An array of emotions flooded the streets of Manhattan during the 9/11 tragedy in September 2001 when many Americans headed out to begin their day at work and saw far more than they ever expected.
This global event hit especially close to home for one local Stephens County family: The Stocktons.
Reggie Stockton, an IT Project Manager, as well as someone who works in managing system implementations, was in Manhattan when the New York City skyline changed forever.
“I was in New York implementing an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system for TD Waterhouse,” Stockton said. “The project had started April of 2001.”
Stockton said Sept. 11, 2001, was “intense and scary.”
“There was so much unknown about the first plane hitting that those of us in the office were just watching the news and going about our normal duties,” Stockton said. “We could see the Twin Towers from the office building (and) knew immediately when the second plane hit.”
Stockton could still recall a lady “screaming insanely” after the first tower fell.
“One of the managers said, ‘We have to leave. Now. We are under attack,’” he recounted.
There’s a lot that goes on in the Lower Manhattan area.
According to Stockton, for those who may have heard stories about NYC, it’s important to realize “Lower Manhattan is a financial mecca … not just the World Trade Center and Stock Exchange, but the headquarters or large offices of numerous banks, investment firms, etc.”
“We were about 12 stories up and several blocks away,” Stockton said. “So couldn’t see a lot of details in the streets below. So we evacuated to the first floor.”
According to Stockton, just from the first building collapsing down, they were able to see the “dust swirling around and dust covered people.”
“Because of this, the building shut off its air circulation so it soon became very stuffy with a few hundred people packed inside the building,” Stockton said. “Then, the second building fell (and) we had a clear view of dust and debris rolling down the street … to the point that we couldn’t see anything through the windows. The scene reminded of a movie special effects scene like ‘Independence Day’ when the large office buildings were destroyed. It was all so surreal.”
According to Stockton, things began to settle and people scattered.
“Mainly in fear of another attack,” Stockton said. “There were rumors of other aircraft, car bombs, and the normal confusion in these type ofsituations. We just didn’t know what was real.”
Survival mode kicked in for many, not knowing what would happen in the next moments.
“At this time I was just thinking about survival,” Stockton said. “We knew that many lives were taken that day — it was very emotional — is today the day I die?”
According to Stockton, due to the cost of living and hotel expenses, he had a corporate apartment.
“My window looked across the street at the Twin Towers,” Stockton said. “I was that close. So no way I was getting to my apartment — no idea what state it was in.”
Stockton said he called his family moments after the first plane hit to let them know he was okay.
“After the second plane hit, there was no phone service,” Stockton said. “Most of the cell antennas were on top of the Twin Towers due to the height. So it was several hours before I was able to talk to my family.”
Stockton said several of their crew, as well as others from Connecticut and New Jersey, had walked to Penn Station.
“We got to Penn Station and fortunately the train was still running,” Stockton said. “We were able to get to Long Island — around 4 in the afternoon — (and) finally able to call home and let them know I was okay.”
According to Stockton, his family felt an array of emotions — relief, joy and thankfulness — that all was well, but they all knew Stockton being able to get home would be a little more difficult to accomplish at the present moment.
“Getting home was another story,” Stockton said. “Planes were grounded for a couple of days and when things opened up, it was extremely difficult to get a flight out. All the rental cars were taken.
Stockton said he stayed with his manager for a couple of days.
Meanwhile, in Stephens County, Stockton’s wife, Julie, fielded phone calls from family members asking if she saw the planes hit the tower.
According to Stockton, he had spoke with his family after the first plane hit, but was unable to contact them after the second.
“Again, this was a time where we were not streaming news and things at work,” Stockton said. “So now things got a little more interesting back home in Duncan.”
Stockton said it was “very difficult to take the flight home” for there were “multitude of armed soldiers in the airport.”
This didn’t look like America, according to Stockton.
“I was living through something that had never been experienced on American soil,” Stockton said. “It was crazy.”
It would be four more days before Stockton would make it home since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“What a joyous occasion,” Stockton said. “Saw my wife, my kids, my parents, my in-laws. All were so happy to see me and know that I was safe.”
When it was time for Stockton to go back to work in NYC, flights weren’t easily navigated and there were new security measures in place.
“It seriously took several weeks before I was comfortable flying again,” Stockton said.
Stockton said he enjoyed the time with his family at that moment.
“At the end of the day, that is truly what is important — family,” Stockton said. “Too often we take that for granted. And we take for granted how quickly life can change.”
According to Stockton, any type of disaster, whether it be a loss of life in the Tennessee flooding or the outbreak of a global pandemic where thousands of lives have been lost, hits in many ways.
“Oklahomans are not strangers to death and disaster,” Stockton said. “Tornadoes every year. The Murray Building bombing. We could go all the way back to the Dust Bowl of the 30’s. Oklahomans are resilient and survivors.”
Stockton said one things he always hears about Oklahoma is how friendly the communities are.
“They are kind and helpful. I love going to Oklahoma,” Stockton said. “Duncan is a small community and I’ve seen us band together many times.”
Reflecting on the past 20 years, Stockton saw how much the country came together after the 9/11 attacks.
“20 years later, I am dismayed by the attitude of our country,” Stockton said. “20 years we came together. We were in united support against an enemy that dared attack us on our home turf. But the sentiment has waned. It is truly unfortunate that it takes an event of such a devastating nature to bring people together. Our country is now divided in many ways.”
Stockton feels bad for the country, especially since 9/11 happened and brought so many together.
“Covid happened and has driven this country apart,” Stockton said. “It is time we think more about others, helping them, doing what it takes to beat this attack on our soil, and not be so selfish.”