Memories of 9/11: My parents’ accounts of the horrific day from New York

Where were you? It's a question that's been asked now for 17 years.

It's a common thread throughout the country and a way we remember the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

I was nine and in school at the time, right across the Hudson River in north Jersey. My parents, journalists working in New York.

"I want to tell anybody that has a family member who may be in the building is that the situation is under control for the moment and the danger is not increased. So please all family members take it easy."

On a Tuesday morning in September -- Jim Gartenberg spoke on the phone to news anchors at WABC7 in New York relaying a message for all of those worrying while watching an unprecedented moment in U.S. history.

Lori Stokes, my mother, was one of those anchors and carries Jim's memory with her to this day.

"35-year old guy with a two-year-old little girl and a baby on the way," Stokes remembered.

He would not see them again.

"When we watched that north tower go down, knowing we had just spoken with Jim, knowing so many others were trapped in that building."

It's hard to comprehend the world falling down around you when you're a kid. All you know is that 22 miles away, too many people are taking their last breath.

"You were crying. You thought, that everyone in New York had died," my mother reminded me.

Child, adult -- no one was prepared.

WNBC4 reporter Brian Thompson, my father, was trying to get into the city from New Jersey. "I saw this large plane circling the two towers, one of which was smoking on fire and I just thought, 'What pilot on earth would take his passengers around a burning skyscraper as almost a joyride?"

"At the time, no one ever thought of using airplanes as weapons," my mother explained.

Then the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., the nightmare continued.

But there were moments of hope. My father recalled flight personnel from foreign airlines like Lufthansa and Air France showing their love and support. "With candles lit in front of the terminal building and they were singing...they were singing...America the beautiful."

The events of 9/11 are burned into our national identity. "This didn't just happen on 9/11. That was the beginning. But I think for all of us we continue to live it every day."

Not because we were hurt -- but because we continue to heal.