9/11 memories never die

The Best Times Digital Edition

August 19, 2021

A lot has changed in the nation in the 20 years since 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 on Sept. 11, 2001.

The War on Terror began, leading to the longest sustained military campaign in U.S. history. The Department of Homeland Security was formed. Air travel was transformed with tighter airport security and screening. In 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.

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 you to share your 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 accessible at jocogov.org/JohnsonCountyRemembers.

A few respondents were eyewitnesses or had personal connections to where the attacks occurred.

Steve Ferrell, a retired Army brigadier general living in Overland Park, attended a Pentagon appointment “at the precise location of the crashing airliner.” Luckily, he had left the Pentagon to return to his office just five minutes before United Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. From his car, he saw the rising smoke from the attack.

Tom Heintzelman, Overland Park, saw United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower from his Washington, D.C. hotel room.

Dave Lewis-Jones, Lenexa, grew up near the WTC where his father worked in the North Tower. When the South Tower was struck, he “knew we were at war,” adding, “the attacks affected me profoundly. Still do.”

Martin Ritter, Overland Park, was at the Exchange Place rail station in Jersey City, N.J when American Airlines Flight 11 plowed into the North Tower and later watched as both twin towers collapsed within 102 minutes. “ I will never forget it.”

Originally from Pennsylvania, Chris Hickam, Shawnee, was working in Texas when the attacks occurred. United Airlines Flight 93 had crossed over his hometown of Shanksville and was deliberately crashed about “80 miles from my parents.”

Judith Oberbeck, Overland Park, was caught in the turmoil that followed the attacks when the entire airspaces of the United States and Canada were closed and Amtrak train service was halted for two days, leaving her and many other travelers temporarily stranded.

She was visiting her daughter and first-born grandson in Indianapolis “when this horror struck.” Oberbeck could not get back home to start a new job. She eventually found a rental car, driving it to St. Louis where her husband picked her up. “As a new employee, being a week late for the job, was totally understood. Everyone’s lives were changed on that day.”

Gary Bachman, Overland Park, was making the morning rounds as a medical social worker at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas, when the planes struck the twin towers and he received two “911” (emergency) pages. For 35 years, he has been involved in disaster response work with fire and emergency services.

One page asked him to head to Kansas City International to help displaced air travelers whose trips were interrupted with many sleeping on cots.

The other page requested his availability for deployment to New York City. He deployed the third morning (Friday) on one of the first flights out of KCI. For the next two weeks, Bachman helped evacuees from the twin towers along with first responders, National Guard troops and construction crews working on and through “the pile,” saying it was “quite a memory.”

Like most of the nation, most respondents said they were right here in Johnson County or in metro Kansas City watching the news on TV screens.

Ken Hatfield, Stilwell, was attending a job-hunting seminar and joined a group watching live news coverage of the WTC after the first tower had been hit followed by a second airline striking the second tower. “Everyone was speechless … A dark day indeed.”

Joan Anderson, Roeland Park, was working at Kanas City’s Community Blood Center where a staff and donors watched TV in disbelief. “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.”

Victoria Bruce, Olathe, was off from work and could not believe what she was seeing and hearing on TV. She called family members and friends, talked with neighbors, anyone who wanted to talk and “to God also.” She prayed “for families who lost family,” adding “we will never forget our heroes.”

Jamie Christie, Olathe, worked at Kansas City’s Marine Corps Finance Center and watched the TV coverage of the attacks. The 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.”

Carol Yasuhara was teaching at Shawnee Mission North High School that morning. Now a retired world language instructor living in Overland Park, her memories was submitted as a small poem entitled “Where were You” with poetic blocks ending by asking: What’s happening in our county?

History has recorded what happened that day of infamy in the first terrorist attacks on our homeland. Even after 20 years, memories of Sept. 11 never die. Remembering matters