Remembering 9/11

Age a factor in memories, feelings about 9/11

World Trade Center 1 towers over the lower Manhattan skyline as the Staten Island Ferry, left, streaks by, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Four years is all that separates State Center sisters Danielle and Kassandra Kern in age, but that short time-span is enough for only one sister to remember a national tragedy firsthand.

“I remember it,” said the elder sister, Danielle, 23, who was born in 1995. “I remember that we got out of school.”

Unlike some who were young students during the attacks, Danielle didn’t remember her first grade teacher rolling out a television to watch the tragic history unfold.

“I want to say my dad was on a business trip somewhere, so my mom was freaking out about him,” Danielle said.

Kassandra, 19, who was born in 1999, said her first memory of thinking about 9/11 came in elementary school during a class discussion. Only 2 years old at the time of the terrorist attacks, she said she doesn’t have any memory of the events themselves.

“I just remember sitting in the corner of the library and they were showing the video of it,” she said of the later class discussion.

The true significance of the event came to Kassandra after talking to a social studies teacher years later in high school.

“I feel like, maybe for older people … you’d really relate to it, in a way,” Kassandra said.

She said she understands the significance of the event in history, but likely doesn’t feel the same as people older than her who saw the events unfold and understood it for the tragedy it was.

Kassandra said it was a “weird thing” for her to not recollect such a historical moment when her sister has memories of the event.

Although Danielle has recollections from that day, she said she was not traumatized by it in any way.

“I think, now, we learn about it so much in history classes, we are taught the significance of it,” she said. “At the same time, I think we were kind of sheltered from it because we were so young.”

On the morning of 9/11, children just like Danielle were sitting in classrooms just like any other weekday, waiting for class to begin. For the adults paying attention to the national news, there was added strain knowing something monumental was happening as they went about their daily work.

“I had a teacher running into my office saying that she had just watched and airplane fly into one of the World Trade Center buildings,” said Marshalltown School Board President Bea Niblock, who was the Anson Elementary School principal on that day in 2001.

Class didn’t begin until around 8:30 a.m. and most of the adults were gathered around TVs, watching coverage after the first plane hit. Niblock said it was hard for everyone to get “psychologically ready” to carry out classes that day.

“It was extra traumatizing to all of the staff at that particular point,” she said. “We decided, as a staff, not to say anything to the kids … I felt that it was important for parents to be the ones to share this kind of news with their children themselves.”

Niblock said the next day brought many questions from the young students about what had happened.

“9/11 stayed in the minds of kids for some time, it was something that we talked to kids about when they wanted to talk about it,” she said. “Our duty, our responsibility to the kids of the age that we worked with was to answer questions.”

Many of those students who went to class at Anson Elementary that day have recollections like Danielle’s. While they may have been too young to fully grasp the gravity of the attacks, they and other Americans have since lived in a changed society.

“I don’t know what flying was like beforehand, but it’s definitely a whole process (now),” Danielle said with a laugh. Niblock said going through the airport after 9/11 was very different than it had been before.

While she doesn’t remember the event firsthand, Kassandra said other, more recent tragedies have likely impacted her generation’s perspective on 9/11.

“I feel like we’re desensitized to a lot of things,” she said, citing the large number of mass shootings in recent years, among other violent events.

The Pew Research Center measures a generational divide between people born in 1996 and those born in 1997, according to an article published earlier this year. “Millennials” are defined as those born between 1981-1996, while a separate generation begins in 1997. The same article goes on to state that most Millennials, like Danielle, were between ages 5 and 20 at the time of the 9/11 attacks and were able to remember them. Those born after 1996, like Kassandra, are mostly unable to remember anything from that day.

The attacks on 9/11 marked the beginning of continuous U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, beginning with an invasion of Afghanistan later in 2001 — U.S. troops are still stationed in that country.

A few years later, troops were also sent to Iraq. For many young Millennials and those born after 1997, the country has been in post-9/11 conflict for most or all of their lives.


Contact Adam Sodders at

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