Ten years later, senior IU tennis player Will Kendall can still vividly recall the moment his life came to a sudden and unexpected halt.
Now, a new memorial opens honoring both the lives of the fallen and the heroism of survivors, and Will looks back with a new perspective.
“Some people say the new tower and memorial will just be another terrorist target, but I disagree,” Will said. “You can’t run from those types of people. You have to honor the victims, rebuild and regroup and pray that security will be good enough to prevent an attack.”
His mother, Ellen, said she hopes the 10th anniversary ceremony will be the last major public commemoration of 9/11.
“I think people will want to remember it in their own way,” Ellen said. “This is the big remembrance. There will be smaller things going forward. My hope is that a big surge of emotion will come, and then people will move on.”
In 2001, Will was a sixth grader in his native northern New Jersey and was sitting in French class when his teacher broke the news.
“My teacher told us an airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers,” Will said. “I knew my father was supposed to be across the street from the World Trade Center for a meeting that day, so I panicked.”
Unbeknownst to him, his father, Peter, had his meeting delayed. His morning train never reached New York.
After the second plane hit and it became clear the attacks constituted terrorism, all traffic into Manhattan was stopped.
For Will’s father, Peter, Hoboken, N.J., just across the Hudson River from the city, was the end of the line.
From his vantage point, he watched in horror as the Twin Towers that had dominated the skyline of downtown Manhattan for decades collapsed in ruins.
Back home, Ellen had been trying to reach her husband and still had not heard from him.
“It was total chaos,” Ellen said. “I had gone to pick Will’s sister up from school and could not get a hold of my Peter. Cell phone service was absolutely horrible.”
As Ellen raced to a nearby town to collect Will’s sister, Will’s school had dismissed all students, and he made the short walk home with friends.
There, sitting on the couch and glued to the television, was his father.
“I remember feeling so relieved,” Will said. “My friends and I had all been freaking out. I’ll never forget that feeling — seeing that my father was alive and well.”
Like most of the nation, the reunited family spent the remainder of the day watching the events unfold on television and trying to make sense of them.
The Kendalls, however, watched with heightened interest. They knew that two family members worked in the World Trade Center.
Will’s second cousin was one of the few who managed to survive despite being above the impact zone at the time of the crash.
“He worked on the 106th floor and had already started to make his way down when the second plane hit,” Will said. “There were dead bodies strewn everywhere. There was so much fire he could barely see anything, but he caught a glimpse of this light.
That light was the fire escape. He went down 78 floors of the fire escape and made it out alive.”
Will said his cousin’s tale is a testament to his bravery.
“He’s a hero,” Will said.
Despite suffering from a broken leg, a broken wrist, broken ribs and multiple lacerations, Will’s cousin was able not only to survive but also brought others with him on the descent, saving multiple lives along the way.
He was taken to a Long Island hospital upon reaching the base of the tower.
Not long after, Ellen heard from family that he had made it out alive.
Another family member was less fortunate. Ellen’s brother’s brother-in-law worked near the impact zone of the South Tower.
The family believes he was killed in the crash.
In the direct aftermath, neighbors gathered at a nearby lookout area, from which the smoke billowing from ground zero was clearly visible.
“People were posting photographs of those who had passed away on a stone wall,” Ellen said. “Half of our community worked on Wall Street. There were so many vigils and funerals. It was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
Will too could see the effects of the attacks among his childhood friends.
“I remember devastation everywhere,” Will said. “I had friends and kids I played tennis with who lost parents — kids I went to school with, kids I went to church with.”
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