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Memories of 9-11, 10 years later

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Like many a mid-September day, the 11th in 2001 dawned in glorious brilliance.

At the Clay County Leader in Henrietta, we were knee-deep in our largest edition of the year, for the annual Pioneer Reunion, and really didn’t have a chance to look up as the news began to trickle in.

Phil Major

Phil Major

That and we were to sign papers that day on our new house, the first real “dream” home we had ever purchased.

With a mid-morning closing, we had scant chance to ponder whether we were doing the right thing, since the world seemed to be coming to an end. Oh well, I thought, no one else will be making their payments.

We had even less chance to respond to any local angle on the news, short of a photo of a long line at a nearby convenience store, where word of a pending gas shortage had fueled a panic and price gouging.

Nothing interrupts Pioneer Week in Clay County, but soon the word came that the organizers were considering whether to cancel the event for the first time since its 1932 beginnings.

Fortunately, they decided to carry on, to not let the terrorists win. As expected, the attendance took a big hit, but what we lost in quantity was more than made up in quality. Among the tributes that week – one of the horses in the rodeo grand entry was painted red, white and blue.

The annual parade of local fire trucks was more poignant than usual.

My Wednesday morning jaunt to the Messenger to load newspapers from the back dock was a blur, trying to get back to town to distribute the most important edition of the year, except the one the following week with Pioneer Reunion coverage.

But of course, there was also the story of 9/11 to tell, of how it impacted Clay County, thousands of miles away.

As it turned out, it hit very close to home. One resident had a sister on the White House staff who had to evacuate after the plane hit the Pentagon. Another had an in-law’s siblings who were supposed to be working in the World Trade Center.

Another Henrietta resident was at a training seminar just a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. There were anxious moments until he could be contacted. The mayor had a photo looking out of the WTC that had a view quite similar to when the first plane hit.

And there was the personal side, with my sister going in to work early that day, right past the Pentagon. Her husband would have been driving nearby, too, except that he had rescheduled the PTA meeting he was to attend.

The owners of this newspaper had made their way to Wisconsin for a national convention and got stranded in Milwaukee. Just getting home was a challenge, with airports shuttered.

Not knowing what else to do, we convened the Wednesday afternoon golf group as usual. But this time we lingered long after in the parking lot. We agreed that, even though we were too old to serve, we could take on menial jobs stateside in support of the troops, if it were to come to that. At that point, no one knew.

In the decade since, two of the most amazing personal stories I have heard were from an astronaut who was in space that day. His description of the disappearance of the jet contrails above the U.S. as planes were grounded, and of not knowing their options to return home, was chilling.

And new State Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, who would have died had he been at his desk in the Pentagon, tells a story you could never forget.

His life was spared, only barely, by a bathroom break. He survived tremendous burns and other injuries.

Glancing back at the Messenger editions immediately following 9/11 reveals a tremendous pride of country. You inundated us with your thoughts.

A decade out, it’s still hard to assess what it all meant, and still means, to the country. Some outward signs are obvious. Heightened security, a new tradition during the 7th-inning stretch, a new anniversary to mark.

I don’t know what the 10 years after Pearl Harbor looked like in America. But I cannot believe they resemble the past 10 years.

Dec. 7, 1941, helped spawn what many have rightly called The Greatest Generation. I have some doubts history will record post-9/11 in quite the same light.

Look for more of’s special 9/11 tribute at

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