Always Remember: Tami Shepard

Sad thing is, when the news came through, I wasn’t doing too much. My mom called me. I had the TV on, but it was on a station that rarely had news. I remember that I had to go to town later that day to try and open a bank account. Almost everywhere I went had TVs on with the news broadcasts. The wonderful joining of Americans afterward was great. Sad thing is, that has declined again, and no one cares, once again.

Tami Shepard
Bridgeport


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Always Remember: Cathy Oates

On a horrible day on 9/11/2001, the world as we know it suddenly came undone. Some terrorists commanded two planes filled with passengers to fly straight into the twin towers in New York City at 8:36 a.m.

As the skies filled with gray ash, the floors of the buildings started to crumble one by one. Bricks and mortar crashing down on those inside, thousands of lives came to an end that day. Families trying vainly to get in touch by phone, not knowing who or how many had survived.

It would be days before those trapped would be found and rescued. Heros were made that day on the 88th floor, among others. Men were willing to risk their lives to help those still alive.

Forever in our hearts, the infamous memory will burn. But from such tragedy we, as a nation, will have learned to never more take life for granted, not even for a day. In my mind, I say we were victorious because we pulled together, and rose again from the ash that day.

Cathy Oates
Decatur


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Always Remember: Mike Jones

I was in my school office in Wilson, in West Texas, when my wife called me and said a plane had struck the World Trade Center. We turned on a television and watched as the second plane struck the other tower and the Pentagon.

I met with the campus principal and staff that morning. Parents began to call the school soon after the news, and several parents came and picked up their children. We tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for the younger elementary students and middle school students to not cause alarm. The high school students were allowed to watch the news coverage as this was a historical event that the electronic media allowed the world to witness in “real time.”

I went around to each room to monitor the students and staff and several students had questions. We answered them factually and calmly. Questions like, would they attack our town or school? I explained that a small, rural farming community in West Texas was not a likely target compared with a metropolitan area with well-known tourist locations. An open house had been scheduled for that evening, and we sent word home with the students postponing it until a later date.

I also remember flying to a school board convention two weeks after 9/11 and the airplane was nearly empty.

Mike Jones
Chico ISD Superintendent


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Retired general recalls fateful day at Pentagon

By Dave Rogers
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stories. Undoubtedly, retired U.S. Army two-star general Gene LaCoste of Alvord has more than a few about many of the 184 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon since many were his friends and coworkers.

Gene LaCoste

Gene LaCoste

But 10 years later, the man who most certainly would have been another victim of the Flight 77 hijackers had he been in his office that morning, couldn’t bring himself to single out one or two of the remarkable people he worked alongside.

“Most of the ones (that died) were majors, colonels and generals,” he said recently. “Almost all of them had wives and children.

“The tragedy wasn’t that they were killed. The tragedy was that they (wives and children) were left without a father.

“The lesson you should learn from it is how important people are. And the thing you should never forget about it is there are still people out there trying to destroy our life.”

That’s why LaCoste continues to grant interviews and, when possible, attend 9/11 tributes.

Like the good soldier he was, an Army Ranger whose 33-year military career began during the Vietnam War and included such titles as assistant commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, director of Army safety and the job – assistant director of personnel – that took him to work at the Pentagon, LaCoste is ever on guard.

We all should be, he said. Now and forever.

“I think the thing on the stories that are trying to be told about this event is for the young kids of today that were too young to even remember what this was all about, it should be a constant reminder that freedom’s not free,” he said.

“There’s a cost. And there’s people out there paying the cost every day.”

A total of 2,977 people were killed by 19 al-Qaida terrorists who hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them. The largest loss of life occurred in New York City, where two jets crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, killing 2,606.

In Arlington, Va., American Airlines Flight 77, bound from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 8:37 a.m. Central Daylight Time. All 64 people on board the aircraft, including five hijackers, were killed, as were 125 people in the building.

The plane crashed into the Army’s Personnel Department offices, killing LaCoste’s boss, Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude.

“It came in between my office and my boss’ office,” said the 64-year-old LaCoste. “The nose went in both our offices.”

LaCoste, a speaker at past 9/11 remembrances in Decatur, planned to be out of Wise County on business for the 10th anniversary of the awful day.

When the hijacked plane hit the Pentagon, LaCoste was on assignment in Kansas.

“We were back in two-and-a-half hours and assisting in the recovery that lasted for 30 days,” he said. “We were trying to save the people that were burned. We had over 100 people severely burned. Some of them stayed in the hospital for over a year.

“We had people that were instantly killed, people that were buried for over 30 days. You found parts of them.”

Was the Wichita Falls native surprised that terrorists targeted the Pentagon?

“At the time, you really don’t have time to think about that. You’re trained to do something, you know what needs to be done, and you do it,” he said.

“The immediate reaction was to try to help the people who were injured and the families of those who died.”

Since 9/11, LaCoste retired from the military and has spent much of his time operating a helicopter flight school located in Denton. He recently opened Star-L Helicopters in Alvord.

“The most important thing,” he said, looking back on 9/11, “is that it makes you understand how important family and friends are and how life can be unexpectedly snuffed out pretty easily.”


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Tribute for the troops

Tribute for the troops

Links to Tradition

LINKS TO TRADITION - Brothers Dakota and Cisco Roberts display the flags the Boyd football team brings onto the field before each game. Cisco gave the flags, which flew in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, to the football program. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

By Richard Greene
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Boyd Yellowjackets storm onto the field each fall Friday night to the sound of cheers and the band blaring out the fight song.

