Johnson County Remembers

Twenty years ago, everything in the United States changed when four hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center (WTC) Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost.

A lot has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. Since December 2001, a joint resolution of Congress has designated Sept. 11 each year as Patriot Day. In 2009, Congress passed legislation requesting the observance of a “National Day of Service and Remembrance” on Patriot Day.

Johnson County commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in several ways.

Dedication of American Flags

Johnson County Government and several partners honored 9/11 with a memorial display of 2,977 American flags. The temporary flag exhibit was installed on the south lawn of the county’s Administration Building, 111 South Cherry St., in downtown Olathe. The 2-foot flags represented the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers at the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon and the crash of a hijacked plane in a Pennsylvania field.  

The flag display was dedicated on Thursday, Sept. 9. The event started at 8:03 a.m. when the United Airlines Flight 175, the second hijacked plane, hit the South Tower of the WTC. The brief program featured music and speakers from local first responder agencies. Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, emceed the program. 

The dedication was streamed live on this page and on our Facebook page (@jocogov.).

The flags were displayed through Monday, Sept. 13.

BOCC proclamation

The board also issued a proclamation that day to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks and the annual observance of Patriot Day, a Congressional designated National Day of Service and Remembrance on Saturday, Sept. 11. That meeting can be viewed at

Special guests

Robert and Shirley Hemenway, Shawnee, and their family were invited as special guests to both events. Their son, Ronald Hemenway, Navy electronics technician first class petty officer, was killed in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77, the third hijacked plane, slammed into the building at 8:37 a.m. He was 37 and the father of two young children.

Memories from our residents

For most of us, the memories are still fresh as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. In the July-August issue of The Best Times, we asked readers to share reflections by email or mail. Snippets from some memories of respondents reflect the shock, fear, sorrow and anger that were shared by many that day. All submissions and memories in full are below. 

Paula Kitt, Lenexa

I was managing a countrywide team of professionals at Sprint. Those of us in KC gathered around a conference room TV, worried about our two team members working in NYC that day. Relief when they finally called in unharmed. But heavy hearts as we left work that evening in sadness for the loss of innocent lives. 

Teresa Sanders, Olathe

I was on my way to work when the first twin tower fell. I had just made it to the breakroom TV to see the second tower was struck. It took me awhile for me to understand. A second tower . . . No! Heavens ... No!

Ken Hatfield, Stilwell

I had just been laid off and arrived that morning to attend a job-hunting seminar. When I walked in, everyone was clustered around a TV watching live coverage of the WTC, which had just been struck by a jet. As we watched, a second jet hit the tower. Everyone was speechless. I decided to skip the seminar and immediately went home. A dark day indeed.

John Mahin, Shawnee

I heard the first news bulletin regarding the events of 9/11 on my car radio as I drove to work. News was spreading rapidly as I arrived at work. We were able to access a television in the office and watch as the day’s tragic events unfolded.

Irene Starr, Overland Park

I heard about the attack on the radio while driving to work as head of a university tech resource center. Upon arrival, I had TVs set up in the building lobby and our center so people could access the latest news. Audiences were there all day.

Steve Ferrell, retired Army brigadier general, Overland Park

My memory of the 2001 terrorist attacks is unique. I was serving as an Army officer at an office in Crystal City, a metro stop from the Pentagon. That morning, I attended a Pentagon appointment at the precise location of the crashing airliner. Fortunately, I had departed to return to my office five minutes prior to that attack and witnessed the rising smoke when I exited the metro. At my office, I learned about the attacks and we began crisis action planning.

Alice Capson, Overland Park

During the geometry class I was teaching at Shawnee Mission West High School, the office told us to put on the TVs. I stopped teaching, and we watched in horror. At my next plan period, I called my parents in NYC. They were OK. Couldn’t get calls through later though.

FYI My mom originally was to have lunch at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center that day, but had changed plans for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, she didn’t go. My dad had a stroke the next week. In the hospital, he panicked when my mom left to get a bite because the TV kept replaying the tragedy and he thought she was in the WTC. The nurses had to get her from the cafeteria, so he’d calm down.

