When five El Campo friends embarked on a 2001 trip of a lifetime, never did they anticipate the chaos that ensued Sept. 11, outside the Manhattan apartment they had rented for a few days.
Sherry Stanley, Marti Setera, Marilyn Korenek, Beverly (Bev) Thaysen and her daughter Holly Thaysen flew into LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Sept. 6. A friend of Thaysen’s from Danbury, Conn. picked them up and took them to see the sights. The group stayed with her that evening, then rented a van and drove to Boston the next day where they took a train back to New York City.
Over the next few days, they did their own sight-seeing tours and last on their list was The World Trade Center for Sept. 11. But their plans were altered.
“We were going to go up the tower on Sept. 11,” Setera said. “It was the last thing we were going to do.”
“But since we were in the vicinity, we went a day early,” Korenek said.
In the meantime, family back home knew of their original itinerary, but was unaware it had been changed.
On that morning of Sept. 11, they were getting ready for a day of more sightseeing before flying back to Houston. As the television blared in the background, a few of them stopped to notice the media coverage. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were hit by two planes.
“We looked over and saw something on the TV,” Korenek said. “Then the second one (tower) was hit and we thought ‘holy crap.’”
Not knowing what was going on, what to expect next and what to do, they stayed glued to the TV and inside their apartment for a few hours before venturing out.
“Our apartment was close to the Empire State Building,” Stanley said, and they began to wonder if that building would be the next target.
“Once we got out, we could see down the street from our apartment,” Stanley said. “You could see the dust. We were just terrified. We couldn’t talk to anyone ... cell phones did not work.”
“Bev and I went to look for a rental car ... we were walking towards the people who were walking away from the towers ... they were just white. You just can’t wrap your head around it,” Setera said.
“Overnight, there was a lot of chaos,” Stanley said. “There were sirens. Lots and lots of sirens.”
Unable to get a rental car, use their cell phones, access an ATM or fly home, their friend from Danbury, Conn. was able to contact them and advised them to get a train ticket right away.
During this time, family and friends were trying to get in touch with the group, believing they may have been among the victims that day.
Through the help of local law firm Duckett, Bouligny & Collins, an employee’s son was able to locate where the five were staying and get them connected with family members.
“Kathy Steinke Hlavaty’s son worked in Manhattan and he found us,” Korenek said. “Ronny Collins got us hooked up.”
“We did a conference call with our families ... it took about two hours,” Setera said. “We really don’t know how they found us.”
“If it hadn’t have been for them and Ronny Collins, I don’t know what we would have done,” Stanley added.
About three days later, they got on the train and Thaysen’s friend picked them up in Danbury. From there they were able to get a rental car to make the long drive home. Along the way, they would run across others trying to get home as well.
“We started our trek back home on Sept. 14,” Stanley said. “We drove 1,780 miles and got home on Sept. 16.”
During the long drive home, Stanley said the patriotism was powerfully exhibited by the flying of American flags on homes, along highways and on the overpasses.
“Coming home, flags were out everywhere,” she said.
“When we got to Texarkana we bought a bottle of champagne,” Korenek said.
“We were so glad to be back in Texas,” Stanley said.