Waving at the front of the pack of players decked in green and gold are the red, white and blue of Old Glory and the Texas flag.

It’s a sight that Cisco Roberts hasn’t seen in seven years, but he still gets emotional thinking about it. The emotions from the first time he saw the flags lead the Yellowjackets on the field remain forever raw.

“I saw these flags come out, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” said the Army veteran, holding the flags Thursday at the old Yellowjacket Stadium. “I spent half the game under the bleachers. It was very emotional to see my flags coming out.”

Roberts donated the American and Texas flags to the football team. The two flew over Kuwait and Iraq during his tour of duty in 2002-03. The American flag has the date it flew in service written on the seam.

“It’s really neat to see them again,” he said. “It’s special the youth has taken such care of them.”

Two years before Roberts gave the special flags to the Boyd program, the tradition of carrying an American flag on to the field started. It was during his younger brother Dakota’s sophomore year in 2001.

The Yellowjackets, two years removed from playing in a state title game, were off to a 1-1 start to the season and preparing for a game against state-ranked Pilot Point.

Then on a Tuesday morning, Boyd, America and the world changed. With the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., football and many other daily activities took a back seat.

“It was life-changing,” said Dakota Roberts. “It is even to this day.”

As the tragedy unfolded, he started thinking about his brother Cisco, who began his life in the military just 14 days after graduating from Boyd in 2000.

“I can’t remember how soon he was deployed, but I knew he would be one of the first to go,” Dakota said. “We had no idea what we were getting into.”

Boyd coach J.G. Cartwright recalls bringing the team together in the wake of the attacks to talk about them. That’s when the idea of carrying the American flag onto the field as a tribute to the country and troops was conceived.

“That was the first time,” Cartwright said. “It was very special. I know it means a lot to them.”

Three days after the tragedy, right after Boyd and Pilot Point took the field, the two teams and fans circled together on the field with Josh Stevenson leading a prayer.

“We all held hands, circled up and prayed for our troops and that everything was going to be all right,” Dakota said. “It didn’t matter then if you were from Boyd or Pilot Point. All that mattered is that we’re all Americans.”

Boyd went on to win 20-6. But the result didn’t matter and was lost in the emotion of the night that included a touching tribute by the Boyd band at halftime with the playing of “Taps.”

“I don’t believe there was a dry eye in that stadium,” said Messenger reader Sandy Lambert in a letter to the editor the following week describing the scene.

Not long after September 11, Cisco was deployed to the Middle East.

“I couldn’t wait,” he recalled. “I was trained and was ready to go and do what I needed to do. The call came, and I was thankful to be able to serve.”

After a traumatic tour, Cisco came home in the fall of 2003. He knew of the Boyd team continuing the tradition of carrying the flags onto the field. A week after returning home, he came to a Thursday meeting at the stadium to talk to the players.

“We were at the 50-yard line for a team meeting, and I gave a speech about not being the weak link,” Cisco recalled. “I then presented the flags.”

Then a senior, Dakota was there.

“I’ll never forget that team meeting and the emotion,” he recalled.

Many years later to see the flags still holding a special place in the program is meaningful for the brothers. Each week the team picks someone to carry them out on the field.

“These are the most valuable flags in the world to me,” Dakota said. “It means so much 10 years later they are part of the tradition.”

Cisco added: “It’s something for the youth to keep this tradition up so long, 10 years after September 11.”

As the 10th anniversary arrives this weekend, the brothers will be thinking like most Americans of the sacrifices made over the past decade.

“There’s still a lot of families suffering,” Cisco said.

For Dakota, the flag and this tradition are the true symbols of freedom.

“This is what our soldiers fight for, so our kids can play football and carry our flag out,” he said.

Grand Old Flag

GRAND OLD FLAG - Boyd started the tradition of carrying the flag onto the field after September 11 and continue it today. Messenger photo by Joe Duty


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Local resident served at Ground Zero

By Erika Pedroza
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chuck Stone

Chuck Stone of Newark

For eight months and 19 days, 91,000 people aided in the cleanup and recovery of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the nation.

For 10 of those days, Chuck Stone of Newark and 11 others with the Top of Texas Disaster Relief Team volunteered in those efforts during February 2002.

Split into two, six-man shifts, the group volunteered during February 2012 in a cafeteria under a football field-sized tent just a couple hundred feet from Ground Zero. Daily they fed about 1,000 firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services personnel and state employees working on-site.

“It was quite the experience and privilege to be able to do that at the time,” Stone said. “Ten years later, I still think of it quite a bit – what I went through, what everybody there went through. What I found really neat was the camaraderie, the unity, in spite of what we were having to go through. It was awesome to witness that.”

The volunteers prepared food donated by establishments that were closed because of their proximity to the site of the attacks.

“We had all types of food – seafood, Asian food, high-dollar food,” Stone said. “We cooked breakfast, lunch and supper in that 500-seat cafeteria.”

As part of the morning shift, Stone started his work at 7 a.m. and was relieved at 3 p.m. to tour and explore the city.

“While I got to see a lot of neat things -Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater – I saw a lot of somber things,” Stone said. “When I went walking around in my free time, I saw a lot of memorial T-shirts, flags on fences, personal memorials, flowers. It was pretty somber to see all of that.

