Remembering My 9/11 Assignment

My 9/11 story is thankfully, not nearly as compelling or emotional as it was for thousands of others.  I was not there when the attacks took place, and I didn’t have any loved ones in the World Trade Center that day.  For this reporter, September 11th, 2001 started out as an ordinary day.   This was before children and marriage, and I slept regularly without an alarm clock, getting out of bed whenever my night-shift trained body would wake up.

Moments after the plane hit the first tower at 8:46AM, I received a few phone calls from friends telling me what had happened.  I turned on the television and witnessed the scene unfold, assuming like many others, it was just a terrible accident.    I watched in horror as the second plane came in, and knew we were under attack.

My first call was to Kara on her cell phone and we exchanged thoughts on what we had witnessed.   She was already at work.  Her 9/11 story is posted below.   I then got a call from my news director Deborah Johnson, who told me to get into the station right away and head for New York.   Within 15 minutes I showered, shaved and packed a bag for three days.  I was there for the better part of two weeks.

I took a cab to Broadcast House where I found the newsroom to be a hive of frantic activity.  The dozen or more television sets were all showing searing  images of both massive skyscrapers ablaze, spewing smoke.   Like so many Americans, I felt profound sadness and disbelief at the massive loss of life.

Crews were scurrying in and out of our newsroom, grabbing equipment.  The phones were ringing, assignments were being shouted out, and one young woman on the assignment desk was visibly upset. Another hardened journalist cupped her hand over her mouth in horror as an image of someone jumping from the World Trade Center was shown on television.

I was assigned to get on the internet and find a list of the tenants of the World Trade Center and look for any Connecticut connections.  I remember calling a few of those companies, but was unable to get through.

At that point, Deborah told photographer Mike Kopelman and me to start heading toward New York and await further instructions.     The highways didn’t seem very busy as we listened to WCBS News Radio 880.   I remember after one of their iconic chimes rang at the top of the hour, the first words out of the anchor’s voice were “The World Trade Center is gone.”  Mike and I discussed how the towers could have fallen, and we both thought they might have tipped over, rather than each floor collapsing onto the one below.


This was my second trip to the World Trade Center as a reporter.  Back in 1993, I rushed off to lower Manhattan when terrorists detonated a truck bomb in the garage of the North Tower, killing six people and injuring a thousand more.     As you can see here, I stood fairly close to the towers for my reports during three days there, thinking how difficult it would be to knock down these gigantic landmarks.   8 and a half years later, terrorists had figured out to do just that.

WFSB photojournalist Mike Kopelman

We got a call to head to Stamford Hospital to await the arrival of survivors.   Everyone presumed the New York hospitals would be filled to capacity, and hundreds of victims would be treated here.   It didn’t take very long for us to learn that would not be happening.    So we moved on.

WFSB reporter Kim Fettig and I were trying to figure out the best way into Manhattan considering many roads were closed

The station wanted us on the air at 5PM, so our engineer John Discenza, set up our truck in the Bronx, with a view of lower Manhattan in the background.    After our live reports we moved into Manhattan.   Mike and I drove as far south as we could, parked the car and started walking toward Ground Zero.   We got as far south as Tribeca,  passing survivors and rescue workers along the way.   They were covered in dust, sweat, and dirt and some were so distraught they couldn’t even begin to describe what they saw.

I ended up staying in Manhattan for two straight weeks.   The hardest part was talking to the families of survivors, carrying pictures of their loved ones, and days later they returned with combs and toothbrushes that contained DNA.    They hung homemade posters with images and stories of their fathers, mothers, brothers, daughters, fiances, husbands, and friends.   I felt helpless in their hour of need, although many frustrated and grieving relatives told me it was a consolation to them knowing pictures of their lost loved ones were being broadcast and the stories of their lives were being told.

Uplifting moments were few, but one of them came unexpectedly when I ran into Mika Brzezinski, then with CBS News. Mika and I became friends as rookie reporters at WFSB in 1992, and to see such a familiar face, a loyal, dear friend in a scene of death, destruction and despair was an emotional boost to both of us. Our reunion was brief, as we both had deadlines for grim assignments, but it was a highlight of a tour of duty we both needed.


I never tired of reading those flyers.  One night, Kara and I came across a fire station that lost nearly all of its firefighters.  The candles and messages written by children brought many passersby to tears, and brought us to tears as well.  On a personal note, Kara and I never felt closer, and realized during this experience we would never be apart. We got engaged the following spring.


I also interviewed some survivors, including one man from our state who was in a windowless conference room in one of the towers when the building shook violently and ceiling tiles came crashing down. From there he went to a smoke-filled stairway. A month later he was on heavy medications because he couldn’t cope with what he’d been through.

May we never forget.

WFSB producer Craig Schulz and me

Read about my assignment to the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/covering-the-first-world-trade-center-attack/
Kara’s account of 9/11

9 replies »

  1. This had to be the saddest day in my life; I don’t think I will ever forget 9/11 as long as I live.


  2. Dennis and Kara, I thank you for your remembrances of that horribly, tragic time in our Nation’s history. I have my memories as well, the first was the horror of what was happening, the second was to the many people who had lost their lives, the third was to all of the people coming in to the aid of NYC, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania field, the fourth was to be with my loved ones and hold them tight, and the last was to the families who’s loved ones were never coming home again. I wrote this on my facebook page today and wanted to post it here as well.

    Today is the 10th anniversary of the loss of so many lives. It changed our country in ways we could not have imagined. The hero’s are the men and woman who came forward to help on that day. The Firefighters, the Policemen, the Port Authority, the volunteers, the people on Flight 93, and the men and women who fight for this country everyday. To all of the people who died on 9/11/2001, to those who died defending this country in the past, I pray you are all at peace. To the family, friends, and co-workers who remain behind and are reliving this day, I pray for you to find comfort in your memories. To all Americans remembering 9/11/01 on this day, I pray you remember how you felt when we were so violently and tragically attached. The love you felt for family, friends, and strangers. The strength that was born again in this country. We are one nation, under God. Let us not forget that. I have not forgotten, I love America. God bless America.


  3. That must have been scary being there and not knowing what was going to happen next on that sept day. Me personaly had no one in the towers that died.my sister on the other hand had a friend and his family on one of the planes that hit one of the towers. On that day or a day later my sister thought she would see if anyone was on the plane flight that she knew and im sad to report but her friend and his other family members all past away. Him and his family were bound for california for a family reunion.the mom was the one that decided o believe to drive to california.me on the other hand i was at home and was woken up by my sister telling me to turn on the tv and when i did it was replaying the first plane crash and then the second one hit the other tower.after seeing that i was scared and in shock that whole day.


  4. What has stayed in my mind is seeing the second plane just slice the tower in half. When I hear about 9/11 this is what comes to my mind.


  5. My daughter called me to tell me the first tower was on fire. I was in my way to work when the second tower was hit. We closed the quilt shop and went home. I watched tv all day one of the worst days of my life


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