America remembers - 20 years since 9-11-01

It is doubtful that anyone will forget where he or she was and what was taking place when word of the attack on the World Trade Center towers was first reported. Work, school and other day-to-day activities were slowed as a nation stared in awe at what was taking place.

Four airliners in total were hijacked and then piloted by members of the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda. Two planes struck the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, eventually causing them to collapse.

Later, we learned of other attacks. One, on the Pentagon in Washington; another, presumed to have been intended for the U.S. Capitol, or, perhaps, the White House, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers on the plane attempted to wrest control from the terrorists, forcing the plane to the ground.

In total, 2,977 people — 33 aircraft crew members, 213 passengers, and 2,731 individuals in and around the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including emergency workers — were killed in the four crashes. All 19 terrorists involved died as well.

The events set in motion a series of events, including airport security measures, national defense initiatives and more, which remain with us today.

Members of the Plainsman staff shared their recollections of that day and queried others about where they were and what they remember of that fateful day.

Here are their stories and what has been the longterm effects since the event.

Denae Tordoff operates a beauty salon in De Smet.
On September 11, 2001... I was living in Tenafly, N.J., just over the George Washington Bridge, working as a nanny. I had just taken the kids to school and was heading to the gym for a Martial Arts class that I took every morning in North Bergen, NJ. The windows overlooked the City. It was always a beautiful drive...the trees canopied the roadway until I reached the Palisades Parkway which, when driving south, gave the most gorgeous view of the NYC skyline.

However, this particular day, it was even more beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky the most beautiful shade of blue, and not a cloud to be seen. I was listening to Howard Stern on the radio and there was talk of the first tower being hit, but at this moment it was only known that a plane went off course and ran into the tower. I thought, “How low can you go, Howard?” and changed the station.

Every station was the same story. Now, I can see a small stream of black smoke rising from Lower Manhattan.

I make it to the gym and if you have ever been to a busy city gym, you know how noisy it is with all the machines and people. But, this day, it was eerily silent as everyone stood watching the screens in horror as the first tower fell. We all ran outside and watched it unfold in person across the Hudson River.

By the time the second tower fell, darkness fell over the city in a huge grey cloud. As I head back to my home, I tried to call my employer to see if the kids were ok, but I couldn’t get through. I try to call my parents in Huron, but I can’t get through. Cell phone towers are down. I make it to the house and we watch on TV and cry and pray. We are soon left with no TV along with no phone. No one knows what is happening, what is going to happen. The bridges and tunnels were packed with cars and people running across to get out of the city.

That was the scariest moment in my 40 years of life. I don’t talk much about this experience. It’s 20 years later and it hurts all the same.

Days after, people were different. They were aware, nicer, united, dignified. If you’ve ever been to NYC, you can tell the locals from the tourists. Tourists walk around looking upwards at all the tall buildings. Locals walk with their heads down and neither say “Hi.”

For weeks after, everyone walked looking forward. They saw you, and you saw them, with immense sadness in both of your eyes. Race, religion, political stance....none of that mattered because all we saw was another human.

William Callan of Huron was working at Kmart at the time of the attack.
“I was working the third shift, so when it all happened I was sleeping,” he said. “But I quickly learned what happened later in the day when I woke up.” Callan said he was in complete shock that anyone could do something like that.

He added that since that day, he has more respect for first responders and the military and noted that national security has increased.

“Back in 1986, I went to NYC on a school field trip and was actually in one of the towers. It was an amazing experience and to then watch the towers fall was something I will never forget.”

Marty Skovlund Jr. remembers being in his shop class working on a lawn mower engine at Huron High School when his teacher pushed a television on a wheeled cart into the room and told them something happened and it was on the news.
“He turned it on just in time to see the second plane fly into the tower live,” said Skovlund Jr., who now lives in New Hampshire.  “I was 16-years old and knew at that point I was going into the military. I thought, ‘No way we’re not going to respond to this.’ I started looking at trying to graduate high school early so I could get into the military faster.

“I still vividly remember Sept. 12,” he added. “I got a copy of the Plainsman from Sept. 12 here in my office. It’s been 20 years, but I have a specific memory of driving down McClellan, and every single house had a flag outside.”

When the U.S. did invade Iraq less than a year and a half later, Skovlund Jr. said he watched the invasion unfold on a bank of television sets on display at Kmart.

“We didn’t have cable,” he added. “Watching Shock and Awe, a war that I would eventually be serving in, on 15 different TVs at once at Kmart.”

Since joining the U.S. Army, Skovlund Jr. has worked and fought in Iraq on three separate deployments, and deployments in Afghanistan twice, in 2007 and 2009. He worked closely with Afghans who helped U.S. servicemen as interpreters and fought alongside them.

“Now we’ve got 20 years worth of promises to keep to people that fought with us, trusted us,” he said. “Now, to see how it all ended. All these people we made a broken promise to. How many more times are we going to do this? We did it in Vietnam, Iraq. A lot of people never had to look an Afghan person in the eye, then break that promise.

“Most never looked them in the eye, fought next to them, or had that relationship with them,” he added. “For a small portion of people in America, those promises are very real. I have an inbox full of messages from people asking for help getting out of there.”

It may have all happened 20 years ago, but the consequences and fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are still felt today.

“We got a lot of people my age walking around with no legs, no arms, brains that don’t work right,” Skovlund Jr. said. “Thousands dead, millions more impacted.