Tom Heintzelman, Overland Park

I was in a Washington DC hotel room. I saw the second plane crash into the Tower and from my window, I saw smoke and fire at the Pentagon. Next, I saw sniper teams on the roof of the Treasury building. I felt anxious, and scared, and couldn’t call home.

Judith Oberbeck, Overland Park

I will never forget the SHOCK of seeing planes crash into New York’s Twin Towers, while watching “Good Morning America” that morning. I was visiting my daughter and first-born grandson in Indianapolis when this horror struck. We cried and prayed, called most family members, went to church that evening and prayed and wept with so many others. I had, also, accepted a new position at a doctor’s office in Overland Park, where I live, due to start work in a couple of days. However, due to all planes, trains and rental cars being canceled for a while, I couldn’t get back home for a week! At that time, I still couldn’t get back to original travel by plane but found a rental car that I could drop off in St. Louis, where my husband could pick me up there. As a new employee, being a week late for the job, was totally understood. Everyone’s lives were changed on that day – people showed more compassion and love in this nation. May we never go through a detestation like that, ever again. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Bart Hall, De Soto

Stepping into my backyard as a break from working in my garage office, I noticed 15 or 20 contrails, all looping in towards KCI. ... "They’re clearing the whole ... airspace!! Gotta be something really big." So, I went into the house and turned on the radio.

Jamie Christie, Olathe

I worked for the Marine Corps Finance Center and was in the Personnel Office when someone rolled in a television for us to watch. Our Marines were accountants, but at that moment they became warriors. They couldn't stand it and wanted to immediately pack up to defend our nation.

Debora Hurt, Overland Park

I will never forget it! My oldest son had joined the Air Force in August. I had just arrived home from dropping my cat for surgery. My friend Deann call and said to turn the TV on and sit down. The first tower had been hit. My heart was filled with sadness then the second tower was hit. I had no way to contact my son. The pain of all who was lost engulfed me in a way I had never felt.

Dave Lewis-Jones, Lenexa

I grew up 15 miles from the WTC and my dad worked in the North Tower, retiring in 1990. I was at work, training that day. When the second plane hit, I knew we were at war and our oldest son, a Marine, would be sent. A buddy was caught in the clouds of the buildings collapse and walked home to N.J. The attacks affected me profoundly. Still do.

Martin Ritter, Overland Park

I came out of the PATH station at Exchange Place (Jersey City, N.J) and about 50 -100 people were looking at the WTC as the first plane had just hit. I went upstairs and alerted everybody and was in the President's Office when the first tower fell. All Morgan Stanley employees except five security personnel got out of the second tower. I will never forget it.

Steve Adukaitis, Prairie Village

I worked for FEMA in Philadelphia and a training class I was attending was interrupted by notice of the 1st World Trade Center crash; we cancelled class after the 2nd crash. Responsible for Virginia, we quickly launched a team to support the Pentagon response. I was sent to support Pennsylvania’s response to Flight 93. The next three weeks were a blur of the most unique daily, if not hourly, challenges. Gripping memories remain.

Chris Hickam, Shawnee

I was working in my cubicle in Texas the morning of 9/11/2001, when I heard the operations manager tell my boss that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Centers. I went into a conference room to watch the news and spent until 3 p.m. watching with co-workers. Later, the Shanksville plane crossed over my hometown in Pennsylvania and crashed 80 miles from my parents.

Rose Burgweger, De Soto

That morning my husband called–‘Turn on the TV.’ The first plan seemed like a horrible accident, when the second one hit, we knew. Like many, I asked ‘what can I do?’ God prompted me to put together a book (Walking through Tragedy) of verses that would comfort people.

Joan Anderson, Roeland Park

I was working at Community Blood Center that morning. We watched the TV in disbelief as the planes crashed. Within a few hours, there was a line of donors around the building; it was the only positive thing anyone could think of to do. Such a helpless feeling.

Judy Brewster, Overland Park

Heard on radio, 18th floor of Power & Light building. Kansas City closed downtown. Remembered 1970s gas shortages, my station line already had 18 cars. At home, called family, turned on TV. Cried over death of brave people stopping fourth plane, fire, police, helpers in N.Y. trying to save others.

