TERRE HAUTE —
There are events so important in our lives that we remember every detail. Sometimes, these are personal celebrations such as weddings, births and graduations. But other events, sudden and tragic on a national scale, such as the brutal terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, become defining moments for a generation.
Just as the attack on Pearl Harbor launched America into World War II and is seared into the minds of Americans who lived through that horrific time, the terrorist attacks on that clear September morning in 2001 marred the early years of the 21st Century and its unfolding first decade.
When that day, Sept. 11, 2001, dawned in America, we were still bathed in innocence and stability. Then, terror gripped its target …
The attacks claimed nearly 3,000 victims from more than 90 countries. Stories emerged of the heroes, many of whom sacrificed their own lives to save others, preventing an even greater holocaust. America and the world mourned, and we remember where we were and what we doing that fateful day …
Retired U.S. Army, now employed at Vigo County Sheriff’s Department in charge of the Sex Offender Registry:
“I spent 28 years in the military (21 active duty). I was on terminal leave (1 June to 1 November) and was at work as a reserve with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office. I was out doing transport detail with only police radio on. When I returned home for the evening my son told me about it. At first I didn’t believe him, thought he was wrong. I watched on the news that evening. Next morning I reported to my unit and tried to stop my retirement. I was sure we (military) were going to kick some a--, and I wanted to be a part of it. Of course, I was told no.”
Retired U.S. Air Force, currently employed at Health Care Excel in Terre Haute:
He and his family were living in transient quarters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, preparing to leave Oct. 2, when he was retiring. When he got to his quarters, his wife was watching Katie Couric on NBC’s Today show and the live broadcast of the 9/11 attacks. He recalls that when he saw the damage from the first collision and the early assertion that a small plane had hit the building, “I said, ‘You couldn’t hit it that perfect by mistake.’” When the second plane struck the other tower, he knew it was intentional. And he also knew what would be happening on the ground around the World Trade Center in the days, weeks and months following the attacks. Fogle had been at Tinker Air Force Base outside Oklahoma City when a domestic terrorism struck the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in April 1995. Units from the nearby Air Force base responded, since they had all of the emergency equipment that would be needed to assist. Fogle said he was at the Oklahoma City bomb site during the first four days, helping with rescue and recovery. All of the buildings around the Murrah building were damaged by the blast, so he knew the damage around the WTC would also extend for city blocks. And he knew the cleanup would likely take years.
Gerald Scott Flint
USAF (RET), then a Pentagon and NYC Crash Site Recovery Team member, now a Clay County resident:
“The day that you mentioned, 11 September 2001, changed me forever. I was on duty with the U.S. Air Force and would shortly be rushing to the Pentagon, where I spent many days searching for human remains (body parts) in the nasty stinking hole. There is much that I can tell about that time, but you may not wish to hear it. I recall standing on top of a pile of smoking, stinking flesh, rubble and airplane parts on my 43rd birthday, 13 September 2001. When we finished at the Pentagon, I went with the recovery team to do much the [same] duty at NYC WTC. The large stinking hole smelled the same but it [was] just bigger.”
Then and now an archivist with Vigo County Public Library:
“I was sitting in my cubicle in the downstairs offices of the Vigo County Public Library when a fellow employee came in and announced that the towers had been hit. Ironically, it was my second day on the job and I had been told the day before that this person was a jokester, so I didn’t take him too seriously at the time, but I did go down to our staff lounge where the TV was on. About that time, a coworker came in and this person was upset because she had originally come here from New York. They were worried about a member of their family living on the West Coast. Even though I knew the planes had crashed and the towers had come down, I didn’t want to connect the Shanksville, Pa., crash with the other crashes. A very, very surreal day.
“I called my wife, who was at home for the week before she was to start her job in a neighboring city. I felt very AMERICAN that day, and remember thinking how odd it was that the radio station, which since then has always played music, was broadcasting the CBS national feed. We are both TV news junkies, so I believe that she had the TV on all day and into the evening and we watched a lot of the coverage from Tuesday through Friday evenings. And in an effort to lighten our moods, we were watching the Brady Bunch or some comedy from an earlier era and I found it difficult to laugh.
“I had never really heard of bin Laden, but was hoping that the U.S. would respond militarily. So I was supportive of the war in Afghanistan and was later supportive of the war against Iraq. Which would not have been a departure for me from previous behaviors.
“The attacks didn’t really change my life. I didn’t personally know anyone who died in any of the crashes. I was not one of those people who bought the various patriotic bumper stickers and put them on my car. I didn’t have any relatives that were in the military. I recall being worried about the reactions of my nieces and nephews who were between 4 and 8 at the time. But I never felt unsafe as I would have if I had still been living in a suburb right next to the Pentagon. And though I knew it was a ‘new normal,’ I adjusted to it and went on with my life.”
