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The Day Before America Was Interrupted: Nine People Recall Sept. 10, 2001

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When Americans are asked what Sept. 10, 2001, was like, many call that Monday "normal" or "ordinary."

"Just a normal summer day," one man said.

That all changed on Sept. 11.

Nine individuals told All Things Considered where they were on Sept. 10. They talked about some of their serendipitous experiences, near misses or devastating turn of events of that day — the day before America was interrupted.

Janet Vincent, rector of St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington, D.C., says she was in White Plains, N.Y., on Sept. 10. That evening, she took her 5-year-old nephew to a Yankees-Red Sox game. The game was rained out. Vincent said she was later haunted by a question that her nephew asked her that evening.

Janny Scott was a reporter on metropolitan news staff of The New York Times. Married to a local TV anchor, they lived up on the Upper West side of Manhattan with their two small children. On Sept. 10, she picked up her 9-year-old daughter from her piano lesson and took her home for dinner.

Two days prior, Scott says, they held a birthday party for her daughter, who was fascinated by surgical paraphernalia. They hired an emergency medical technician with access to an ambulance to teach basic first aid to a couple dozen third graders in their living room. The grand finale, she says, was a tour of an ambulance parked at the corner of 90th — and everyone in their bandages tried out the stretcher.

Karen Parziale, a marketing consultant and publicist, runs a public relations agency in Hoboken, N.J. On Sept. 10, she was planning a "very big and important business trip" to the World Trade Center for Sept. 11. She had suggested 9 a.m. to her partner.

But Parziele's client never called back.

Matt Long, a New York City fireman for 17 years, was headed to Ladder 43 for the 6 to 9 o'clock shift. He says when he arrived, he realized they were missing two men in their roster. So he called up his brother Jim, also a firefighter, to get him to come down to his station. "It's very rare that brothers get to work on the same truck or engine," Long says. "So he did." Jim came down with another firefighter. But the next morning, the brothers decided to have breakfast together. The other firefighter wasn't so lucky.

Alan Wallace, who works for the Fort Myer fire department in Arlington, Va., was one of three firefighters assigned to the Pentagon heliport fire station on Sept. 10. He says that day, they had "a little excitement." President Bush was coming over to the Pentagon to fly out to Andrews Air Force base. The next day, Wallace was stationed again at the Pentagon. Early in his shift, he caught a sudden glint of light in the sky. It was a jetliner coming in at full speed at ground level. It passed over his head. Wallace says when he spun around — there was no airplane to be seen — just a burning hole in the side of the Pentagon.

Former First Lady Laura Bush says she had a luncheon with Janette Howard, wife to the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, on Sept. 10, 2001. That afternoon, she worked on a briefing that she was going to give the Senate Education Committee the next morning. And then her in-laws, President Bush and Barbara arrived late in the afternoon. They were spending the night, while her husband, George W. Bush, was in Florida.

Ted Olson was the solicitor general of the U.S. on Sept. 10. That day, he worked in his office. He says he had spoken at some length with his wife Barbara. It was his birthday on Sept. 11 and he says she wanted to be home with him that evening, so she changed her flight. While she was slated to fly out Sept. 10, she flew out Sept. 11 instead — on Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon.

Rick King, the owner of Ida's Country Store on Main Street in Shanksville, Pa., says the kids were in school on Sept. 10, so he opened the store. He says he would have been down there around 6:30 a.m.

The next day, as Shanksville's assistant fire chief, King was one of the first responders to the crash of Flight 93. It's said in Shanksville that if the plane had remained airborne for just two more seconds, it would have hit the local elementary school.

Rob Quillen, from Omaha, Nev., was a software salesperson on Sept. 10. He was on a flight to New York City for an annual sales meeting. On the flight, Quillen sat next to a man who asked him if he worked for NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon. Quillen was wearing a NASCAR T-shirt. Quillen said he was just a very big fan of the guy. The man said that he and his son were also huge fans.

Later in the flight, the man told Quillen his 15-year-old son had epilepsy. And he had recently asked his son to tell him a place where he wanted to go. His son had said, "I want to go to a NASCAR race and I want to meet Jeff Gordon," Quillen says. Quillen says he had a couple of extra tickets for the first NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway — so he offered the man the two tickets. When they exchanged business cards, it turned out that the man was United Captain Jason Dahl. That next morning, Dahl piloted United Flight 93 — the one that crashed in Shanksville, Pa. But Dahl's son, Matt, did get to see his race car hero in Kansas City. Quillen made sure of that.

Erin Killian is a producer for NPR. Art Silverman produced this story for All Things Considered. The piece in its entirety airs today on All Things Considered so tune in to your local NPR member station. We'll post the as-aired version here later today.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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