In a survey done last year just before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, virtually all adults said they remembered exactly where they were or what they were doing the moment they heard the news of the attacks. This recall was as high among those younger than 30 – who were only eight to 19 years old when the attacks occurred – as it was among older Americans.

Among eight other historic events tested, only one – the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 – is a vivid memory for virtually all of those old enough to remember the tragedy: 95% of Americans who were born in 1955 or earlier, and who would have been eight or older in 1963, said they could recall exactly where they were or what they were doing. That is virtually unchanged from 1999 (96%).

Both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Kennedy’s assassination stand apart from other developments, including some recent events. For instance, 81% of adults recalled where they were in May 2011 when President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces.

The other national event that resonated as widely as 9/11 and Kennedy’s death among those old enough to recall is Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The Pew Research Center’s 1999 study found that 89% of those who were eight or older at the time of Pearl Harbor were able to recall exactly where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the attack. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.