9/11: Remembering, reflecting

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Observer asked several community members for their memories of and reflections on the significance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the 20th anniversary of the event. We appreciate their thoughtful responses and present them here.

Charlie Magill, Associate Pastor, Williston Federated Church

We were visiting new Rotary friends in England on 9/11. As we started to eat our lunch, the telephone rang: “You have to turn on your TV.”

“No, we are just sitting down to lunch.”

“Something is happening in America (sobs).”

So our host turned on the TV and we watched in silent shock as the second airplane flew into the trade towers.

Our two weeks of Rotary Exchange changed, as did the rest of the world, that day.

We went through the planned activities in a fog. One of the pastors in town planned a special church service for all the Americans in the area. I sat in tears through the whole thing.

Everywhere we went there were flowers, memorials, U.S. flags and remembrances for our country`s losses.

After our two-week Rotary exchange, others might have had a problem flying home. We had already planned two weeks of touring Scotland, so we could put that problem off for later.

Edinburgh, where we changed trains, had a square filled with flowers and notes of sorrow and support for America and Americans. On the island of Skye, our ATM card didn’t work. People went out of their way to help us. Throughout our travels, people everywhere went out of their way to help us.

With our two weeks of Rotary Exchange and two weeks of Scottish travel, airlines were returning to schedule when our time came to return. There were double security checks, one at the airport in London and one by the airline before boarding. I was glad.

The family we were with on 9/11 became life-long friends, bonded by the shared experience. We have visited back and forth many times, and maintain e-mail connections when apart. They are the special kind of people that most of us would like to have in their lives.

Out of terrible, has come good.

Tony O’Rourke, Williston

For those of us old enough to recall the horrific attack on our country that took place on a sunny Tuesday morning 20 years ago, the images will never fade. As I reflect on the 20 years that have transpired since Sept. 11, 2001, each year marks a date on the calendar that is difficult. The loss was immense and the scars are deep.

While the evil attacks were not limited to the horrifying carnage in New York City, for me, those are the ones that hit hardest. This is a city like no other, larger than life, loud, brash and filled with attitude. For many of us, this attack was close to home and personal.

A few years ago, I was walking through Manhattan on my way back to my hotel. As I stopped at a crosswalk, I looked up at the street sign and noticed that there was a dedication plaque in place. This section of West 31st Street was dedicated to Father Mychal Judge.

Father Mychal was the chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. While reading last rights to a fallen NYC fireman in the North Tower, he was struck by falling debris which took his life.

Father Mychal had also served at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., my alma mater. If you want to be inspired, read about this man’s life and his service to others. His legacy is enduring and his loss is one of many visceral memories I will always associate with Sept. 11th.

May our country never see such acts of evil again and may unity provide comfort as we reflect on the past 20 years.

Aaron Collette, Williston Fire Chief

On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I found myself with five other members of the Burlington Fire Department hiring committee, sitting in the fire chief’s office on the second floor of Central Fire Station in downtown Burlington.

This is usually a very exciting day for the department. The day is filled with energy, as each hour the committee has the privilege of interviewing candidates who soon may be offered positions as probationary firefighters. They would be the future of the organization.

As the first interview of the day was wrapping up, the on-duty shift commander knocked on the door to the chief’s office. “Get out here” he urged, compelling the group to exit into the day room of the station, where the television was illuminated, and the volume was turned up. “It looks like a plane has hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.”

The group watched the media coverage, listening and watching. We assumed that it was a freak aviation accident. We watched for a few brief moments, then welcomed the second candidate of the day into the next interview.

Moments into the second interview, we were interrupted again. The second plane had hit the towers. This was no accident.

The group apologized to the candidate, as we were updated on the situation. I will apologize to that candidate again today, because, I cannot remember their name, or if they were offered a position with the department.

What I do remember is watching the coverage as the towers collapsed and I wondered if any of my acquaintances from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) were on the scene. Lt. Andy Fredericks? Father Judge?

Were they on the street? Were they in the towers? Surely Chief Ray Downey, Sr. (who was the special operations command chief for the FDNY) was there. He had been in Vermont a few years prior, highlighting the events of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing at a training seminar.

