SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – September 11, 2021 marks 20 years since America was attacked by terrorists. People across the country stopped what they were doing and watched the terror unfold. It created an almost ‘ghost town-like’ effect for numerous cities, including Springfield.
When the first plane hit the Twin Towers, Sarah Gerlach was getting ready for her doctor’s appointment.
“My husband at the time was sitting out in the living room watching,” Gerlach said. “We thought that it was an accident in a small commuter plane or something like that. We were really perplexed and confused as to how that could happen.”
Gerlach lived in Republic at the time. Right before she left her house, the second plane hit.
“It was impactful,” Gerlach said. “Suddenly it was not an accident. We hesitated to leave. Should we stay and see what’s going on? Should we go?”
She decided to leave since she had a scheduled medical procedure that day. Gerlach took Highway 60 to her appointment. What she saw next, she says, was unforgettable.
“We looked around and there was no one on the highway,” Gerlach said. “No one on James River [Freeway]. No cars. When we got to Springfield, it was like the world had stopped. We were on National [Avenue], there was nobody on the street. There was no one standing outside any of the buildings. There were no people to be seen.”
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Gerlach turned on the radio for information.
“It was the only thing that was on the radio,” Gerlach said. “We were so confused about what was going on. They said, ‘We’re seeing people jumping off the buildings, everything’s on fire.’ It was very odd not being able to see it in a visual medium like TV.”
But, it was the first thing she saw when she got to the doctor’s office.
“The entire staff was huddled around the TV watching it. I vividly remember watching the video of people holding hands and jumping off the buildings to their death. It was just horrifying.”
Gerlach’s doctor couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I will never forget the look on my doctor’s face when he came into the room,” Gerlach said. “He was openly weeping. He was just devastated. We cried together.”
When Gerlach left the doctor’s office, she was still emotional.
“I think about the fact that we were attacked on our own soil,” Gerlach said. “It’s just hard to believe that anyone would attempt that, much less succeed. I still think about those people that died. And the people on the planes.”
To this day, she reminisces about how America bonded after 9-11.
“People really came together to help people,” Gerlach said. “People did everything they could to try to get people out of the rubble. People did everything they could to try to put the fires out. I really felt connected to every other U.S. citizen that day. I felt like we were all going through this horrible, traumatic thing. We felt unified in that moment even though it was a horrible moment.”
Gerlach says every 9-11, she reminds her kids about how that day changed everything, from security to America’s view on terrorism.
“I don’t think my kids have any concept of living in a nation where we felt secure in the fact that no one would ever attack us,” Gerlach said. “It just seemed beyond your imagination to think that someone would do something like that. The abnormality of someone wanting to hurt people like that. I know that my kids have never known our nation when it wasn’t at war. We’ve been at war their entire lives. I want them to recognize how significant [9-11] was. It changed our perception of how we’re viewed in the world. I just want them to know that it was a pivotal event.”