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The 100 Stories Project: Perspectives from the Heartland is slowly coming to a close. Over the past month and a half, we have met some amazing residents of the heartland, and have watched as memories of that day, mostly forgotten, came flooding back. Below is an entry that we would like to share.

Thanks to everyone that contributed to this project – can’t wait to share the final documentary!

John Ferderer, USAF, Minot, ND

On September 11th, I found myself getting up that morning and catching a shuttle from the hotel room that had been provided to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Fargo, ND.  The morning included doing all of the fun processing that could be expected: paperwork, physical, more paperwork.  I was sitting in the waiting area thinking about what not only what the rest of the day, but also the following days, weeks, months, and years would have in store for me.  I was sitting in this area with other people as we were waiting to officially swear into our perspective branch that each of had chosen.  There was one television, and though the show that was on was of no interest to me, it was something to watch while we all waited.

Shortly after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, the channel we were all watching flashed up the Breaking News screen and cut to one of the major national networks.  It was at this time that we were all told the small amount of information that was available at that time.  I remember that the news reporter stated that it was thought that plane crash had been an accident.  By this point the news companies had cameras in the area showing the where the plane had crashed into the building.  At this point all actions at MEPS had stopped as everyone was standing around the waiting room watching the TV to see what had happened.  Sixteen minutes after the first plane crashed our worst fears realized as the second aircraft crashed into the South Tower.  All I could do was watch, not knowing what to or how to react.  I think this was the reaction of many of the people in the room as we sat there and watched the ongoing news coverage.

After the nation had a chance to figure out what was going on and the airports were shut down, we were allowed to contact our families to ensure that they were safe.  My parents had brought me to Fargo and were waiting for me to call them to have them come and watch me be sworn in.  When I called them at the hotel, they still had not heard what had happened.  I told them to change the channel to any of the national networks.  After just a few seconds, they proceeded to ask me what was going to happen now.  At that point I did not have any answers for them.

We were later told that everyone would be sent back to the hotel and would have to return the next morning where we would get further instructions.  We all wanted to know what was going to happen, but we weren’t given much information as the military was still working out the details.  We ended up coming back for a few days before we were all sent home to wait for out new leave date.

Ron Grinsteiner, Urbandale, IA

Six other people and I were on the subway traveling to lower-Manhattan, planning to take a tour of the Statue of Liberty.  The first plane struck while we were on the subway.  When we got off the subway, we could see smoke in the air, but couldn’t see the source of the smoke.  I asked a man about it, and he said either a bomb went off, or a plane flew into one of the World Trade Centers.  He was very casual about it. No one really understood what was happening until the second plane struck.

Battery Park is where you board the ferry to go see Lady Liberty.  When we got to the edge of Battery Park, we could see the smoke and fire from the first tower.  I estimate we were about six blocks away.  As we were standing there looking at the tower, we could hear another airplane coming in from our left shoulders.  I saw the plane and thought, “wow, that plane sure is flying low.  Maybe it’s a media plane coming to take pictures of the first building.  It’s way too big to be a media plane…”.

At that moment, the plane crashed into the second building.

What most people saw when the plane hit was a massive explosion and fireball…from our vantage point, we saw the plane fly straight into the building and disintegrate into a cloud of dust and smoke.  At that point, everyone knew that America was under attack…

People started screaming and running away from downtown into Battery Park.  I jumped on a park bench because I didn’t want to get trampled by the crowd.  Everyone was hysterical.  For whatever reason, I hung around for a few minutes and took pictures of the buildings.  While I was taking pictures, I became separated from the rest of my group.  I was afraid that more planes would be coming in and decided that I needed to get out of downtown.  We came downtown on the subway, and it was the only way I knew to get back to my hotel.  As it turns out, I probably caught the last subway out, as it was shut down shortly after that.  I did meet the rest of my group at the hotel.

We left New York on September 12th.  The airlines were shut down, and there weren’t any rental cars available.  My company bought three Chevrolet vans from a dealership in Tarrytown, NY,  just north of New York City.  We wired money to pay for the vans; and had them delivered to the train station in Tarrytown.  We took the train to Tarrytown, got into the vans and headed home.


…I will remember the sound of the plane and its flight path more than the impact.

…I will remember how our country banded together and became stronger and more patriotic.  If you didn’t have an American Flag before 9/11…you did now.


Brother Llewellyn Kouba, Assumption Abbey, Richardton, ND

I am a Benedictine Monk of Assumption Abbey and a studio potter. I went to my clay studio early and began firing, as my kiln log now indicates around 4:00 AM on September 11th. I had a large load of stoneware and porcelains that I was eager to see complete. I was a considerable way through the firing when I heard the tragic news on the radio. I had a large 25 inch stoneware serving dish or (pedestal dish) in the glaze fire load and didn’t want to stop the fire or I would risk losing everything I worked so hard on. The hours spent themselves out as I remained glued to the radio for the entire day.

Once the glazes were mature and the gas kiln could be shut down, I was able to watch TV and see for myself the horrific events as they had unfolded in those early hours. The large clay piece turned out beautifully, and I titled it ‘Angels In Flight’- in honor of those who had given their lives at the NY Trade Center.

For days after the event, it seemed I was unable to create. I thought, ‘how can I create art’ when so many lives had been so quickly and heartlessly snuffed out. My artistic self had to deal with all the emotions and filter it through my creativity and clay gifts.

As an artist I would never again see the world in the same light. Our country had so tragically gone through acts of terrorism which sadly continue to this day. I latter created in a second firing, a large 22 inch, stoneware Commemorative Medallion, which featured the Trade Center towers and the Brooklyn bridge. The colors all pool to the center in a vivid red, white, and blue. This piece is now the property of the International Peace Gardens.