NEW YORK — There were 13,238 babies born in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. They’re turning 20 this week.
They can’t remember a time when there weren’t long lines for TSA screening at the airport.
Or Tom Brady wasn’t a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Or U.S. troops were not yet in Afghanistan. Not that people born on 9/11 support the invasion triggered by terrorist attacks that day.
According to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, just 22 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 think the United States was right to launch a war in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, compared with 41 percent who do not. Of those Americans aged 30 and up, more think the U.S. was right to launch a war than think it was wrong.
The poll also found that 18- to 29-year-olds were the only age demographic that feels more safe from a foreign terrorist threat today than it did in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. (The survey was conducted Aug. 16-18, after the swift and sudden collapse of Afghanistan but before a suicide bombing attack in Kabul killed 13 U.S. service members.)
That makes sense to people like Peter Bergen, a noted terrorism analyst and professor at Arizona State University, where he teaches a course called “The Future of War.”
“For the students I’m teaching, 9/11 is something entered into history,” Bergen said. “It’s mostly a historical event.”
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Yahoo News spoke with five people born on Sept. 11, 2001, their parents and teachers to hear about what their lives have been like growing up with a birthday marked by tragedy, how they view the world and what they plan to do with all the red-white-and-blue birthday tchotchkes they’ve accumulated over the past 19 years.
Notably, issues like climate change and school shootings ranked near the top of their concerns.
“Over the past decade, there’ve been, like, so many school shootings,” said Lilly Bestoso, one of the 9/11 “babies” who took part in the project. “So that would be a worry of mine. Terrorism, not so much.”
Anish Shrivastava doesn’t remember exactly when he first learned about the attacks that took place on the day he was born, Sept. 11, 2001. But his life has been forever intertwined with them.
Anish’s uncle, Manish, worked in the World Trade Center. Manish decided to skip work that day to be with Anish’s father and with his mother, who had gone into labor in a Princeton, N.J., hospital. She gave birth to Anish at 10:05 a.m., six minutes after the South Tower fell.
On a TV in the hospital waiting room, Anish’s uncle and father watched in horror as the events unfolded.
“He didn’t go to work because I was being born,” Anish said in a recent interview. “But otherwise he would have been there.”
It wasn’t until he was about 10 that he began to grasp the gravity of what had happened on 9/11.
“That’s when I started to understand, ‘OK, maybe being born on this date might actually mean something to people,’” he recalled.
Growing up, Anish can remember a few people who would ask if he was disappointed to share his birthday with such a tragedy.
“I was like, ‘No, not really,’ because I could turn this thing from a negative thing into a positive thing,” he said. “I never really tried to hide it or had to feel kind of nervous about it or something.”
Every year on his birthday, Anish volunteers with MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit that runs charitable services on Sept. 11, including food distribution. The first year he did it, they packed meals for homeless people in New York City.
“I think that’s really cool,” he said. “It’s giving them a meal in their hands, it’s giving them some material thing that improves their life. We can help them do that in a very direct way, and it’s really exciting for me.”
Anish, who is studying business analytics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, remains very close with his uncle, who is so connected to him by fate.
“I guess we try not to talk about it,” Anish said. “Obviously, it comes up around this time of the year, but … it’s just one of those things that you look at and you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s a good thing that I was born, I guess.’"
Growing up, Lilly Bestoso never thought that having a birthday on 9/11 was that much different from the birthdays of other kids she knew.
“I had birthday parties every year with red-white-and-blue decorations,” Lilly recalled. “There was nothing really crazy. I was just like, ‘Oh, it's my birthday,’ whatever.”
Lilly was featured in a book, “Faces of Hope,” with other children born that day. On their 10th birthday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, they were given a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial.
“Seeing the names on the walls and all the pictures and the people and their loved ones lost, I kind of started to realize what had happened,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s my birthday. That’s the day that I was born.’"
On that day, in Newport, R.I., the hospital staff was glued to the TV in her mom’s delivery room, watching news of the first plane that had hit the World Trade Center.
“All the doctors were paying attention to the TV,” she said, citing her mother’s recollection. “And my mom was yelling at them to shut it off. She was like, ‘Pay attention to me! I'm about to have a baby!’”
Lilly’s father, a local police officer, was also at the hospital. “Oh, it was probably a terrorist attack,” he said when the second plane hit. Lilly added, “And then the TV went off, and that was that.”
As she’s grown older, Lilly, now a communications major at the University of Rhode Island, has noticed people react a bit differently when she has to reveal her birthday in public.
“It happens at CVS quite a bit,” she said. “I’ll be going to get a prescription and they ask for my date of birth, and other people in line will be like, ‘Wow.’ Last week the guy in line behind me was like, ‘That’s a great birthday. Don’t be scared of it,’ and I was like, ‘Thank you. I’m not.’”