“It was a painful reminder that our country had been attacked.”

Another indication of the extent of the tragedy really struck Stone.

“They would ring a bell when they found someone,” Stone said. “I was there in February, so it had been a while. But I’d still hear it ring about two or three times a day. That’s really stuck in my mind, even now.”

Two or three times a year, he receives a survey regarding his well-being from the World Trade Center Health Registry inquiring about the effects of the environmental hazards and gruesome sights at Ground Zero.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the New York City Health Department established this entity in 2002 to monitor the health of those, such as Stone, directly exposed to the disaster.

“They ask how our health is, how our experience over there is affecting us,” he said. “It’s a good thing they’re keeping up with us.”

And according to the 9/11 Health website, they will continue to do so for the next 20 years.

Fortunately, Stone has not shown any ill effects, perhaps because he wasn’t dispatched to volunteer until five months after the attack, and his time there was limited to 10 days.

For others, however, this isn’t the case.

Common mental health issues include sleep disturbance, excessive fatigue and irritability. Common physical ailments include respiratory symptoms such as asthma and dry cough.

According to the site, 25,000 of the more than 91,000 rescue, recovery and cleanup workers and volunteers are enrolled in the registry.

Of that number, 12 percent report developing new-onset asthma since working at Ground Zero.

Ninety-nine percent of exposed firefighters within the first week reported at least one new respiratory symptom while working at the World Trade Center site.

A New York State Department of Health study of 43 World Trade Center responders found that their blood contained higher rates of chemicals that are normally released when solid municipal waste is burned than the general population.

The prevalence of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among rescue and recovery workers enrolled in the registry increased from 12.1 percent two to three years after the attacks to 19.5 percent five to six years after the attacks.

“We’re still dealing with the effects,” Stone said. “Luckily, (volunteer experience) hasn’t made me sick, but (9/11) still affects me. We will never forget.”


Related link: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/wtc


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Joy on a day of sorrow

Joy on a day of sorrow

By Kristen Tribe
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011

All American Boy

ALL-AMERICAN BOY - Dalton Westray of Boyd was born Sept. 11, 2001. His parents, David and Tracie Westray, make efforts every year to balance the day of remembrance with his birthday celebration. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Devastation enveloped the nation Sept. 11, 2001.

But for David and Tracie Westray of Boyd, it was also a day of hope.

Their only child, Dalton, was born that day, just two hours and 12 minutes prior to the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.

As they watched the violent disruption of so many lives, the next chapter of their life lay bundled in their arms.

“You feel horrible for these people,” Tracie said, “but it was also the most joyous day of my life.”

Although they entertained fleeting thoughts about the meaning, Tracie said they just brought it back to God.

“He was taking away, but he was also bringing in new life, so it’s not the end of the world.”

Dalton was born at 6:33 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. He weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces.

After a long, hard labor, Tracie and David marveled at their newborn son.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life,” she said. “It was magical. It was just utter joy and happiness, everything good in a bottle.”

Later in the morning, after Tracie and baby Dalton were settled, David stepped out to pick up breakfast for his wife. It was on his way to Denny’s that he first heard of the terrorist attacks.

When he returned to the hospital, he rushed upstairs and turned on the TV. The couple was fighting fatigue, which made the situation even more difficult to comprehend. Eventually, they were able to nap, only to awake to the second tower being hit.

“It was hard to watch that building crumble,” said Tracie.

David, who lived in New York City from 1985 to 1988, understood the magnitude of the situation right away, and although the couple didn’t have any friends or family living in New York at the time, he said it was hard to watch the neighborhood he had once roamed destroyed.

They sat on the third floor of the hospital, transfixed, like the rest of the nation.

“We had some conversations,” said David, as he turned to look at his wife. “I just said there’s a reason he was born today He’s got some real special gifts, and there’s no doubt in my mind and Tracie’s that he’s destined for something pretty serious.”

An all-American boy, Dalton has big dreams and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He’s a fourth grader at Boyd Intermediate School, and he’s already setting goals for college.

“I want to be pre-med at TCU and finish at UT,” he said. “I want to play football and basketball at UT but I don’t know if I can do both. I want to be a doctor.”

A Boy's Dream

A BOY'S DREAM - Dalton Westray catches a pass during a recent football practice. The Boyd fourth grader, who was born Sept. 11, 2001, shines on the football field, as well as in the classroom. He has goals of playing football in college and studying medicine at the University of Texas. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

His parents said every career he’s ever talked about pursuing entails helping other people. Just a couple of years ago, he was tossing around the possibilities of police officer, U.S. marshal or SWAT team member.

David said his son has been on the academic honor roll since first grade, and he’s also exhibited athletic talent on the football field as a running back.

“He doesn’t try things and not succeed,” said David. “He’s determined and fearless.”

Dalton said he first remembers hearing about the events of Sept. 11 when he was 5. His parents have purposefully included him in conversations about the terrorist attacks because they wanted him to “know the good with the bad.”

They have a small collection of memorabilia from that day, and Dalton even has a tiny, red, white and blue ribbon that hospital volunteers gave to all the newborns.

Tracie said she originally planned a patriotic-themed first birthday party, but she changed her mind after visiting online forums with moms who also had 9/11 babies.

She said some of the mothers discussed the importance of the birthday being about the child – not the tragedy – and Tracie changed her mind.

“We wouldn’t do it for any other historical event,” she said.