Gary Bachman, Professor Emeritus, Park University - Department of Social Work, Overland Park

In “morning rounds” at KU Med, a colleague came up and told me a plane had crashed into the WTC. Minutes later, the TV was on in a patient's room and we saw the second plane hit. Then in the full-term nursery, looking at a newborn infant, my pager went off. The baby briefly startled and went right back to sleep. Looking at my pager, it was an unfamiliar phone number followed by the code “911” (emergency).

I'm a medical social worker who, at the time was on the Family Medicine Faculty at KU. I have also been involved in disaster response work with fire and emergency services for 35 years now. That morning in the nursery, I actually had two of those "911" pages. The first was the local American Red Cross -Disaster Response Coordinator asking if I could come immediately to help with people "being landed" at the airport. The second page was from Crisis Management International asking if I was immediately available for deployment to New York City.

I ended up spending the rest of the day and the following day at the airport working with some of the thousands of displaced travelers there, many who were sleeping on cots in the crowded ball room at the Airport Marriot. Then the third morning (Friday) I flew to New York City on one of the first flights out of Kansas City.

Then for the next two weeks I worked alternate days, with employees of (mostly) Fortune 500 corporations who had been evacuated from the WTC towers that morning and were temporarily relocated to office complexes in New Jersey or Long Island, and with the Port Authority Police, NY National Guard Troops and construction workers working on and through "the pile."

Quite a memory ...

John Manning, Lenexa

I was at home in Burke, Virginia, one month after retiring from the U.S. Army. Watching the NYC events unfold on TV, I felt an unmistakable earthly rumble, not unlike artillery exercises that were part of my career. I knew at once something had happened in the DC metro area.

David Parnell, Gardner

At the very moment the first plane hit, I was on the phone with a friend living in Jersey City, looking out at the N.Y. skyline. She suddenly screamed then relayed what just happened. I told my coworkers, who didn’t believe me. Until the office TV went to breaking news.

Pat Baker, Lenexa

I was in a hotel in New Jersey facing the East River. We had missed are plane to Portugal the night before. There were six of our best friends on the trip. We had gone to the train station to find out what we could do in Manhattan for the day. The woman that told us what to see, the last thing she told us “was to be sure and go to the World Trade Center. When we got back to the hotel, everybody was watching the TV in the coffee shop. We saw the first crash and then the second one on TV and everyone said, “that was no accident.” We got on the train and went to Manhattan. Everybody was so kind that day, free telephones, free subway, etc. I had a new cell phone and took it with me. We were leaving messages back to our children in Kansas City. We had a ‘round Robin going.’ Even the man at Sprint powered my phone and gave me charger for free. We went back twice to find out what was done about memorial. We have lost four of that six and never saw the memorial.

Karla Leibham, Lenexa

I was attending a statewide conference for school administrators in Topeka. On our first morning break, we saw televisions in the lobby all broadcasting the attacks on the twin towers. It did not take long for the conference to be cancelled so that school leaders from all over Kansas could return to their schools and support students and teachers.

Jim Wells, Stilwell

I was in the air on an American Airlines flight heading to Chicago. An experienced flyer, I immediately knew something was really wrong. Our flight landed and unloaded the plane. We then saw the first tower in smoke and then the plane hit the second tower. My cell had messages from family and friends. I was devastated by this event.

Victoria Bruce, Olathe

Yes, we all will remember Sept. 11, 2001. I saw it on TV. I was off work that day. No one was with me. I reacted with surprise. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing on TV. (Not just me, everyone). This is something you cannot explain. It was affecting others too. Everyone felt sadness, shock, and surprise. Spent the day calling everyone you could think of to talk about it and running outside to talk to neighbors and anyone who wanted to talk.

It was a day of shock and sadness, but we will never forget our heroes. All who fought to the end. At the first attack you had a lot of questions. What is going on? Are we going to live? We were confused and afraid.

I talked to God that day (and every day) and prayed for people who lost family and friends.

