By Angela Lingg
In New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the day dawned clear and sunny.
Frances Johannsen rode a train to Grand Central Station from her home in the suburbs.
She walked her usual route from the station to her work place on Broadway. But during that walk, her life changed forever.
Johannsen is an English teacher at Hutchinson Community College.
However, her life began thousands of miles away in Japan. Johannsen’s parents met while her father was stationed by the U.S. Navy in Sasebo, Japan. Johannsen’s mother is Japanese.
With her father being in the military, Johannsen moved back and forth from Japan to the United States, several times.
Being moved between different cultures throughout her childhood helped make her more adaptable to the challenges she would later face.
“In retrospect, it helped me to feel really comfortable; I feel like I can go anywhere and adapt,” she said.
After graduating from college at Ole Miss, she moved to New York City in 1990.
“I always wanted to live there, always,” Johannsen said.
“For me it was just a way to test myself. It was always my dream to move to New York City. I hadn’t planned on moving away from there, ever.”
But Sept. 11, 2001, altered her plans.
“I was walking down Madison Avenue and everyone on Madison Avenue saw the first plane fly overhead,” she said.
“It almost looked like it was hugging the skyline. It was super loud and everyone who was walking and driving basically stopped because it was such a shock to see a plane fly overhead that close.
“My first inclination was that something was wrong with the plane itself or the pilot. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider it was a terrorist attack. It was close enough I could actually see the underside of the wing and some of the rivets.”
Johannsen kept walking, but as she turned onto Broadway she witnessed the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.
“Everyone on the street was stopped and staring at it,” she said. “It was a really weird feeling; you wanted to do something, but you didn’t know what to do because it was such a bizarre incident.”
Johannsen made it to her office and turned on the TV.
“We were watching the news reports on TV of what was happening just less than a mile from our office,” she said. “We didn’t dare go down there. We saw the second plane hitting the tower and that’s when we all realized, this was intentional, not fully realizing it was Al Quada and all of that.”
Johannsen said it wasn’t until later in the day that the city shut down, but the debris and smoke came rushing down Broadway, driving the city to shut down on its own. She was able to ride with a friend back to her home in the suburbs.
Johannsen said she never feared for her life, but the incident left her in shock.
“The first shock was the first plane hitting, the second was the second plane hitting, and realizing it was intentional,” she said. “The third shock was when the towers fell down.”
It was a hard for Johannsen to grasp the fact that the towers were gone. She had gone to the towers many times on busines.s and for shopping. It was a place that everyone in the city had been to at some point, she said.
“Seeing the tower completely collapse — it’s weird…I’m still speechless,” she said.
Johannsen was working as a film editor at the time and was back to work on Sept. 13, but the city was never the same.
“It never went back to what it was,” she said. “The city is still not the same that it was pre- 9/11. It’s calmed down quite a bit and the city is more comfortable with what happened now, but it never went back what it was.”
In 2003, Johannsen left New York and went to study for her Master’s of Fine Arts degree at Wichita State University.
After completing her master’s degree and her teaching certification, she taught in Wichita for several years before coming to teach at HCC. She currently lives near Little River with her husband, on their cattle breeding ranch.
Johannsen has hesitated to go to New York City since she left, and she has not visited the place where the towers used to stand.
“A few times I had to go near the area, but it was really painful and I couldn’t go to the wreckage sight,” Johannsen said. “It was something I couldn’t do.”
Sept. 11 is still a hard day for Johannsen as it brings back memories from that day.
“It makes me angry more than anything else when I see those kind of terrorist attacks, because I know how it affected me and my friends and our city,” she said.
“You are no longer the innocent, isolated American country. Now we have to be extremely vigilant, no matter where we are. It (terrorism) may not affect a huge number of people physically, but it does effect our psyche, and that’s the part that is probably the worst effect of any sort of terrorist attack. I guess it’s just the loss of innocence.”
Recent terrorist attacks in Paris brought back some memories for Johannsen, as it was similar to the 9/11 attacks in how the terrorists struck several places at once.
“I feel like the Paris attacks were kind of like that, because they were very smart about it, attacking in multiple areas,” she said. “That’s what’s the most frightening, when you don’t know.”