9/11 survivors from Chicago who were in World Trade Center, Pentagon say 'never forget' daily life

ByRob Elgas and Poinesha Barnes WLS logo
Thursday, September 9, 2021
For 3 Chicago 9/11 survivors, 'never forget' is their daily life
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Three Chicago area fathers all survived the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. They gave a harrowing account of what they went through and the lingering effects.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Three Chicago area fathers all survived the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. They gave a harrowing account of what they went through, and how terrorism changed their lives forever.

Time sits still in memories, even from miles away, leaving behind a vivid trail of sounds, smells and emotions.

"To this day if I smell jet fuel or concrete dust or anything near that, it just raises a hair on the back of my neck again," said Don Bacso.

"Flames redder than any red I'd ever seen in my life, looking up the side of the building," recalled Joe Dittmar.

"We are living artifacts," added Ryan Yantis

Three men. Three buildings. One evil attack on America.

"You hear the radios in the cars blaring, you know, 'Coordinated attack Tower One, Tower Two, then it hits you," Bacso said.

Bacso was in World Trade Center Tower One, Dittmar was in Tower Two, and Yantis was at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. that day.

"I was so afraid," Dittmar recalled. "So afraid. So afraid. I just wanted to go home."

The day was beautiful, unsuspecting, just like any other. That all changed at 8:45 a.m.

The first hijacked plane hit while Bacso was working on the 59th floor of Tower One. He still has the clothes he was wearing that day.

"I could hear the creaking of the beams in the walls, I knew I had to get out," he recalled.

At 9:03 a.m., the second plane hit Tower Two, where Dittmar waited for an insurance meeting on the 105th floor.

"We didn't see anything, we didn't feel anything," he said. "We just had this flicker."

At 9:37 a.m., almost 250 miles south, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon.

"I went about the rest of the day running back in and out of the building, helping carry people out who were injured," said Yantis.

Twenty years have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Much has changed, but one thing that has remained the same is the strength and resilience of each survivor.

Dittmar travels the U.S. like a living history book, teaching people about the realities of what happened on 9/11.

"You could feel really bad, or you could feel, 'Thank you God,'" he said.

Yantis and Bacso teamed up with six other survivors to write a book detailing their experiences.

"We have a whole new generation of kids that weren't even born when this happened," Bacso said.

All three men refuse to be defined by a single, horrific act of terror, instead choosing a life free of fear, still, 20 years after the attack.

The book detailing survivor experiences that Yantis and Bacso helped write is called "9/11 Survivor Stories, Midwest Memories." It can be purchased on Amazon, as an e-book or paperback.

All book sale proceeds go to the non-profit American Pride Incorporated.

Dittmar founded the Always Remember Initiative. Its goal is to keep the memories of the nearly 3,000 people who perished in 9/11 alive.