Moments in Memory: 9/11 crossed generational lines as most impactful event

This image shows the front page of an Extra Edition of the Times Free Press produced hours after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Tuesday morning Chattanooga Times Free Press on Sept. 11, 2001, focused on the Monday funeral of Hamilton County Sheriff's Deputy Donald Bond, who had been gunned down at an East Brainerd fruit and vegetable stand the Friday before.

The story chronicled the outpouring of support as the funeral process traveled from Collegedale to Chattanooga National Cemetery; a three-column picture of the rider-less horse symbolic of a fallen officer was centered below a four-column headline, "An emotional farewell." His killer, Marlon Duane Kiser, was convicted two years later and is serving a life sentence.

The other lead story reported on the first subcommittee hearing on a bill by Rep. Zach Wamp that would lead to Moccasin Bend being designated as the first National Archeological District in the National Park Service. On the "Metro" front, a story previewed Chattanooga City Council approval of a 48-cent property tax increase proposed by then-Mayor and now-retired Sen. Bob Corker. Corker was elected mayor six months earlier.

The 42-page, six-section newspaper was delivered to homes in time for coffee on the downtown racks when Chattanooga went to work. Inside the front section, President George W. Bush was in Florida with his brother, Jeb, talking about education reform. The Atlanta Braves had a 3 -game lead on its way to a 10th consecutive division title. Both sides of the editorial pages praised the $25 million donation from Jack Lupton to UTC, then the largest cash contribution to public higher education in Tennessee.

Then, a plane hit one of two towers at the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. According to a 2016 Pew Research study, the events of that morning crossed generational lines as the most important event in the lifetimes of those surveyed.


Chris Vass is the current public editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. When the first and then second plane hit the World Trade Center, Vass, then the paper's city editor, was part of something newspapers very rarely do – publishing a special edition of the paper as quickly as possible. Dozens of major newspapers put out special editions.

In a matter of hours, a special edition of the Times Free Press was in racks around Chattanooga and the surrounding region. A headline large enough to cover all six columns simply said, "Struck at home." Editors at the paper had barely over two hours from the time news of the attack broke and having to release the special edition to the press room, then the loading dock and newspaper racks.

"No one had ever been through something like that," Vass said. "It was shocking, but we didn't have time to process what was happening. We just knew we had to get something out to readers as soon as possible."

The five-column picture editors chose to lead the front page showed the first tower down and the second tower hit but standing. The 43-word lead paragraph of the Associated Press story outlined a "horrific sequence of events" and said both towers had collapsed, and the Pentagon had been struck. In the time allowed, the newspaper generated a local story documenting the closure of the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building, flights out of the airport being canceled and TVA's nuclear facilities being placed on high alert.

Photographs showed barriers being deployed in front of the federal building and members of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Planning Commission sitting in the City Hall annex watching news reports.

"Everybody in the newsroom remembers what they were doing that day to help us get accurate information out as fast as possible," Vass said. "We knew immediately that this was the biggest breaking news story of our careers, and it still is."


Todd Womack, Sen. Corker's chief of staff for 12 years, had only known Corker for a few months as the director of communications on Sept. 11. He said the new mayor had a pre-arranged tour of the Emergency Operations Center on Amnicola Highway. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger was the Chattanooga Fire Chief in 2001, and Womack remembers him watching the first tower burn and saying that there was no way the building could withstand the heat.

"Right about then, the building came down," Womack said.

Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher wrote the front-page article on Moccasin Bend on Wamp's bill while working in the newspaper's Washington bureau. Today, Sher is reporting on his 24th General Assembly, which he did before and after working several years in Washington, D.C.

"I wasn't really sure what was happening when I got to the Hill and the security gate," Sher said. "Someone pointed off in the distance toward the Pentagon. The Capitol was vomiting people running for their lives because they thought the next plane, the one that went down in Pennsylvania, was headed for the Capitol."

Sher went to a nearby park and sat with reporters from National Public Radio and The New York Times.

"There was no cell service," said Sher. "A group of homeless people had a transistor radio and that's how we got information. I left and went to interview people at the Lincoln Memorial."

Wamp was in his office when the first plane hit the tower. He and his staff were evacuated to C Street near the Capitol, where Wamp roomed with other members of Congress. The building became the shelter for numerous members of Congress and their staffs until the congressmen were located by Capitol Police and taken to a joint House-Senate meeting and conference call with Vice President Dick Cheney.

"When we went outside and saw the smoke, we all thought the explosions were on the National Mall," said Wamp. "I remember the stench, like the stench of war from all the jet fuel exploding."


The events of 911 crossed generational lines. The Pew Research study done in 2016 asked respondents to list the top 10 events occurring in their lifetime, and 911 topped the list for Millennials (born 1977-1995), Generation X (born 1965-1976), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born 1945 or before).

The significance varies by generation as 86 percent of Millennials put 911 on top of their list, while 79 percent of Generation X respondents, 70 percent of Baby Boomers and 59 percent of the Silent Generation placed 911 first on their lists.

The election of President Barack Obama and the Iran/Iraq war were the only other common events on the survey.