In just a few days America will observe the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the day that changed the world forever.
It’s hard to imagine a decade has gone by since terrorists hijacked American airplanes and flew into the towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed because even now most Americans will say they can vividly recall watching video, seeing photos or watching live as black smoke rose from one of the twin towers, as a second plane flew into the other.
For two Oro Valley women, the destruction, the emotions and how they felt that day remain strong because they were living in New York that day. They saw firsthand who was affected. They knew people who were in the towers. They, like many Americans, just wanted to reach out and talk to family members and friends for some kind of reassurance during one of America’s worst days.
Michelle Saxer, 67, and Gigi Drakopoulos, 82, described with anger and sadness how they felt that day, and everyday since.
After the first plane hit, from a window of a local school, Saxer, who calls herself a New York refugee, said she and a group of students watched the second plane crash purposely into the second tower.
With a television on nearby and a live version from the window, Saxer described silence. She described a group of adults and children who couldn’t understand what was happening in front of their eyes.
“The day was spectacular. In New York, people describe their days with the weather,” she said. “It was a flawless day. The horror that was about to unfold was so diametrically opposed to the day it was unbelievable. I worked at a school with 12-foot floors where you could see the World Trade Center.”
Drakopoulos said after the first tower was hit, she received a call from a friend who told her America was being attacked.
“I argued with her. The plane hitting that tower had to be an accident,” she said. “Then, the second plane hit, and everything just stopped.”
With a need to find her daughter, Saxer said she left to go home, and on the way, went by La Guardia Airport. Like Drakopoulos had described, everything had stopped.
“The airport was in complete silence,” said Saxer. “It was so scary, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the complete opposite of what it had been that morning. New York has never had anything like that, and it shatters a lot of confidence people have in our police and our government.”
As Saxer choked back tears as she described the events of that day, and the days that followed, Drakopoulos still showed a great deal of anger.
“I blame our country in the sense that they allowed (the terrorists) to get on these planes and just crash into our buildings,” she said. “We didn’t have the security in place to stop this?”
Shaking his head, Drakopoulos’ son, Bryan Maguire, disagreed with his mother.
“I have been involved in aviation, I worked for TWA. I disagree that we don’t have the security in our airports,” he said. “There was no way to stop them. The thing that baffles me is how sophisticated this attack was. How they knew exactly what they were doing.”
Maguire was also living in New York at the time, and still considers himself to be a resident of the Big Apple. For the time being, he is in Oro Valley to help his mother.
Following 9/11, Saxer and Drakopoulos said they began living in fear, and to this day, believe America is no safer than they were 10 years ago.
Saxer said the Jan. 8 incident where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in an assassination attempt near Oro Valley brought back many of those feelings.
“Jan. 8 was a blow-by-blow record of how exactly I felt,” she said. “Good people who are innocent and well-intended are attacked.”
Saxer says she worries more now about major attacks, nuclear fallout, especially after the tragedy in Japan. She also worries about natural attacks that aren’t manmade such at tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes.
One thing both Saxer and Drakopoulos appreciated about the reaction to 9/11 was the sense of pride New Yorkers and Americans had after that day. The pride they had in the country, the need they had to bond and come together was amazing.
“The terrorists don’t realize what they did, and how united New Yorkers became because of that act,” said Saxer.
Drakopoulos said she went to a local church where firefighters were resting near Ground Zero. She said it was horrible to see the destruction through pictures, but it was even worse to see “with my own eyes.”
“Why did they let this happen? We are supposed to be a powerful country. Where were all our spies? Why did all those people have to die?” she asked.
Saxer and Drakopoulos agree that the U.S. Congress has a responsibility to take care of every firefighter, police officer and any volunteer who jumped into the destruction to help save lives.
Saxer said she had a friend who worked in New York City as a social worker. Her friend volunteered to stand at Ground Zero and try to help identify victims.
Today, this woman has a lot of unexplained boils on her face, but has yet to receive any kind of assistance from the U.S. government.
From the unresolved issues, to the images permanently embedded in our memories, Drakopoulos said, like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 is a day that “will live in infamy.”