SARASOTA, Fla. (Sept. 11, 2019) – Eighteen years ago, Dan Hoffe stood on the 61st floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center and watched as glass, reams of paper and other debris streamed from the center’s north tower.
He thought a bomb had gone off. Minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., as Hoffe and thousands of office workers were descending stairwells, a passenger jet, Flight 175, struck the south tower.
“I’ll never forget, we got to the 10th floor and our [public address system] finally stared to speak, our P.A. system, and it said World Trade Center 1, the north tower, had been hit. [Tower] 2 is secure, and I remember thinking, ‘Well, thank God I was in 2,’” he said.
“Literally 10 seconds later, the second plane hit, and when that hit you actually felt the building move. You almost thought it was going to go over.”
Emerging from the tower, Hoffe turned long enough to see smoke and flames pouring from shattered windows. He started walking uptown with a crowd. He didn’t learn until later that terrorists attacked the buildings.
Hoffe recalled the chaotic and tragic events of that day during a special ceremony Wednesday as the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee remembered victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and paid tribute to survivors, first responders and members of the military.
At times poignant, the remembrance included a flag-raising ceremony by the U.S. Marine Corps 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion color guard, the playing of “Taps” on a bugle, a bagpiper and a selection of patriotic songs by a children’s choir from the St. Stephens Episcopal School in Bradenton.
Photos can be found here: www.dropbox.com/sh/0sz4i4iq0i02ipi/AAABz9O16lKbDbGZP-2yW3W5a?dl=0.
Guest speaker Hoffe, a USFSM alumnus and executive vice president of Capstan Financial Consulting Group in Sarasota, said he was working for Morgan Stanley at the time and attending a training seminar in New York when the attacks occurred.
He said he agreed to speak at the ceremony to honor “the victims and heroes of 9/11.”
He said he thought to himself that day, “This doesn’t happen to me. It always happens to someone else. But I’m here to tell you it can happen to you.”
To illustrate what was occurring, he played a short voicemail to his wife on the morning of the attacks. Walking with the crowd away from the center, and as police and fire trucks streamed toward it, he borrowed a co-worker’s cell phone to assure his wife that he wasn’t hurt.
With anxiety in his voice and shouting above sirens and other chaos, he could be heard saying, “I’m all right. I’ll be OK.”
The call lasted 10 seconds, but it captured what would occur in ensuing days and weeks in New York and across the nation as spouses, families and communities would seek to connect to reassure one another.
USFSM Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook, PhD, also addressed the crowd about the impact of 9/11. She said she was reminded of the common humanity of all people and the obligation she felt to reach out to others.
“Everyone was changed in some way,” she told attendees. “I remember a particularly intense feeling of the need to make eye contact, to greet people in some way, to reach out, to connect with people I passed on the campus of the university where I was at the time, even people I didn’t know.
“All of us were together in our suffering and for the nation and for the people who suffered intolerable loss and we all understood what others were feeling as well,” she said.
The ceremony lasted about an hour. About 300 people attended. It was followed by a reception in the FCCI rotunda. A day earlier, students, staff, faculty and veterans groups met to plant 2,977 flags – one for each victim of the 9/11 attacks – in the USFSM courtyard lawn.
Carlos Moreira, USFSM’s veteran services administrator, presided over the ceremony.
“Today we honor the lives lost 18 years ago,” he said.
Also in attendance were USFSM student ambassadors, a representative from Congressman Vern Buchanan’s office, several teams of first responders from Sarasota and Manatee counties and other representatives of the U.S. military.
For more about USF Sarasota-Manatee, visit usfsm.edu.