Since then, Dalton celebrated in the traditional ways with bounce houses, pool parties and even a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. His parents respect and honor those directly affected by Sept. 11, but they also make a point to celebrate their son.

Dalton’s date of birth gets the most reaction when his parents are filling out enrollment forms for school, sports or doctors. David said the date is usually cause for a question: “The day?,” followed by a long pause.

David said he tries hard to separate his thoughts of the terrorist attack and his son’s birthday, but he acknowledged that this year, the 10th anniversary, would be more difficult.

Tracie offers prayers of comfort for families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and prayers of thanksgiving for those who were born that day. It’s all she knows to do.

“It’s a tough week with all these specials on TV,” she said. “Of course, I want to watch them all. I cry through them and look at him and say, ‘there’s my joy.’”


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‘God-given opportunity’

‘God-given opportunity’

By Brandon Evans
Originally published Sunday, September 11, 2011

Adolfo Patterson

LED BY FAITH - While working in the ministry in South Texas, Adolfo Patterson's address on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 eventually led him to a life as a state trooper in Wise County. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Everyday people are presented opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life.

State Trooper Adolfo Patterson, 34, of Lake Bridgeport, lives by that belief. On the one year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he addressed a gathering of civil servants at a football field in Dilley, Texas.

“We were there to honor the civil servants,” Patterson said. “The police department, fire department, highway patrol, border patrol, medics, were all there. We had it at the football field. It was packed. The whole county came out. I don’t think Dilley ever had anything that big before.”

At the time Patterson was a youth pastor with the Assembly of God Church in Dilley. He was born and raised in Dilley, a small South Texas town where a bulk of the residents live below the poverty line – a place where faith can play a key role in a young person’s life. That is one reason Patterson took the opportunity to move there with his wife, Shanda, in August 2001. He never thought that the position and the events of 9/11 would lead him to become a state trooper in Wise County.

“The whole point of it was to honor civil servants – those who gave their lives trying to help and save people,” Patterson said. “I gave it the title ‘Given your God-given opportunity.’”

He based his message on a story from the book of Esther, 4:14.

“She had the opportunity to stand up for her people and save their lives and she did,” he said. “I used that story and talked about the events of 9/11. And I talked about Todd Beamer on Flight 93.

“Women screamed, ‘Oh my, God! Help us! Jesus, help us!’ I believe in that moment God presented Todd and others on the plane an opportunity. And Todd responded to that opportunity with the words ‘Let’s roll.’”

Beamer was one of the passengers on Flight 93 credited with forcing the plane down into a rural, Pennsylvania field. Terrorists had planned on crashing the hijacked plane into the White House.

“What makes a hero? What makes someone stand up and save lives?” he asked the crowd that day. “What makes a firefighter run into the World Trade Center to save lives? It’s someone who uses their God-given opportunity. Every single one of us, it doesn’t matter if you are a firefighter or a trooper, is presented with these opportunities. Whatever you are, there are times in our lives when God presents us with an opportunity to stand up and do what’s right. And if you do that, there are lives that are going to be changed. Lives are going to be saved. And there are lives that will be affected by standing up and doing what you need to do.

“Every day we have the opportunity to change lives. I dedicated that message to all our civil servants in the county, the people interested every day in changing and saving lives.”

On that day Patterson used his opportunity to affect those in attendance.

He used to eat breakfast at a restaurant called Garcia’s Cafe in Dilley. Local state troopers also ate there a lot. A couple of days after the service Patterson went inside and some state troopers asked him if he ever thought about becoming a state trooper. He told them no.

“I guess the troopers were touched by the message and were moved by it,” Patterson said. “I wasn’t interested. But a couple days later, I went in and they called me over again. And asked, ‘Have you thought about being a trooper?’

“This kept happening again and again every two or three days. And I eventually got upset about it and said. ‘Guys, I’d appreciate it if you just left me alone. I’m not interested.’”

A strange feeling struck him when he walked away from the table. He felt as if God was trying to tell him something, trying to present him with an opportunity.

“I had a weird feeling,” Patterson said. “I didn’t have peace inside until I decided to do it.”

“The highway patrol sergeant stopped by my church and asked again if I’d thought about it. I said I had. He brought me back an application later that day.”

One year later Patterson had completed his training in Austin and was patrolling the highways and rural roads of Wise County.

“9/11 is how I got here,” he said.

Peace Officer

GOD, COUNTRY, PEACE OFFICER - After spending years in the military and the ministry, Adolfo Patterson uses his faith to help guide his actions as a highway patrol officer. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

FAITHFUL SERVICE

With a background in the military and the ministry, Patterson seems like someone who would be particularly moved by the events of 9/11.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, just weeks after he graduated high school. He spent five years in active duty and three in reserve. He was part of a combat tank unit with 13 Bravo in Fort Sill, Okla.

“When I got to Fort Sill, I was the only soldier there,” Patterson said. “Everyone else was just getting ready to return from the first Gulf War.

“At the time I joined there was nothing going on. Guys were still coming back from the Gulf War. It was quiet. We got sent to a couple small things, but not anything big.”

He entered the reserves in 2000 and became a chaplain assistant and instructor.

“At times I got upset I got out of active service,” Patterson said. “A year after I got out my unit went to Afghanistan. There were times I felt like I wish I would have stayed in so I could do something more for my country.”

But he’s been able to take advantage of his opportunities here.

