Community, Government, Latest News

‘We watched in awe over and over the twin towers crumble like crackers’

When recalling the events of Sept. 11, 2001, area politicians ponder the fear they felt that day — but also the togetherness that followed.

 Here, a handful of local policy makers share their memories of where they were — and what went through their minds — when they first heard the news.

Sen. Mike Caputo was preparing for a day of work at the state Capitol when his wife telephoned with a familiar story.

“Twenty years ago on 9/11 I was in my hotel room in Charleston, getting ready to go to the Capitol. My wife called and told me that something terrible was going on, a  plane had just flown into one of the twin towers. I immediately turned my TV on. I was watching it for about three minutes with her on the phone, and seen the second plane fly into the other twin tower. It was the most horrifying day that I can ever remember when I realized that our country was under attack.”

Caputo said he went ahead with his day as planned, given that they were in session — but that his heart and mind were admittedly elsewhere.

“I was on the judiciary committee, the chairman had a TV in his office and we all sat around in horror as we watched those towers collapse. We all just wanted to get home to our families.”

Del. Danielle Walker said  in an email she remembers it “like it was yesterday.”

“Where was I? I was sitting at my desk in the Business Office at Dauterive Hospital in New Iberia, La.  It was also my grandmother’s birthday. I was a collector who dealt with Worker’s Comp and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“When my desk phone rang, it was an eerie feeling. My grandmother was on the phone crying hysterically to come home. She was frantic. She expressed my kids were too young to witness this mass destruction. A five-minute call seemed like hours.”

 Immediately after hanging up, Walker said the hospital operator called a code 100 — and told them, no, it was not a drill.

“We were in shock and ran to the closest television as others put on the radio. We watched in awe over and over the twin towers crumble like crackers.”

 What followed was a desire to help, however and whomever she could, she said.

“It was a feeling of urgency, patriotism and service. The hospital was on lockdown. Our families were separated. Our patients were scared. Our hearts were broken.

“My initial thought was disbelief. What did my country, the United States of America, do? Why? Then, I went into survival mode. I wanted to be a lead person in dealing with this mass destruction hospital code. It wasn’t about self but my neighbors.”

 Walker said whenever she looks back at that day, she focuses on the positive.

 “It’s a day that differences of opinion, political parties and strife are on pause to celebrate all victims, survivors and first responders. It’s one of many days that I stand, speak  and sing proudly, ‘I’m proud to be an American, yesterday, today and all the tomorrows,’ ” she said.

Like many others, Del. Evan Hansen learned the news while getting ready for his day as usual.

“On Sept. 11, it must have been 9 a.m. when I was at home listening to the radio, and the announcer mentioned that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. It sounded odd to me, so I turned on the TV to see if I could get more details. I had no idea that the TV would stay on for days as this tragedy unfolded.”

 Also, like many, his first thoughts were of his family.

“I recall holding my 2-year-old son and shielding him from the sounds and images on TV. I spoke to my mom who was living in New Jersey. She was out walking in a local park and could see the smoke rising from Manhattan in the distance. I recall thinking that the world had changed and that the country would go to war. It was only later that I learned that a former colleague of mine, who had taken a job in New York City, died at the World Trade Center that day.”

 Hansen said the unity the country experienced also sticks in his mind, as it does Walker’s.

“Americans came together that day and in the months that followed. Political party didn’t matter. People felt a renewed sense of community with other Americans.

“Now, 20 years later, it’s my hope that we can be reminded of, and rekindle, the heroism and grace and empathy and purpose demonstrated across the country in the wake of Sept. 11.”

Sen. Randy Smith had just come off a night shift and was trying to get some shut-eye when he heard the news.

“I had worked midnight at the mine and had just got home from work and went to bed when my wife woke me up and said I needed to turn on the TV because someone had just flown a plane into one of the twin towers.

“What I remembered most about it was how in the days after the tragedy the country pulled together and most of the churches were full.”

 Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer was in West Virginia’s capital city.

“We were in Charleston for legislative meetings.  I have a vivid memory of watching the towers burning on TV in my hotel room, and calling my husband.  Then, a decision was made that we would not cancel our meetings, that we should not let terrorism deter the work of our democracy.

“Then, as we were sitting in Judiciary, the Speaker rushed in and said there was a plane flying over the airport in Elkins and we should all leave the Capitol in an orderly fashion.  We found out later it was an AWACS plane (Airborne Early Warning and Control System), and that was the beginning of my knowledge of our need to synchronize communications, which we would work on in the state and nationally for years to come.”

  Evans Fleischauer recalled hearing about the passing of a woman with local ties.

“At some point, I found out and about Shelley Marshall being killed in the Pentagon.  I became well acquainted with her extended family in Morgantown — her husband Donn, who grew up here and his parents, who lived nearby me.  I participated in several tea parties, art and essay projects and other events held by the [Shelley Marshall] Foundation.

“With the 20-year anniversary, I find myself feeling conflicted.  I am incredibly proud of all of the firefighters and other first responders who took part in the rescue effort — including some from here who rushed to New York City to help or sent supplies.  I think all of us gained a greater understanding of our dependence and appreciation of what police, fire, EMS, Red Cross and other paid and volunteer workers do for us in emergencies.  

“On the other hand, I am not proud that our government authorized the torture of innocent people in hidden prisons all over the world.  In hindsight, our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq for 20 years is hard to justify.  There are a lot of lessons, and we are still learning, but certainly, one of the most constructive things that happened in our community was the Shelley Marshall Foundation and its many intergenerational activities for children and seniors.”

TWEET @DominionPostWV