September 11 Archives - StoryCorps

“The Rug Was Swept Out From Under Me”: A 9/11 Survivor From The Pentagon Shares Her Story

Tesia Williams was one of the first in her family to go to college.

Shortly after graduating, she got a job at the Pentagon, and was working as a public affairs specialist when on September 11, 2001, one of four hijacked planes crashed into the building, claiming the lives of 184 victims.

At StoryCorps, her teenage daughter, Mikayla Stephens, learned some new things about what Tesia went through and how the events of that day would eventually shape both of their lives.

Left image: Tesia Williams with daughters Mikayla, Harper and Arissa Stephens, and husband Jamel Stephens, in Washington D.C., in 2018. Right image: The family in 2008, shortly after Mikayla and Arissa arrived in Tesia’s care.

 

 

Top Photo: Mikayla Stephens and Tesia Williams at their StoryCorps interview in Washington, D.C. on August 27, 2021. By Clean Cuts Studios for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Sept. 9, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

“You Are Your Brother’s Keeper”: A Marine Opens Up To His Son About 9/11

In August 2000, former Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas was discharged from active duty. One year later, on September 11, 2001, he was compelled to step forward as two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, just miles from where he lived. 

Jason grabbed his Marine uniform and sped to Ground Zero, where he spent almost three weeks working as a first responder looking for survivors buried under the debris. 

Jason Thomas at Ground Zero on 9/11. This is one of the images developed by the firefighter who found Jason’s camera at Ground Zero. Courtesy of Jason Thomas.

For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Jason — now a Master Sgt. with the Air Force Reserve — came to StoryCorps with his youngest son, Jason Christian Thomas, to talk about the lasting impact that experience had on him. 

This was the first time they spoke about the details of that day.

Jason Thomas and Jason Christian Thomas in Florida, July of 2020. Courtesy of Jason Thomas.
Top Photo: Jason Thomas at Ground Zero after 9/11. Courtesy of Jason Thomas.

Originally aired Sept. 11, 2021, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Twenty Years Later, 9/11 Survivor Remembers His Identical Twin Brother Killed In The Attack

Born just minutes apart, Richie and Ronnie Palazzolo were twin brothers who shared everything. They both ran marathons, cheered for their favorite football team— the Minnesota Vikings— and even followed the same career path.

Ronald Palazzolo holding cousin Christina Della Pelle with his brother Richard, New Years Eve, 1994 Courtesy of the Palazzolo family.

They worked as brokers in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Ronnie on the 26th floor at Garban-Intercapital, and Richie on the 105th floor for Cantor Fitzgerald. They were both there on the day of the attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Ronnie survived, but Richie did not.

Ronnie, his older brother Michael, and Richie on Easter, 1967 in Queens, NY. Courtesy of the Palazzolo family.

In 2021, Ronnie came to StoryCorps to remember that day and reflect on the pain of losing his brother and best friend.

Top Photo: Richard Palazzolo outside their family’s home in upstate New York, in 2000. Courtesy of the Palazzolo family.

Originally aired September 10, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

This recording was made in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as part of StoryCorps’ effort to collect one recording for each life lost that day.

For Those Left Behind: An Afghan American Marine Reflects On His Homeland

In 1980, Ajmal Achekzai fled Afghanistan during the onset of the Soviet–Afghan War, leaving his birth city of Kabul behind. He was only five years old.

The next time he would return would be in November of 2001. U.S. Marines were the first major ground forces sent to Afghanistan after 9/11. Ajmal was among them. 

Cpl. Ajmal Achekzai talks with two Afghan locals on December 10, 2001 at the perimeter of a patrol base in Southern Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly/USMC/Getty Images.

Twenty years later, Ajmal is witnessing the return of Taliban control. He sat down with StoryCorps to remember where he came from, the dire uncertainty of Afghanistan’s future and the love he has for its people.

Ajmal Achekzai with his mother, in July of 2001, at the Salt Lake International Airport. Courtesy of the Achekzai family.
Top Photo: Ajmal Achekzai at his StoryCorps interview in Costa Mesa, CA, on August 19th, 2016. By Liyna Anwar for StoryCorps.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices and Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired September 03, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The Things That Go Left Unsaid: Remembering A Son and Brother — The First U.S. Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman was born at Andrews Air Force Base, where his father was stationed at the time. Like many military families, they moved around a lot during his childhood. This instilled an adventurous spirit in Nathan, while it challenged his older brother, Keith, who preferred more order.

The brother’s would go on to lead very separate lives — while living under the same roof. 

Nathan Chapman, Lynn Chapman & Keith Chapman, March 1981 in Contra Costa County, CA. Courtesy of the Chapman family.

In 1988, at age 18, Nathan sat his parents, Lynn and Wilbur down to ask for their blessing to enlist. It would be the beginning of a significant and highly decorated 12-and-a-half year career in service, leading into the Special Forces, where his speciality was communications.