“I’ve been able to serve my country by being in the Army for eight years.,” Patterson said. “I’ve served God by being in the Church and in day-to-day living. And now I’m serving the people of the state of Texas.

“In this job, I have way more opportunity to reach people than in a church. In a church, you only reach people that come to you. In this job, it is wide open. I can’t tell you how many crashes I’ve been to where someone lost a loved one. And I prayed for them and helped them in a time of need rather than just being the guy investigating the scene.

“Telling someone, ‘I’m going to be praying for you. I’m sorry about what happened,’ means a lot to people.”

The message he gave to the crowd in Dilley on Sept. 11, 2002, is still true today.

“In the face of danger, no matter what the cost is, you have to do what is right,” he said. “Even though some of those people in 9/11 lost their lives, it counted and it meant something. And today, we can do the same thing. You don’t have to have a uniform. You don’t have to be a civil servant.”

You just have to take advantage of “God-given opportunities.”


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A day that changed the nation

I was headed back from covering a wreck – the details of which I couldn’t begin to remember – on that Tuesday afternoon when I came across maybe the most lasting image of that day, Sept. 11, 2001.

A traffic jam in Alvord.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

To be more exact, it was a line at the gas pumps that wound into the streets, causing a traffic backup. It was a common scene around the country that day as fears spread of huge spikes in the price of gasoline. Sensing that this might be something worth capturing for the sake of history, I turned into the gas station and started snapping some photos.

The photo ended up running on the back page of that Thursday’s paper. The front page photo was of people praying and weeping.

When that day began, nobody would have expected either in the pages of our newspaper.

It would have been about the last thing I expected, even as I first heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York on the radio on my way in to work. Without hearing all the details yet, my mind instantly pictured a small, single-engine plane. “What a terrible accident,” I thought, failing to realize the gravity of the situation.

Tuesday is one of our production days at the newspaper, and I went about my normal routine of getting stories finished up for the Thursday paper. Of course, we had the television on.

Then we heard about the second plane.

For a split second, I was confused. Why would a second plane crash into the building, unless …

And that was the moment that would shake up our nation like nothing in at least 50 years. Terrorism was now front and center, and none of us knew what would happen next.

Of course, we now know what happened next. A plane crashes into the Pentagon. Another crashes in a Pennsylvania field.

Anthrax.

TSA.

The Patriot Act.

A war in Afghanistan.

A war in Iraq.

And on it goes.

Like everyone else, I spent much of that week trying to make sense of what had happened and what it truly meant. I wondered if life would ever return to “normal.”

That Friday I covered a truly bizarre story. We received a call that two bodies had been unearthed outside a home near Briar – an apparent murder suicide stemming from what investigators were calling a “single family cult.”

As I was standing outside the crime scene, waiting to talk to an investigator, I struck up a conversation with a deputy. I remember him saying, “It’s been a strange day.” The only response I could think of was, “It’s been a strange week.”

And it is still the strangest week I’ve ever experienced.

In the 10 years that have passed since that week, much has changed in my life. Most notably, I’m now a father to two children. I know one day they will ask me about that day. I’ll show them the many newspapers that I saved from that week and try my best to explain the inevitable question of, “Why?”

Ten years later, that still is the hardest question to answer.


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Memories of 9-11, 10 years later

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.


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Always remember: Shirley Hoofard

As I drove away, I was filled with relief. After months of being in limbo, the time had finally begun. I was looking forward to the coming year, meeting new people, traveling, learning new things. This week of training would only be the beginning. Besides, it would be nice to have some time away from home and the responsibilities that come with it. Of course, I would miss my family, but it was only a week. There are 38 of us, from all over the country, in Dallas to begin a year of National Service in AmeriCorps, Corps aCross Texas program. We will spend the next year working in disaster services with the American Red Cross.

Shirley Hoofard

Shirley Hoofard

Our first day of real training starts off with teaming exercises, the kind where the trainers “trick” us, and we have to work together to discover the “trick” and solve the problem. It’s a bit cheesy but effective for the most part. We then endure hours of classes: Orientation to Red Cross, Introduction to Disaster Services, Damage Assessment. The hours are long, the material less than captivating. Finally the day draws to a close, and we are granted a few hours of free time.

We begin the second day of training with less vigor than the day before, dreading the monotony that we are confident awaits us. The first few hours are much the same as the previous day: cheesy teaming exercises followed by the drudgery of learning about Mass Care in a disaster. Unexpectedly, Rena, the director of AmeriCorps, interrupts the class. Visibly shaken, she speaks briefly with the instructor then directs her attention toward the group.

Struggling with her words, she tells us, “I think you all should know that two planes have flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. There are other planes that are suspected to have been hi-jacked as well. America is under attack.”

Silence overcomes the room as our minds try to digest the information. Someone says, “Oh, this is a joke. It’s another teaming exercise!”

My mind hears this explanation and battles to believe it, but I know that it’s not true. This is not the kind of thing you play a game about. The room begins to buzz, and the television is turned on to CNN where we see with our own eyes the horrific reality. The director is called from the room, but before she leaves, she suggests we all take a few minutes to get in touch with our families. Grateful for that opportunity, everyone rushes to a phone. Suddenly I am not so appreciative of some time away from home and my family.