Carol A. Yasuhara, Overland Park

I’m a retired world language instructor who was teaching at Shawnee Mission North High School on Sept. 11, 2001. I have decided to write a short poem about that day as my response submission.

Where Were You? (on Sept. 11, 2011)

I was
in my classroom
teaching students
new words
in Spanish.

class ended.
The hallways filled
with everyone asking,
“What’s happening
in our country?”

I went
to my office
alone to watch
planes crashing
towers tumbling
people running
with white dust
on their faces.

And everyone asking,
“What just happened
in our country?”

John Ruhl, Overland Park

I took off from KCI at 8 a.m. As we landed at O'Hare, the plane was diverted to a waiting area. There was a chorus of cell phones ringing! Passengers began to exclaim about planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Would life ever be the same again?

Ann Sandler, Overland Park

I was living in St. Louis and driving alone into the city from my house to meet my boss at his hotel to interview candidates for a job. I turned on the radio, then I heard about the first plane hitting the tower. At first, I thought it was a horrible accident.

Peggy McNeil, Lenexa

I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I sat on my daughters' bed watching Peter Jennings’ coverage, then the second plane hit. I was still stunned from the grief of burying my precious mother just three days prior and I remember struggling to grasp if it was real.

Mark Grady, Lenexa

I was driving a van with eight people. I work for Johnson County Mental Health. I have been driving for 30 years. I was in Olathe picking up a passenger on the radio station. I heard they flew a plane into the Tower. I was stunned. So, I said let's go back to Shawnee Office NOW. We made it back. Went to the office and it was on TV and that was the end of the day.

Sharyn Masters Graham, Shawnee

My husband and I were on vacation in Colorado Springs. We were getting ready to head out for the day. I was in the hotel hallway headed for the ice machine when a man told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

I thought, how awful? I didn’t know what or where the World Trade Center was. We headed down I-25, destination the Royal Gorge. Just outside of the (Colorado) Springs traffic was backed up in the left lane, with many cars pulled off the highway, overheated or out of gas. We found out later they were military personnel trying to get back on base. They were backed up at the main gate for security checks.

We arrived at the Royal Gorge, hardly anyone was there. The man on the arial gondola told us all the major highways had been shut down. A second plane had hit the other tower.

My husband told me not to freak out, we would ask in Canon City. The highway was open but not another car was in sight for miles and miles and no planes in the sky. It was very eerie.

When we got back to the hotel later that afternoon, we were glued to the TV and only then realized the magnitude of what had happened.

We were far luckier than people who had flown into the city. Our number one goal was to get back home to be with our families.

Jeff Terry

My wife and I were celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary. I was driving into work when Katy called and said turn on the news when I got to work, something had happened. We were very upset, but we still managed a small celebration. I lost Katy in 2018, but we liked to say that we had 9/11 first. Our anniversaries were still very important for us, but it also reminded us that life is short and to enjoy our time together.

Mark Gruber, Stilwell

I first knew of the attacks when I was "casing" my mail route at the Prairie Village Post Office. One of our supervisors had a TV on and after the first attack all my co-workers in our Post Office watched in horror as the second plane went into the second twin tower. It was just so surreal.

William Joyce, Westwood

I was using a computer when a fellow employee stated, “an airplane hit one of the World trade Towers in NYC.” I then viewed the event on my computer when the second plane hit the other tower - with damage going out the other side.

George Harsh, Overland Park

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, our bank had loan committee meetings at 8 a.m. It was on a Tuesday that, during one of these meetings, the manager of the investment division stuck his head in the door to announce that an airplane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. The meeting went on. Not long after that, he returned and said that a second plane had flown into one of the WTC buildings. Not presenting any loans that morning, I got in my car and drove to my banking center. This took about half an hour. On the radio, news reports were coming in about, not just planes, but airliners being flown into the buildings, on purpose. Then, the Pentagon attack and later, news of the flight that flew into the ground. Something bad was going on and it wasn't good. The news didn't get any better as the day went on. America had been attacked. There was no doubt in my mind that there would be a response. There was.