Two months after September 11th, Nathan would volunteer for a special mission. On January 4th, 2002, he became the first American soldier killed in combat, during the War in Afghanistan. 

Lynn and Keith Chapman came to StoryCorps to remember a complicated dynamic between brothers, and the things that sometimes go left unsaid.

Keith Chapman and Lynn Chapman at their StoryCorps interview in Frederick, MD, on August 20, 2021. For StoryCorps. 

Nathan Ross Chapman is survived by his wife, Renae, his daughter Amanda, his son Brandon, his parents Wilbur and Lynn Chapman, his brother Keith Chapman, and his half-brother Kevin Chapman. His other half-brother David Chapman has since passed away.

Top Photo: Nathan Chapman in Haiti, 1995. Courtesy of the Chapman family.

Originally aired August 28, 2021 on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi, Sikh Man Killed in Post-9/11 Hate Crime

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs became targets for hate across the country. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first person to be murdered in a hate crime in this aftermath.

On the morning of September 15, 2001, Balbir donated the contents of his wallet to the victims of the attacks. He then went to the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona and began planting a garden out in front, when a man who was seeking retaliation for 9/11 drove by in his pickup truck and shot and killed Balbir, assuming he was a Muslim man. Balbir was a follower of the Sikh religion and wore a turban as part of his faith.

At StoryCorps, Balbir’s brothers, Rana and Harjit Sodhi, sat down to remember him.

Later that day, Balbir’s killer also shot at people who were of Middle Eastern descent. They all survived. The murderer is currently serving out a life sentence in Buckeye, Arizona.

Originally aired September 14, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Rana Sodhi (L) and Harjit Sodhi holding a photograph of their late brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Mia Warren for StoryCorps.

 

Armeen Hamdani and Talat Hamdani

On September 11, 2001, Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old emergency medical technician, NYPD cadet, and aspiring medical student who rushed to the World Trade Center that morning to help.

Like thousands of others, Salman never came home that night. And as his family searched for him in the weeks that followed, he was wrongfully linked as an accomplice in the attacks.

His mother, Talat Hamdani, came to StoryCorps with her niece, Armeen Hamdani, to remember the days after Salman went missing.

HamdaniExtra-4

In April 2002, a month after his remains were found, Salman was finally given a hero’s burial — with his casket draped in an American flag. Hundreds of people attended his funeral, including then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s police commissioner.

Today, there are scholarships in Salman’s name at his alma mater, Queens College, and at Rockefeller University. The street on which he lived in Bayside, Queens, was renamed in his honor.

Originally aired September 8, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos of Salman courtesy of Talat Hamdani.

Vaughn Allex and Denise Allex

This weekend marks 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Each year since, StoryCorps has commemorated the day by featuring stories from the parents, wives, husbands, coworkers, and friends of those who died on 9/11. This year we hear from Vaughn Allex, a man whose life was affected in another way.

Vaughn was working at the American Airlines ticket counter at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on the morning of September 11 checking in passengers on Flight 77. Allex1As he was wrapping up, two men who were running late for the flight came to his counter.

Before the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport security was more lax, and Vaughn did exactly what he was supposed to do — he checked both men’s IDs, asked them a few standard security questions, and then flagged their bags for extra scrutiny.

Vaughn then checked the two men in and they boarded the flight to Los Angeles.

Those two men were among the five hijackers onboard who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 189 people including themselves.

Vaughn, who retired from the airline industry in 2008 and now works for the Department of Homeland Security, came to StoryCorps with his wife, Denise, to discuss how he has felt since learning the next day that he checked in two of the 9/11 hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77.

Originally aired September 9, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Illustration by Matt Huynh for StoryCorps.

Isaac Feliciano

felicianoextraIsaac Feliciano has been working at Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood cemetery for 21 years. He has done many jobs there and is currently a field foreman, supervising landscape and maintenance workers on the grounds.

On September 11, 2001 he dropped his wife off at the subway so she could get to her job at Marsh & McLennan in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

He then headed to work at Green-Wood.

Rosa Maria Feliciano, pictured at left with her daughters, Amanda and Alexis, was 30 years old when she was killed on September 11, 2001. Today, Isaac is a single father raising their two daughters.

Originally aired September 11, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Photo courtesy of the Feliciano family.

Sekou Siby

A few years after immigrating from the Ivory Coast, Sekou Siby began working in the kitchen at Windows on the World—a restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Sekou, 49, lost more than 70 colleagues on September 11, 2001, many of them immigrants as well.

He was originally scheduled to work on the morning of the attacks but switched shifts at the request of another employee—fellow kitchen worker Moises Rivas.

Sekou came to StoryCorps’ booth in Lower Manhattan to remember Moises as well as the many other coworkers he lost on that day.

Originally aired September 5, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.