I don’t know how much time passed, but it wasn’t long until we were asked to reconvene. Rena informs us that National American Red Cross has asked the Dallas Area Chapter to act as the Family Well-Being Inquiry center in this disaster. Briefly explaining that the families of those in the affected area will be calling to try to find their loved ones, she informs us that we will begin receiving those calls in 15 minutes. “I know you haven’t received training in this function, and it is unfair to ask this of you. Please do not feel that you have to say yes. By a show of hands, who is ready to work their first disaster assignment?”

Every hand in the room went up without hesitation. No one knew what to expect or even what to do. We weren’t prepared for what was coming, and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We only knew that we had to do something, anything.

With tears in her eyes and obvious pride in her “Corps,” Rena began passing out the forms that we would be using to collect information. We were given brief instructions on how to handle the calls that would be coming in, and then we were directed to the Disaster Command Center on the second floor.

The Command Center was abuzz with activity. The back wall was filled with television sets, all on and tuned to a different station even though they were all showing much of the same thing. As I sat at the desk I was assigned to, staring at the phone, willing it not to ring, the first tower fell. Before I could digest what my eyes were seeing, the phone rang. I picked it up and stepped into a kind of hell I could never have imagined.

Time passed, and the phones continued to ring. With each call, I am drawn more intimately into the surreal events that were unfolding on the multitudes of TVs at the back of the room. The morning passed into afternoon, and the afternoon faded into evening. More and more people began filling the room as the people in our community flocked to the Red Cross to offer their help.

At one point we were provided with blueprints of the towers, depicting what companies had been located on what floors and the locations where the planes had struck. We knew those who had been at work on those floors would most likely not be found, but we had to keep that information to ourselves. Staring with horror and disbelief at the blueprints, my eyes fixated on the name Cantor Fitzgerald. The blueprint disappeared as behind my eyes I envisioned that name on a form I had completed earlier. The call had come from a 13-year-old girl. As I relived that call, I heard her telling me that it was just she and her dad, that she didn’t have anyone else. Her aunt lived in Oklahoma City, and she had already called her. She was coming to be with her but didn’t know how long it would be before she arrived. I pictured her father, as she described him to me, a single parent doing his best to raise his young daughter alone, an executive at Cantor Fitzgerald that would not be coming home.

Sometime during the night I was asked, along with Christine, a fellow Corps member, to go through a list of survivors and match them up with the inquiries we had received. As we were given the boxes of completed forms to check, I was shocked by how many there were. Confident of finding many matches, Christine and I began the tedious process. One by one, we went through them, searching for a match. Minutes turned to hours. Having completed the first box without finding a name on the survivor list, we became desperate to match just one form with a name, to find at least one family that we could give good news to, one person who we could help. As the night faded into morning, Christine and I reluctantly began to accept the devastating reality of what had happened.

While others in the country were turning to their families for comfort, we had only strangers to turn to. Surrounded by those we had only just begun to know, we formed bonds that would give us the comfort and strength to do what we must in the days to come.

As the hours turned to days, the calls gradually stopped coming. The silence became deafening as the dead pulled their chairs up beside us. The work turned from answering phones to research as we began to seek answers for those who had called us, to try to find their loved ones.

We worked 15-hour days, six days a week, taking the seventh day off as required by the Red Cross on all disaster assignments. My first day off since that now infamous day, my fianc and daughter met me for a day of light-hearted fun and entertainment. It was the first time I had been outside while the sun was still shining, and it seemed very strange to me. Everything seemed different, places once familiar had an alien quality to them. We went to a local shopping center, and as I watched the people milling about, having a good time, going on with life as if nothing had changed, I became outraged. How dare they? Didn’t they understand? Did they even care?

Surrounded by death and despair, I was filled with a desperate hope and a longing for a world that no longer existed. I knew their names, and their stories became a part of me, my life. They became My family, My friends. No longer strangers to me, I knew them intimately. When I closed my eyes each night their faces haunted me.

Weeks passed and the answers were no easier to find than they had been in the first few hours. As I battled depression, my relationships with family and friends suffered. I was no longer able to relate to them, any more than they could relate to me. They had watched the events unfold on television as I had been cast into the thousands of homes who were missing a family member. They had begun the healing process as I stagnated in the desperate attempt to gain more information. They had gone on with life as I wallowed beneath the rubble of destroyed lives. They went into the world, smiled, joked and did all the things we do on a daily basis, in a “normal” world, while I was sorting through lists of body parts, trying to determine which “file” I could match with an index finger of a male Caucasian nail biter.

Beyond exhaustion, I wanted it to be over; I wanted to go home. Before I could do that, we had to close all the “cases.” To accomplish that, we had to verify what had become of the person being sought. I picked up a case and read the description – name … 57 years-old … male … brown hair … hazel eyes 5′ 11″ last seen wearing black trousers with a light blue shirt dark tie suit jacket great chuckle. Dropping the case back onto the pile, I fled the room, the building. I had to get outside, to breathe, escape – if only for a moment.

It had been days since I had been able to accomplish the task of “verification,” and I was desperate for closure when I came across a name that was familiar to me. I knew I had seen it before, somewhere amongst the thousands of cases. Quickly, I searched through the files until I finally located the one I had been seeking. Rushing back to my workstation, I easily verified all the information. I had found a positive match! I could close a case! YES!!!!!! One step closer to going home! Filled with excitement and great pride over my accomplishment

I realized that I had just proven that a man was dead. A man, who had kissed his wife goodbye one morning, perhaps dropped his kids off at school that day. And then he had gone to work, unaware that he would be cast in a hero’s role before lunch. A man who loved his family, loved his work and loved life. A man who had a great chuckle.

