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A Cleveland Woman's Memories of Surviving 9/11

Nineteen years ago, Cleveland native Sheilah Rosen was working in one of the Twin Towers when it was attacked by terrorists. She survived and lived in New York City for another 17 years before returning to the Cleveland area. 

On the anniversary of the attacks, you’ll find her wearing a flag pin and watching the remembrance ceremony in New York City. ideastream spoke with Rosen about her memories of that day, and what she hopes Americans won’t forget. 

Can you tell me what your memories of that day are?

I had taken a job in the South Tower on the 23rd floor only five weeks before. I came into work that morning and I heard a noise that was loud enough to make me stand up, because you always heard noises in the towers. You know, they creaked. And I looked out the window, I was looking south and I could see papers floating down. And we didn’t know what had happened and I didn’t know what to do. I walked out to the elevator bank, saw the stairs and I walked down 23 flights. And I think it was when I got down to the mezzanine area that somebody was on their cell phone and said a plane had hit the building.

I started walking towards the plaza and I got to the doors and it was debris everywhere, something was burning. Everything was covered in dust, and it was horrible. So I turned around and I went downstairs to the level where the subways were. And so finally I saw someone and they said come out this way so I walked outside. I started to walk east. People were standing there looking at the North Tower so I stopped and I turned around and I looked up. It was horrible. 

All of a sudden from my left comes another plane, right over my head. The airplane goes into the building and what I remember, I’m sure I must have heard the sound and I honestly can’t remember that, I don’t remember the explosion, all I remember is the sky turning black. Black. And it was a beautiful blue sky that day.

The sky turns black, there’s stuff flying all around me and I just said I have to, I have to go. 

How has that day affected you over the last 19 years? 

So, you know, I don’t like crowds. I won’t go, I don’t like loud noises. I’m better than I used to be, but sometimes I get startled by loud noises. For a long time, and I don’t think this is true anymore, but if someone was taking a photograph with a flash and I wasn’t prepared for it, I would jump. It would startle me. So those kinds of things.

I cry every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner. 

I think that I, I mean it wasn’t like a complete 180 or anything like that, but I think that I didn’t sweat the small stuff as much after. If like regular old things come up I would say you know, you’ll get through it one way or the other. Something like that is just so huge, and most of the other stuff is, you know, you just figure out a way to get through it. 

What do you hope people remember about that day? 

I think that people should remember the kindness of and the bravery of those that tried to help others, whether it was law enforcement, the fire department, people that were working in offices that were helping their coworkers come down, people on the street that were handing us wet paper towels, just coming together and being there for each other.

You know, right now we are so divided and people were not divided then. It was an American thing. We were Americans. And we weren’t just New Yorkers, the whole country was behind us and the people at the Pentagon and the people in Pennsylvania, everybody was supportive and was sympathetic. I think that it really meant a lot to people that there was that type of coming together and caring. 

What are the lessons for us as a country? 

I think that our government officials need to be listening to the experts, people that know about these things. That’s just my personal opinion is I think that they need to pay closer attention and I think they need to be careful of complacency because honestly people don’t want to talk about 9/11 anymore. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it anymore. It was a big thing for our country. I think the past helps us deal with things that come up in the future and so people need to pay attention. 

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