“We’ve got thousands of people there that day who didn’t die but were permanently traumatized by what they saw that day — never mind the wars of it,” he added. “When I think of the fallout, it changed everything.”

Benjamin Chase is a reporter and photographer for the Huron Plainsman
I was a student at the University of Minnesota and it began as as a normal Tuesday.

My 9/11 experience began as the professor for my sports marketing course walked in late to the class, explaining  “some guy just ran a plane into one of the trade center buildings in New York” as the reason for his tardiness.

Once class was complete, I had roughly a block to walk to the Williams Arena/Sports Pavillion complex on campus where I had an internship with the women’s athletics program for the fall. My internship director was waiting for me at the door.

She ushered me in, locked the door to the building behind me, and informed me that a second plane had hit the trade center buildings, and the campus had just been put on lockdown.

I didn’t leave that building for 10 hours.

There was no streaming television then, and oddly, there was not a single television available in the building to watch live coverage, with the exception of a tiny 10” screen in the video production room, which is tight in space for two people. On that day, however, six of us would cram in whenever someone hollered down the hallway that something big was coming on the screen.

My supervisor’s mother worked in the Pentagon, and she was frantic throughout the day for word from her mother that she was okay. With phone lines overwhelmed in D.C., it would be nearly supper time before she found out her mother was safe.

After a lunch of Nut Rolls, staff contacted the local Papa Johns, with which they had a concessions contract to find out if there would be any chance one of the multiple stands in the building would be accessible for us to cook supper. We managed to find just enough supplies on hand to make a very lean pizza — roughly one mini pizza’s worth of meat to fill a full large pizza for six of us.

Once we were later allowed to leave the building to go home, there was still a strict curfew on campus, so I was told to head straight home. It was very eerie to walk across the largest day school campus in the country, which was always bustling with students from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., now absolutely empty in the early evening.

Twenty years later, I remember the flip in attitude — from the laissez faire attitude of my professor entering his classroom that morning — to the very serious attitude of my supervisor as she locked the door behind me.

The world had changed, and it wouldn’t be the same again.

Terry Nebelsick was the principal at Huron High School
I was in the Huron High School principal’s office on a Tuesday morning. We received a call from a teacher to “turn on the news.” We watched the reporting on the first plane hitting the tower. The cameras were filming from a distance and the news agencies were trying to determine if it was an accident, as smaller planes had hit sky scrapers before. Thus, we were watching live in the office when the second tower was hit, and like the rest of the country, we knew America was under attack.

We were scheduled to have a 9 a.m. administrative team meeting; however, after meeting with

Superintendent Dr. Randy Zitterkopf briefly, the principals returned to their buildings to be with their teachers and students. I went on the Channel 6 video network to address the student body. I told the students that this was a time to follow their family values. We had a moment of silence, allowing students to “follow the teachings of their parents” in choosing whether to use the time in prayer.

Our daughter Kayla was a senior in high school. She and many other Huron High School students had been on the top of the World Trade Center towers just three months earlier, as part of our Tiger Marching Band’s trip to New York City. That personal experience hit home for many parents and their students.

Our older daughter Jennifer was a sophomore in college. I called her and told her to make sure she had enough gas to get home, and to prepare to come home at a moment’s notice. Our son was in 8th grade. I looked at our older students, and knew that this would have a direct impact on their future, as many had plans for military service. It was quiet and scary, as we watched hurting people in New York, at the pentagon in Washington, DC, and in a field in Pennsylvania. Watching the nations airline become grounded was stunning.

Learning that President George W. Bush had been flown from Florida to a bunker in Nebraska made us realize the danger of the moment.

President Bush told the nation that the response would be long and deliberate, as there was no “quick fix” to terrorism. I remember his father, Pres. H.W. Bush, reaching over and briefly holding his son’s hand during the prayer service at the National Cathedral. Taking commercial flights changed forever, from waiting at the gate for loved ones to hours in security lines. Twice I met with parents as they told siblings that an older brother had lost his life in service to our country. The country went through a period of unity where being an American was first and party affiliation was not a divider, which unfortunately has again been lost in current politics.

I remember thinking back to what it was like when I was a young student and learned while in class that President Kennedy had been shot. We sat with our parents as TV news brought that tragedy into our living rooms. For our students in 2001, this would not be a “one-moment event” as they watched 24-7 coverage of the weeks, months, and years that it took to recover from the terrorism of that day.

Drew Weinreis, Huron City Commissioner
I remember I was in the eighth grade at Huron Middle School and we had just finished music class when Mrs. Smith got a call from her husband, Bryan, and we could all tell that something was seriously wrong by her facial expression and tone of the call.  When she got off the phone, she informed us that there had been a hijacking and two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.  

My first thought was are we safe here.  Second, I was concerned about could they try and take out our power grid?   

I vividly remember to this day the images of the two towers collapsing to the ground and knowing that so many people were still trapped inside and likely would not make it out alive. I also still think about how after 9/11 we all came together and felt a sense of unity in our country that I had not experienced before.   

Several things have remained with us to this day. First off, I remember my family waiting in line for gas that night, not knowing if we were going to have a gas shortage or if the prices would continue to drastically go up.

Also the stock market took a huge dip following the attacks and our markets took some time to bounce back.   

Staff members Roxy Stienblock, Ben Chase, Crystal Pugsley and Curt Nettinga contributed to this piece.



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