I went on to serve not only in Dallas but also in New York where I spent Christmas and New Years doing damage assessment at the apartment buildings located in and around Ground Zero and case work to assist those affected most. I have spent 10 years wishing I could forget everything I saw, heard and did. But I haven’t forgotten. And it is important to always remember, because of the man who had a great chuckle.

Hoofard is a Paradise resident.


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Always Remember: Ima Sherman

On the morning of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, my church was having a preachers’ conference at my church. It had started on Sunday, Sept. 9 and was to go through Wednesday, Sept. 10. I was the nursery attendant during the conference and had gotten there early that morning.

Some of the preachers were going out to play golf that Tuesday afternoon after the church fed them lunch. One of our members at that time went out to his car to listen to his radio, and he came inside very quickly and said that a building in New York had been hit by a plane, and they believed it had been a terrorist who had done it.

He went back to his car and heard that another building had been struck. So everything our church had planned for that day had to be cancelled, except we did feed some of the preachers.

Some of the preachers had flown to stay with friends who were driving here. Of course all flights had been cancelled that day. It was a shame so many innocent people lost their lives that day. It was an experience I will never forget.

Let’s hope and pray that we never have to experience this again.

Ima Sherman
Decatur


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Always Remember: Kalani Seibold

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, my wife and I were on a layover in Honolulu when we received a call at 3 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time, from a fellow airline crew member, to turn our TV on. What we saw was totally unexpected and unbelievable. We were at awe and in tears as our eyes were glued to the television.

Kalani Seibold

Kalani Seibold

I was the purser and decided to call my entire crew and have them meet me in my room. In minutes all 13 were present, and we all watched in dismay and in tears. The impact and the devastation took a toll on each of us because as airline crew members, this affected us deeply.

Being a Christian and a deacon, I led my crew in prayer, asking God to protect our country and bless the families who lost their loved ones in this awful, inhumane act. I also prayed over the vulnerability of airline crew members who feared of even thinking of getting back on an airplane.

At 7 that morning, Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines management organized and arranged to have counselors available to help us deal with fear. Four hundred-fifty pilots and flight attendants of all airlines – American, Continental, Delta, U.S. Air, United, Singapore, Japan, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Philippines – gathered at the Ala Moana Hotel. I opened this meeting in prayer, and the floor was opened for discussion.

The speaker was a pilot who flew for Aloha involved in the aircraft she was piloting when a section of the roof blew off in-flight earlier that year. She shared the fear she experienced and was extremely consoling and uplifting, which helped us immensely.

President Bush ordered to ground all the airlines until it was safe to fly again. By Friday of that week, he cleared the airways for all airlines to resume schedule, and we worked our trip back home to Texas that evening. Every passenger on board was quiet, and hardly any conversation took place during the entire trip.

This is my memory of 9/11. In November 2005 my wife and I retired from American Airlines with 35 years each of service.

Kalani Seibold
Paradise


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Always Remember: Jody Adams

On Sept. 11, 2001, my wife, Rachel, and I were living in Boston. We had been married a little over a year, having moved from Decatur for Rachel to pursue her master’s degree. We lived in Marblehead, but we both traveled into Boston for work and school.

Jody Adams

Jody Adams

I worked for a construction company in their field office as the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was being built.

The morning of 9/11 my commute took me through the Ted Williams Tunnel, which runs into Boston’s Logan Airport, at the same time terrorists were boarding the planes that would later hit the towers. I was looking through a set of construction drawings when the first reports came in about a small plane hitting one of the towers. Not much attention was paid until someone turned on the TV in the break room. I remember being completely stunned.

It was then that people began to be concerned about targets in Boston. Many of the supervisors in the field office were guys from New York or had family and friends there. It was very tense sitting in the office that morning.

I was in a section of cubicles with a guy who had very close friends that worked in the second tower and, of course, no one could get through to anyone. I would learn later that those friends did make it out, but only because they went downstairs to get a bagel and were told to get out of there – leaving their cell phones and keys at their desks.

The project executive called us into a meeting and told us that downtown Boston was being evacuated and we were to go home. It was the quietest bumper-to bumper traffic I had ever been in (Boston traffic is notoriously loud and brutal).

Rachel arrived home safely a little later and reported that Boston was like a ghost town.

A couple of days later she was driving to class in Boston when her mom called and told her to stay away from the Copley area. The FBI had just raided the Copley Plaza Hotel, where at least one of the terrorists had stayed. Rachel happened to be driving by the hotel at that very moment.

It took a few days for everyone to return to their routines, though there was a new “normal.”

Jody Adams
Decatur


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Always Remember: Amy Cromer

I will always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Amy Cromer

Amy Cromer

I took the short drive to drop my daughter off at her kindergarten class at Seven Hills Elementary. She had to be there by 8:50 a.m. I came back to my home in Newark to finish getting ready for my part-time job at the Newark Public Library. When I walked in the door my husband was there with the TV on, and the first plane had hit one of the towers while I had been gone.

It was a feeling of confusion because the world didn’t know what had taken place. We could only hope that it was some sort of horrible accident.

Within minutes as we watched, the second plane hit the South Tower. As the terror played out, we knew it was much more than an accident. It left me with a feeling of vulnerability and fear as I watched the events unfold. Within the hour we saw the South Tower collapse and the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.

