Eyewitness recalls being in New York on September 11: ‘We couldn’t believe our eyes’

WCCO is looking back on September 11th, 2001 all week long in honor of the 20-year anniversary of that fateful event in American history.

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20 years ago, the worst attack on U.S soil was committed, 19 militants hijacked planes and attempted to crash those into several buildings. Two hit the World Trade Center towers in New York, one hit the Pentagon in Washington and another never reached its target, instead crashing into a field in rural Pennsylvania.

The attacks ended up killing thousands of people.

One witness to the events in New York City on 9/11 was former WCCO Radio News Director Kit Borgman who was visiting a friend in New York and she spoke to Susie Jones on the WCCO Radio Morning News Tuesday.

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Borgman was staying at an apartment right across the street from the towers and on the anniversary of that day, says the memories come flooding back.

“Yes, it comes back every year,” Borgman told Jones. “But this year seems a bigger one. More important to me than any other. It seems the more time passes since that day, the sharper the memories become.”

Borgman, who by 2001 had left WCCO Radio to work for the state of Minnesota, was in New York visiting a friend.

“I was going back to visit Vicky, my best friend who was in stage IV colon cancer and going to an experimental treatment,” explains Borgman. “I just happened to be there the day before 9/11 and was with her in the apartment. We were woken up the next morning by a next door neighbor who was, you know, just frantic on the phone. Are you okay? Are you okay? And I said, well yeah, I just woke up, what's going on? And she said a plane just went into one of the towers. I went and woke Vicky up and she turned the TV on immediately and just in time for the second plane to go through the second building. And we knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack.”

Borgman and her friend were immediately evacuated from the area.

“We were evacuated almost immediately, everyone in the building and it was a 34 story building that we were in,” says Borgman. “So it was kind of a long process. We went out the back and because both Vicki and I had been in the business at CBS, our first instinct was to, you know, sort of document what was going on.”

As the scene unfolded, Borgman says it didn’t seem like it was real.

“We sat just riveted looking at the scene of these towers burning,” Borgman said. “And we couldn't believe our eyes, it was literally, and many people have said this, it was surreal. You can't believe what you're looking at.  You can't believe it. A park ranger soon came and told us to keep moving north and we found out later it's because the wind was going south and they must have already suspected that the buildings might fall in which case all the debris might go south.”

Borgman and the other evacuations in that area were told to continue walking out of the area when the first building went down.

“We were forced to start the track up the West Side Highway, literally behind the American Express building, which is across the street from the World Trade Center.  Very close. And we were right in front of the building when the first tower went down. So Vicky had her small dog and she was in flip flops and I told her you gotta run.  You've got to run. And uh it seemed like everything was moving in very, very slow motion. This cloud was coming at us, it was horrible.”

Borgman added that the chaos from people trying to leave the area where the towers fell was pure chaos.

“There was no exit from Manhattan,” she told WCCO.  “So we just kept walking north and we were right by Stuyvesant High School which is a block or two from the towers when the second one went down and there a burst of people came out as Stuyvesant and we thought that the another plane or a bomb had gone off at the high school.  It was so loud and it was just pandemonium. People were bumping into people and knocking people over. And so we headed up north and when we got about four blocks away.  We didn't know what to do because we couldn't leave.  Subways weren't working and we were just walking. So a really wonderful guy let us into his office to make phone calls to everybody and let them know we were alive and everything was okay and then we just sat on the curb and watch this horrendous pile of rubble.”

Borgman says that as the years have gone by, she’s had a hard time explaining those memories.

“Well in so many ways it's hard to kind of encapsulate it, but I realized there were no atheists in the foxhole of Ground Zero that day or the days that followed,” Borgman explained.  “My lasting impressions have been about the heroism and the love that were displayed everywhere. You looked as far as the eye could see people were praying alone with each other kneeling in front of makeshift memorials, comforting total strangers.”

“We came back to the crash site the next Tuesday to be escorted into our building to retrieve our essentials. We had to wait for the National Guard trucks and all along the west side highway people were lined up and cheering fire trucks and emergency vehicles that were coming from literally all over the country singing one of two songs, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘God bless America’. It was amazing. It left me with the impression that the devil may have won the battle, but God won the war that day for the souls that were down there.  Of course, now we know the war isn't over and the battle for the soul of America continues and in some cases it's come home to roost. But because of that day, I know there are still good people, kind people and heroes in the making all around us.”

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