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A remembrance of Sept. 11 from a person working that day at the Pentagon

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Tesia Williams was one of the first people in her family to go to college. Shortly after graduating, she got a job at the Pentagon. She was there on September 11, 2001, when one of four hijacked planes crashed into the building and killed 184 people. At StoryCorps, she told her 17-year-old daughter, Mikayla Stephens, what it meant to be there.

TESIA WILLIAMS: My parents didn't come from a lot. My grandmother had a high school education, but given the Jim Crow laws, there were only a few jobs that were available to her. And so I had my sights set on, you know, rising in my career. And then September 11 came around. I was 23, and the rug was swept out from under me.

MIKAYLA STEPHENS: What did you witness that day?

WILLIAMS: I remember the plane hit in between corridors 4 and 5, and I was in corridor 6. There was just so much confusion as to what was happening. I thought a bomb had hit the Pentagon. After I left the building, I remember standing there, frozen. All I wanted was to call my parents. Others were running back into the building to rescue people. But I didn't think about running back in. And I was ashamed for a long time. I carried this weight of not doing more when I had the opportunity to do so.

STEPHENS: I didn't know that you went through so much.

WILLIAMS: But did you know that the events of that day inspired me to adopt you and your sister?

STEPHENS: No, I didn't. I didn't know.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. So six years after 9/11, I got the devastating news that your mom passed away after giving birth to your sister. And I thought, now's my time. I have to step in.

STEPHENS: I'm in shock. I never knew that 9/11 could motivate you to do something like that.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. But you were just such a wonderful blessing, and I am so thankful to have you in my life. And, you know, if I had an opportunity to talk to my younger self now, I would tell her that falling - that's inevitable. Focus on what you're going to do to get back up and help others get up as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: That's Tesia Williams and her daughter, Mikayla Stephens. Their StoryCorps interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.