belief was we went over there to improve the infrastructure for the Afghan people so that they could have a better life — so that their children and their children’s children could have a better life,” he said. “And after 20 years of blood, sweat and tears, of issues that will permeate through generations to come that were involved with that war, everything has just kind of gone back to where it was — as it would seem.”