Now Sheriff of Vigo County:
“I was working as the school liaison officer and had just arrived at Lost Creek Elementary school when I heard that a plane had hit one of the towers. I remember Mrs. Johnson, the principal, had it on TV in the office. At first everyone thought it was a mistake. I was asked to recite the pledge of allegiance over the intercom and shortly after that, the second plane had hit the second tower. It was at that point that all of us in the office knew something was wrong. And then the planes into the pentagon and in Pennsylvania there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were under attack. I can remember all the classrooms were tuned into the televisions as students and staff watched the events of 9/11 unfold.”
Then and now media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods; former editor of the Tribune-Star:
“When I arrived at work, people in the office were talking quietly about the tragedy, but were going about their work as best they could. I went to an auditorium to sneak a peek at the television. Within moments, here came the second plane that ripped open the top of the second WTC tower. At first, I thought it was another replay, but, instantly, I knew it was not. Shortly, word came about the similar attack at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., then the fallen plane in Pennsylvania.
“I returned to the office and informed people. By this time, the Sisters of Providence were thinking about one of the things they do best. They wanted to organize a community prayer service, open to the public, as soon as possible. With the help of the Terre Haute media, the Church of the Immaculate Conception was nearly filled by mid-morning, when people of all faith traditions gathered to offer their thoughts, prayers, companionship and grace to one another, to all victims and families, to those who worked to rescue the victims and to our leaders who would be called to step forward to investigate the tentacles of tragedy that day.
“The prayer service was solemn. People seemed numbed by the news, uncertainty, confusion and disbelief. But the gathering helped soothe those intense feelings and due respect was paid to the many innocent people who had been sacrificed.”
The rest of the day is a blur, Cox said, but considerable time was spent watching video news clips and roaming through the network of news organizations for answers to the nagging questions: Is this real? How could it be?
Now Brazil Police Chief:
“I was working as chief deputy at the Clay County Sheriff’s Department and had just come back from a call when one of the dispatchers said a plane just hit the World Trade Center. I went to my office, turned on the TV and wondered how with the technology we had could this have happened, and saw the second plane hit the Towers. My reaction was, ‘Who has declared war on us?’ Later, I realized there were two other hijacked planes that crashed.
My 83-year-old dad, a veteran, was in an Indianapolis hospital recovering from surgery. Dad had not come out [of] the anesthesia and was still under. The nurse had the TV on in dad’s room, so they watched the news. Unconscious, my dad must have heard the situation from the TV. When he awoke several days later, he asked, "Are we at war?"
Presently a retired teacher:
“When 9/11 happened, my husband Sam and I were both teaching at South Vigo High School and administering the ISTEP test. I was shut in a room with a number of students and was unaware of anything going on until another teacher came in and whispered to me that planes had flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. They were trying to keep it from all the students being tested since anxiety over the happenings could definitely affect test scores. One student in my group was Stephanie Wilson. I had taught her older brother, Kyle, whom the teacher told me was teaching around Washington, D.C., and if I remember correctly was supposed to be there on a field trip that day. After we got out of testing, the news and rumors rapidly spread. I remember we heard some of the fighters from Hulman Field fly over, and that was kind of scary!”
Now Sheriff of Vermillion County:
“September 11, 2001 started like any other day for me. I reported to work and began my normal patrols on the roads in Vermillion County. I had been on duty for a couple of hours so around 8 a.m., I went to the Sheriff’s Department (county jail) and began working on some reports. Soon after I began working, I was contacted by the dispatcher to come into the control room/dispatch center. At that point, I was aware of the news releases that were surfacing.
“I, along with Sheriff Hawkins and other employees, watched as the events were unfolding. I watched as emergency crews were trying to get to the first tower that was hit. All of us were commenting on how many people must have been in that tower. There was such a sense of helplessness that we felt. How could this be happening? In just a short time, we watched as the second plane hit and tower two tumbled. It became very apparent that this was a deliberate act of terrorism and then our minds began racing. At that point, reports of the damage to the Pentagon starting coming in! I think it was then I realized that America was under fire.
“We are located across the street from where the VX nerve agent was stored in 2001. All officers were called and patrols were heightened due to our location. Vermillion County would be considered a possible target! We were sent out to be eyes for not only road traffic, but for planes that may be spotted. I remember the sense of urgency I felt in defending the people of our county. I also remember wishing I could see my family and reassure them we would be together soon. But, as duty called, all officers engaged. As I was patrolling, there seemed to be a sense of “unusual stillness” that came over the county. There was no car traffic, no planes in the air and no clear understanding of what exactly had happened. I just knew, that America would never be the same.”
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or email@example.com.