Ever since she can remember, Hattie Hall has always been decked out in red, white and blue.
“My mom was one of those that made sure I knew about [9/11] as soon as my memory started,” she said. “I’ve never been able to get away from it. My mom sent me to school in jumpsuits that looked like American flags.”
Hattie was born at a hospital in West Virginia. Her mom gave birth after the first tower fell.
“My mom’s always described it as emotional chaos,” Hattie said. “She had the room right next to the nurses’ station, and it was the only one on the floor with a TV. So during all of it, she said, it was so full and she was on the table giving birth, people were packed inside the room, watching the TV and crying while she was in pain and happy at the same time.”
Hattie was also featured in the “Faces of Hope” book with other children born on 9/11. It was during their tour of the 9/11 Memorial, when she was 10, that she started to realize the significance of the terrorist attacks.
“It was like seeing everything for the first time,” she recalled. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the entire memorial, like our entire tour. It was really heartbreaking.”
Through the years, Hattie has gotten used to the reactions from strangers to her birthday.
“There’s always a shock factor,” she said. “I’ll still go to the DMV and say my birthday’s 9/11, and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow.’”
Hattie is a sophomore at West Virginia University, where she’s pursuing a degree in animal science. She hopes to become a veterinarian — something she says she’s wanted to do “since I could walk.”
For her birthday this year, she plans to celebrate by going to a Luke Combs concert.
“I’ve always celebrated my birthday,” she said. “Though it’s a really big mourning day for others, it’s still — you can look at it as hope.”
Jayna Hanes’s father is a firefighter. He was at the fire station in Vancouver, Wash., on Sept. 11, 2001, watching television coverage of the terrorist attacks, when her mother called him.
She had gone into labor and was at the hospital. He got there 10 minutes before Jayna was born.
“In all of the pictures from the hospital, he’s in, like, his full uniform,” Jayna said.
When she was growing up, Jayna’s parents tried to make her birthday a celebration, and not about the tragedy.
“My parents have always told me, like ever since I can remember, that I was the best part of the day,” she said.
Jayna was also featured in the “Faces of Hope” book. And like Hattie and Lilly, she said their trip to the 9/11 Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks was when she really grasped the meaning of her birthday.
[Also read: Remembering to remember the World Trade Center]
“Just the stories that I heard, I feel like it kind of put everything together,” she said. “Being a little 10-year-old, it was kind of a lot to take in, but I definitely feel like that was the trip that really taught me, or helped me learn everything about 9/11.”
As she’s gotten older, Jayne has tried to give back around her birthday, volunteering with various groups and charities.
“I’ve just tried to put things in perspective,” she said. “Like, yes, it is my birthday, but it's not always all about me, and I recognize that it is a hard day for a lot of people.”
She’s now at Montana State University, studying nursing — a career she says she was inspired to pursue, in part, by the heroism of 9/11 first responders.
“Obviously, I will never be able to live up to the people that gave their life on 9/11,” Jayna said. “But being able to give back to others is a super-important thing in my life.”
Trevor Naman remembers the first time that he realized his birthday was different.
“Kindergarten is probably where it kind of hit home, because that’s when you tell people your birthday,” he said. “You kind of see it in their eyes, other people’s reactions.”
Trevor was born in Pittsburgh on the afternoon of Sept. 11, a few hours after the attacks. His father, a surgeon originally from Lebanon, was, like other doctors at the hospital, consumed with television coverage of seismic events, and not paying attention to his wife, who was in labor.
“My mom always jokes that the doctors gave her no attention, including him,” Trevor said.
But his father, who is also a pilot, immediately knew the significance of the second plane hitting the towers — it was definitely no accident.
Trevor’s mother, who authored the “Faces of Hope” book, taught her son early on about the terrorist attacks.
“I was kind of always exposed to it,” he said.
The family’s Catholic faith also played a role. Every year on his birthday they pause to remember the 3,000 people who lost their lives in the attacks.
“My mom’s big into going to church and lighting candles,” Trevor said. “So we usually do that, and just spend some time in reflection before we go on and celebrate. But we’ve kind of always set aside some time to remember.”
Solemn remembrance followed by celebration has always been part of having a birthday on 9/11.
“Growing up having a birthday in class was always a big thing,” Trevor said. “Because we would have a huge lesson about 9/11, and we'd just turn and I’d be handing out pieces of cake. So it was kind of a weird dynamic.”
Trevor is now at the University of Pittsburgh, where he’s a neuroscience major.
For his 20th birthday, he said he’ll probably do something small with his family. Maybe dinner.
But before that, they’ll light some church candles, as they always do.
Cover thumbnail photo: Kayana Szymczak for Yahoo News