I was confident that we had just lost several of our brothers and sisters of the FDNY and New York Police Department. We were witnessing history; this was not a Hollywood movie.

The probationary candidates who sat across the interview table that day are now likely 20-year veterans of the Burlington Fire Department. They are approaching the end of their esteemed careers. Unfortunately, we lost 343 of the bravest firefighters this world has ever known that day, including Lt. Fredericks, Father Judge, and Chief Raymond Downey, Sr.

I am still sad. God bless them all. We will never forget.

Patrick Brown, Williston

On Sept. 11, I left for work later than usual. As I pulled out of my driveway, I was listening to Corm and the Coach on the radio. They were always joking about something or someone. That morning, they were talking about a jet flying into the Twin Towers.

At first I thought it is was a joke, but there was something different in their voices. I shut off my truck in the middle of the driveway and came in to turn on the TV. My wife and I stood dumbstruck as we watched the news coverage. Then another jet hit the second tower. We began to speculate why this was happening and imagine the pain and suffering that would follow.

I left for work at UVM thinking about all the connections the UVM community had to New York City. I knew we’d need to provide information and support to many people as quickly as possible. This was well before our current technology so we worked to get TV streams on equipment across campus and began discussions on how to support our UVM community.

For me personally it was the third “social epiphany” in my life following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and then the Challenger explosion. It was the first time I truly felt innocent people were being murdered just because they were Americans. I wondered why there is so much hate in the world — and those questions continue today.

My fourth “social epiphany” happened as I watched the real-time attack on our Capitol on Jan. 6.

So many lives lost.

Paul Eyer, Pastor, Williston Federated Church

What I remember is the silence.

It was a sunny September day, eerily reminiscent of that momentous morning well over a decade earlier, when passenger airplanes became weapons of terror.

I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, and had traveled to a denominational meeting that took place in Shanksville, Penn. Before returning home, I made sure to stop at the nearby site where United Flight 93 had crashed into an open field.

Soon I was making my way along a walkway toward that same field. Strolling nearby were other visitors to the site: a young family with children, a military veteran, an international tourist family, and others. Along the walkway there was friendly chatter within these disparate family groupings.

But then we reached the field. There we could see the still-scarred land giving evidence of the violent collision that took the lives of over 40 persons on board the aircraft. And there the conversations came to a stop. A strong breeze ruffling leaves in distant trees may have been the only barely-audible sound. For a few sacred moments, it was silent.

A sense of reverence seems all-too-rare in our larger culture. But reverence was on display that day as a diverse group of visitors remembered the courage of those who perished in that place over a decade before. We reflected on those whose heroism saved countless other lives and prevented even greater tragedy.

In my faith tradition, there is a scripture passage that reads: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV).

On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, let us remember that community-focused spirit of commitment and sacrifice demonstrated so dramatically by the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Jim McCullough, Williston State Representative

Our Vermont Air National Guard was called into action to protect the New York and East Coast air space from further air attacks on Sept. 11. Their preparedness required, as is still the case, multiple plane rapid response takeoffs from Burlington. We were all familiar with that drill; the sight of multiple planes with the attendant increased engine sounds of full throttle. This was different on all levels.

I was working outside. I witnessed the scramble. I immediately intuited the foreboding — “This is not a drill!”

The planes popped up and out from BTV with all the fury of angry ground bees. It was much later that day I learned from network news of the horror wrought upon all who perished and their families and friends.

The horror continues to this moment as worldwide, countless memories cannot be erased of the vision repeated thousands of times by media.

The horror continues to this moment as Ground Zero first responders suffer significant maladies, including increased lung and heart disease and earlier dementia than CDC averages.

The horror continues to this moment for those military women and men killed and maimed in action, and remains for their families and friends as our president and military pursued a questionable and illusive perpetrator.

I remember immediately beseeching our Congressional delegation to “turn the other cheek,” to find and correct the cause of the heinous attack upon innocent people. I reminded them of the old saying, “give bread not bombs.” I co-signed a Legislative resolution sent to President Bush on Jan. 29, 2003 asking we not take preemptive action upon Iraq. All, all, and all … to no avail.

I remember today, even as one minimally affected, by all comparisons, when glancing at my digital watch and see 9:11.

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