FOREST CITY | Hope Lichtsinn of Forest City was in New York City on Sept. 11 and witnessed the reactions of the people there to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Seventeen years later, she said she's more focused on what happened on Sept. 12, when the entire nation came together no matter their differences.
"That has been lacking for a number of years now," she said.
Lichtsinn said she is glad the heroism of the first responders on 9/11 is still remembered and honored.
This July she spoke before the start of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K Walk/Run in Forest City, which raised more than $4,000 for wounded veterans and first responders.
FOREST CITY | A Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K Walk/Run in Forest City on Jul…
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was created in honor of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life on 9/11 after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.
Lichtsinn was in Manhattan the morning of 9/11 because she had appointments in the Garment District as a dress buyer for Marshall Field's department stores.
She traveled from Minneapolis, where she and her husband, Ron, were living at the time, to New York City once a month for work.
At her first appointment that morning, the business owner told her a plane had just hit the World Trade Center, but everyone assumed it was a private plane that had tracked off course.
She soon heard a second plane had hit the WTC and people were beginning to think the whole thing was more than just an accident.
She said she didn't know what to do because Marshall Fields didn't have a protocol for something like that, so she continued on her rounds.
At her next stop, the sales rep she usually worked with was surprised to see her.
One window had a view of the WTC, which was several miles away. Lichtsinn could see one of the Twin Towers had already fallen and the other one had smoke coming from it.
She was talking to the sales rep when she heard someone scream.
She said she looked out the window "and it (the second tower) was just gone."
Lichtsinn then got a call from the Marshall Field's corporate office. All the buyers currently in New York were to walk back to their hotel.
The streets were packed like they always were, but traffic was at a standstill, according to Lichtsinn. Motorists were blaring the news on their car radios so pedestrians could tell what was going on.
Getting back to the hotel was difficult because the buyers didn't want to walk past any major landmarks in case they would also be terrorist targets, according to Lichtsinn.
She said no one's cell phones were working, but "Ron got a hold of me somehow" so she was able to tell him what was going on.
When the buyers got back to the hotel, they consolidated rooms because "nobody wanted to be watching the news by themselves," Lichtsinn said.
The buyers met in the hotel lobby at 6 p.m. so they could take a subway to the Bronx and get on a chartered bus leaving the city.
They later learned the subway line they had taken, which was packed with people, was closed sometime after they got off because of how close it was to Ground Zero. Officials were afraid tremors would cause the tunnel to collapse.
The bus ride to the Twin Cities took 24 hours.
Lichtsinn said being in Manhattan on 9/11 "was very surreal."
"I don't think it was until I got home that the reality set in," she said.
Her supervisors said she didn't have to come back to work until the following week, but she went back on Friday.
During those days off, "I didn't want to watch any news or anything," she said. "I just watched cartoons."
All the sales reps she worked with during her visits to New York knew at least one person who worked in the Twin Towers.
"At first we thought a lot more people didn't make it out," she said.
When she talked to her sales reps on the phone afterwards, they told her stories of all the hearses in their neighborhoods and how people were trying to locate missing loved ones.
Before 9/11, Lichtsinn and her husband had talked about moving to Forest City.
They moved there in November 2001.
The events of 9/11 "made the decision to move here much easier," she said.
Over the years Lichtsinn said she has sometimes looked back on that day in NYC and wondered, "Should I have been running in the other direction? Should I have gone back to try to help someone?"
She said she realizes it most likely would have been futile, but it's something she can't help thinking about.
Lichtsinn did go back to NYC -- this time accompanied by her husband -- two or three years after 9/11.
The official Sept. 11 memorial hadn't been built yet, but there was a memorial at a church near Ground Zero and makeshift memorials at the site itself.
Lichtsinn said the visit was a healing experience because she saw that even after a great tragedy, "life goes on."