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‘It started out as any other day’: Tallahassee couple shares their 9/11 story

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 9:20 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Never forget: The mantra of survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks and families, who lost loved ones that day.

But as the 20-year mark approaches this Saturday, some worry the significance of the day is fading.

Many people alive today were just children or not even born at that time. That’s why one Tallahassee couple is sharing their 9/11 story, hoping not only to educate but also to remind us about the fragility of life.

Sue Matheu remembers the morning of September 11, 2001.

She was watching cartoons with her three-year-old and six-month-old in their home on Long Island.

Her husband, Jim, was at work inside the World Trade Center in New York City.

Everything was routine until the phone rang.

“My father-in-law called me and asked what floor of the World Trade Center my husband worked on. When I told him, the 54th floor of tower two, he then told me that a plane had hit both towers at that point,” Sue said.

Sue then turned on the TV and was horrified by what she saw.

“The way the television showed the second tower being hit, it looked as if it was half way because the other buildings kind of went up against the World Trade Center to make it look like the plane had hit it halfway through. So, I was pretty much certain that if Jim did not get out immediately, he would not have made it out,” Sue said.

At the time, neither Sue nor Jim had a cell phone.

With no way to contact Jim, Sue said she started to panic.

“Every time the phone rang, everybody got up thinking it was going to be Jim. And it wasn’t for a long time,” Sue said.

During that time, Jim was trying to get out of the World Trade Center building alive.

He saw debris from the first plane bounce off Tower One.

His entire floor, which consisted of about 100 people, immediately got up and headed for the stairs.

The group finally made it to the ground floor of the building, still not knowing what was going on.

“I wanted to see what happened. So, instead of just going underground, I stopped and I went over to the windows to look out at what had happened. And just as I did that, the second plane slammed into our building. Just for that moment, I said, just for that instant, I’m like, ‘This is it. I’m going to die.’ And when it didn’t happen, and things settled, I said, ‘Okay, maybe not.’ And so, I took off downstairs to the underground,” Jim said.

Once there, a security guard warned Jim to stay inside because of falling debris.

His next move was to get to the World Trade Center subway train.

To Jim’s amazement, it was still there.

So, he hopped on, taking one of the last trains out of New York City.

“I closed my eyes and prayed. And when we popped up on the other side, I could feel the sunlight sort of leaking through my eyes. I opened my eyes and looked back and you could see smoke pouring through the southern tip of Manhattan,” Jim said.

90 minutes later, a borrowed cell phone connected Jim with his wife.

“I honestly think he said something like, ‘Honey, I’m okay.’ And I don’t remember what I did or what I said,” Sue said.

With the subways also shutting down, a kind stranger drove Jim the rest of the way home.

“I walked into the house and my wife was there with my two kids and my mother and father. And so, the same day, I was home before 1 p.m., while a lot of people were trapped and walking and walking and walking, so I got extremely lucky,” Jim said.

Jim never worked in New York City again.

The Long Island couple later had a third child, never hiding the details of that day from them.

“My kids really value life. And they value their father. And they know what could have been,” Sue said.

That’s why, on every 9/11 since then, they try to be together as a way to honor the many families, they know, who weren’t as lucky.

“I think September 11, especially this year, for 20 years, is a time for us to really think about those that were lost on that day, in the trade center, in the Pentagon, on that airplane, in that field. It was a frightening time and I just want everyone to really think about how our world was really changed that day and how grateful that we should be that we’re here,” Sue said.

Amazingly, Jim said every person, on the floor he worked on, survived the attack.

However, many of his childhood friends, or their family, did not.

During the interview with WCTV, Jim was very cognizant to say their names out loud.

So, to honor them, here’s a list of every person Jim mentioned, during his interview, who died on 9/11/2001:

Pat McAneney, Bill Peterson, Eric Steen, Paul Eckna, Jimmy Ostrowski and Kathy McGlocklin’s little brother.

May we never forget them, their families and the thousands of others who died that day.

You can watch Jim and Sue recall 9/11, and their experience, in their own words below.

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