9/11, 15 Years Later: The Untold Story of How Sept. 11 Changed These 5 Lives Forever
How we’ve changed.
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Photo: Genora Dancel
Editor‘s Note: Retired social worker and Red Cross volunteer Kenneth W.Y. Lee passed away Sept. 9, 2016, after sharing his stories of assisting with the Sept. 11 recovery in New York City.
It’s been 15 years since that Tuesday morning when two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed by terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and injured twice that many, rewrote the rules for travel and security and changed how safe we feel.
To help understand how far we’ve come, we touched base with some of those most affected by the Sept. 11 attacks who weren’t ready to speak out until now: a restaurateur whose sister died on the 107th floor; a broadcast engineer who narrowly missed being three floors below; a chef who worked a nearby relief kitchen in the aftermath; a Red Cross worker; and a first responder.
Cecily Ho Sargent
Heather Malia Ho.
Photo: courtesy of Cecily Ho Sargent
In 2001, Cecily Ho Sargent was living in Australia. Sister Heather Malia Ho was working as an executive pastry chef at Windows on the World.
Cecily found out about the attack from her brother, Bank of Hawai‘i’s Peter Ho. “I was in Sydney,” she says. “My brother called me and said turn on the news. I was just going to bed. It was about 11 o’clock-ish.”
Sargent recalls her confusion. “Honestly, I didn’t understand what was happening. It took me a while to soak it in. I kept saying, Where is she? Where is she? She’s not there right now, is she? And she was.”
Turns out Heather, who had given notice that she was quitting her job to partner in a new bakery business concept, was scheduled to be off that day. Sargent says, “Somebody asked her to cover him.”
With Cecily in Australia, brother Peter and father Stuart in Honolulu, and their mother, Mary, in San Francisco, it took some time to reunite. When commercial flights resumed days later, the family members gathered in San Francisco to meet their mother before continuing to New York.
Sargent recalls her sister as a good friend who cared about others. “I know she’s most remembered as a chef and for dying at 9/11, but I remember her as an extremely compassionate person, just so kind to people, even perfect strangers.”
Ho was described as a rising-star chef, shortly after she graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park.
Yet, even with Ho’s success in the high-pressure, male-dominated world of cooking, Sargent says, “It was kind of a little joke in the family, she’d always have some kind of wounded bird she was looking after.”
Despite the family’s community prominence, they declined most interviews and deferred mostly to close family friends to speak in the days and weeks after the tragedy. Sargent returned to Hawai‘i four years ago and opened two Tucker & Bevvy restaurants. She remains philosophical about increased security and travel alerts as this generation’s response to the war of our time. “I don’t think it’s any more horrific than any other century that we lived in.”
Still, Sargent thinks the chances of dying in a terrorist attack remain low.
“The chance of us dying in a car accident is very high. It’s just part of life. We’re not safe anywhere.”