San Diegans Recall the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

As the nation commemorates the milestone date of our national tragedy, locals recollect personal memories

The date is shorthand for shared disaster.

On 9/11 in 2001, terrorists hijacked four airplanes on American soil. Both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were leveled. The Pentagon was attacked and another plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Tributes and memorials will be held at Ground Zero in Manhattan, all over the country and locally (see event details, below).

And after two decades, San Diegans haven’t forgotten how the attacks—directly or indirectly—touched their everyday lives.

Today, Anna Crowe is CEO of Crowe PR in Liberty Station. Before COVID, her rapidly expanding company was based in San Diego’s East Village. Twenty years ago, however, she worked for an accounting firm with an office in 1 World Financial Center in Manhattan, right next to the World Trade Center.

Due to a car issue, she was late getting to the office on the morning of 9/11. When news of the twin towers being hit was announced on the radio by DJ Howard Stern, she reported to her company’s New Jersey office.

“It became my job to call the families of our company’s employees who were supposed to be at the New York office,” Crowe says. “Many were frantic and hadn’t heard from their loved ones yet. Talking to those mothers, fathers, sons and daughters was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

Becoming Americans

The Wright family, Grant, Julie, Brian and Brandon.

Julie Wright recalls how life grounded to a halt on 9/11.

“I had packed our two toddlers into the minivan and was headed to an appointment at the downtown U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services,” says Wright, president of (W)right On Communications in San Diego’s Little Italy.

“It was for a long-awaited marriage interview—the final step before my Canadian-born husband and our two sons could be granted permanent resident status. I tuned in to 91X FM. Instead of music or DJ Chris Cantore, I heard very subdued, news-like commentary.”

She called her husband, Grant, in his car and said: “Turn on the radio. Something really bad has happened.”

Wright found out all federal buildings across the country were being shut down.

“A security guard turned us away when we walked up to the INS office on Front Street,” she says. “A TV crew interviewed us. I remember telling the reporter it was important not to feel terrorized because then the terrorists win.”

She wasn’t able to turn on the TV until the kids’ naptime.

“When I finally saw the images, I was shocked, scared, uncertain about the future and horrified by the loss of life, destruction and grief,” Wright says. “While the attacks prevented my family from completing our INS marriage interview that day, 9/11 also made us feel more profoundly connected to our new homeland, and more American than any stamp of government approval ever could.”

Just Trying To Get Home

September 10, 2011, as the New York Giants faced the Denver Broncos. (Brian Bahr /Allsport)

John Wehmeyer was out of town on 9/11.

“I went to my hometown of Fort Collins in Colorado for the opening of the Denver Broncos new stadium,” says Wehmeyer, director of program operations for San Diego-based Brain Corp.

The NFL’s season-opening Monday Night Game was played on September 10. The Broncos beat the New York Giants, 31-20.

“Early the next morning, my mom dropped me at a Holiday Inn to catch the shuttle to Denver International Airport,” he says. “I walked into the hotel lobby and saw footage of a plane flying into a building. I was confused. It seemed like it had happened in Denver.”

Then he watched the TV in disbelief as the second plane hit.

“The was a deep feeling of sadness in the lobby, and everybody was silent,” Wehmeyer says. “I watched for about an hour and then went back to my mom’s house. I couldn’t reschedule a plane back to San Diego for six days.”

A Communal Grieving Period

Steve Jahn was a new account executive for Sprint PCS and had a major business presentation scheduled on 9/11.

He was ironing his clothes while watching events unfold on TV at home in Pacific Beach. His emotions went from confusion to shock.

Jahn immediately reached for the phone to call his parents, and says he found comfort in speaking to family.

He also remembers “a palpable sense of love and kindness for one another” after the attacks.

“People were kinder to each other for a while,” says Jahn, who’s now the San Diego-based owner of Charli Charger USA. “There was a communal grieving period.”

Helping People Heal

Patti Roscoe vividly remembers needing to help people heal.

The founder/owner of PRA, a San Diego-based destination management company, Roscoe had offices all over the United States. With airports closed, her team quickly reached out to motor coach operators to arrange transportation for stuck conventioneers to get back to their home cities.

“It was a grueling way to travel, but people wanted to get home,” she says. “My offices across the country worked tirelessly to coordinate this. We had little time to grieve the fallen.”

That would come later.

Three days after 9/11, she was called in to meet with then-San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and Copley Newspapers editor Herb Klein.

“Herb knew San Diegans were in pain and asked if my company would coordinate a Day of Remembrance in Balboa Park,” Roscoe says.

She and her team unanimously agreed to volunteer their time. An estimated 20,000 people showed up for the event.

“They arrived in business attire, beach attire, walking a dog or riding a bicycle,” Roscoe says. “Some were draped in American flags, or all in black, to attend a day of mourning, renewal and remembrance.”

San Diego Tributes

The USS Midway Museum in San Diego Bay.

  • In downtown San Diego, the 20th Anniversary Memorial of September 11, 2001 will be held on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., the names of the 9/11 victims will be read. Also planned: An Emergency Helicopter Flyover, a 21-gun salute and a fireboat water display by the Harbor Police. The tribute is supported by FDNY Retirees of San Diego, the USS Midway, National City FD and The Wounded Warrior Project.
  • Around the region: The Coronado Fire Station will hold a bell-ringing ceremony at 6:45 a.m.; Oceanside hosts the 9/11 Never Forget Half Marathon; a 9/11 20th Anniversary Climb to Remember at Pacific Beacon on Naval Base San Diego (to honor firefighters who climbed the stairs at the WTC).
  • Note: An annual tradition, The 2021 San Diego 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Hilton Bayfront San Diego, has been cancelled. A web site cites COVID-related concerns.

National Events

  • In New York, The 9/11 Tribute Museum will host a commemoration in which the names of all 2,996 victims of the World Trade Center bombing will be read in person by family members. Expect all-day coverage by cable and network media.
  • Fifty For The Fallen. A 50-mile “ruck march” through New York City will begin at Yankee Stadium and end at Ground Zero. The event, featuring active special forces operators carrying 50 pounds of pack and equipment, was created by San Diegan Jason Maddox, founder of Maddox Defense. The event will raise money for Gold Star and NY First Responder families.
  • Now streaming on Netfilix: two new offerings that broach 9/11. Worth stars Michael Keaton and follows a lawyer in the wake of the attacks who must put a dollar value on the lives lost. Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror is a no-holds-barred documentary on the subject. SDSun

Cover photo: Pears2295



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