When I arrived at the library that morning, we pushed the television out into the breezeway to try and get reception of the coverage. It was a day of fear and confusion. I can remember a mother from my daughter’s kindergarten class asking me if she should pick up her child from school.

That day brought so much into perspective. That day made you want to hold your loved ones a little tighter.

Amy Cromer
Newark


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Always Remember: Tiffany Rodgers

I was almost five months pregnant with my first son. I had got up and got ready for the day when I got a text from my friend to turn the TV on. The first plane had hit the first tower. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, wasn’t aware of the tragedy it would become.

When the second plane hit, I thought, “This is bad, really bad.” I remember rubbing my tummy, crying… Scared of what could happen next. I felt so sad for everyone that was lost, their families and friends…sad for the whole country. I made a promise to my son that I would protect him always, no matter how crazy the world is.

Then I picked up the phone and called my mom to tell her how much I loved her.

Tiffany Rodgers
Decatur


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Always Remember: Annette Stephens

I was on my way to work in Chico, listening to the news on the radio. As I turned onto Farm Road 1810, the DJ advised us that since it was 9/11, the emergency response teams throughout the U.S. would be testing their systems and that we shouldn’t be alarmed. I remember thinking that it was a clever idea to do it on this particular day.

As I sat at my desk getting ready for the beginning of classes, one of my colleagues came in and said, “Did you hear about the plane hitting a big building in New York?” I hadn’t heard anything, so I went to the library to hear the newscast. When I arrived there, people were gathered around the TV watching when suddenly the second plane crashed into the Twin Towers.

We were all horrified, to say the least. Several began crying.

I realized that this was perhaps the most momentous event I had ever witnessed, even though I had been in Dallas not far from Dealey Plaza when President John F. Kennedy was shot. I lived through the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Mine was the generation of Vietnam protests, the killings at Kent State University, and the horrible tragedy of the space shuttle.

I was stunned at this event though. I knew life had changed forever for all of us. I sat and cried throughout the next week, watching the aftermath of the event and feeling so helpless to do anything. I finally had to turn the TV off because I was grieving so much I couldn’t sleep at night.

I often wondered why nobody mentioned the emergency response testing after that. Was that part of a plan, or was it just a coincidence?

Annette Stephens
Decatur


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Always Remember: Carol Bates

I will never forget 9/11 and the events that unfolded on television, and the fact that it was our son’s 16th birthday!

We had bought Jacob a truck for his 16th birthday and presented it to him pretty early that morning, I think around 7.

After he proudly drives it to school, I go back in the house to call our insurance agent to add him and the truck to our policy. As I’m sitting in my kitchen with the television in view, talking to my agent, all of a sudden the TV shows an airplane flying into one of the towers. It was so surreal, like slow motion.

Of course I freaked out and yelled outside for my husband to come in the house. I think my agent and I stayed on the phone together for nearly an hour, as we both watched in horror over this. It gives me chills just thinking about it, as I’m writing this.

Needless to say, it put a dim on my son’s birthday. We waited a few days to celebrate it. Now, he pretty much chooses to celebrate his birthday on another day, other than Sept. 11.

Carol Bates
Boyd


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Always Remember: Paty Fernandez

I remember that day real well. I was six months pregnant with my first child. I was getting ready to go to my mom’s for our daily lunch when I turned on the TV and saw the first tower had already been hit, and there was smoke coming out of it.

Paty Fernandez

Paty Fernandez

My first thought was that it was a fire in one of the buildings in Dallas or something like that. I called my mom knowing she probably already knew what was going on because she usually got up earlier than I. This time she hadn’t.

She turned on the TV, and we were watching it together while still on the phone. I was telling her what was going on, about how the headlines were saying that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. As I was telling her the second plane crashed into the other building.

We both couldn’t believe what we were seeing and started crying. We just kept saying we couldn’t believe someone would do that and kept feeling horrible for those people who were trapped in the buildings and those who were in the planes.

Of course like everyone else in the rest of the world we stayed glued to the TV for more happenings and news. It truly was a very sad and horrible day for the United States.

Paty Fernandez
Decatur


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Always Remember: E.D. “Drue” Bruton

It was an ordinary corporate jet flight from Addison, Texas, to New York, N.Y., with a stop in Atlanta, Ga. The date was 9/11/01.

E.D. Bruton

E.D. Bruton

We departed early in the morning on a beautiful flight. The descent into Atlanta and talking with Atlanta center was completely normal with no indication of any problem. We were changed to the Atlanta approach frequency at below 18,000 feet.

After calling approach, we were asked if we were terminating in Atlanta. Upon informing approach that we were just dropping some passengers and proceeding to New York, we were told to plan to stay in Atlanta. I confirmed the transmission and asked if he meant it.

He did.

We asked why and were told we would be informed on the ground. This was completely baffling, and all other aircraft checking in with approach were being told the same: “plan no departure.”

We started the approach and were changed to tower frequency. Their instructions were “cleared to land and plan no departure.” Ground control was no more informative. After parking and opening the door, the ground crew informed us what had happened in New York. The information about Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania came later.

Our passengers rented cars and drove back to Dallas. We (the crew) stayed with the aircraft in Atlanta and were allowed to return to Dallas five days later. The entire experience is one I will always remember.

E.D. “Drue” Bruton
Decatur


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