The horrifying and somber events of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City were reviewed and saluted by area residents in ceremonies Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1480 and the Hill Country Veterans Center.
Both featured speakers who were there or worked at the disaster site in its aftermath.
VFW Post 1480
The Sept. 11 anniversary ceremony at the VFW Post 1480 was highlighted by remarks from Ed Jackson, now a Hill Country resident and in 2001 a news photographer/videographer/producer with international press coverage experience, who was a new tenant on the 30th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Saturday’s ceremony was part of a larger event led by Post Commander Billy Allen, assisted by members the post Auxiliary, and the La Femmes and 40 & 8 women’s groups. Post members cooked and served a barbecue lunch as a fundraiser, in addition to the 9-11 ceremony.
Jackson now lives in Tierra Linda and volunteers with that subdivision’s volunteer fire department.
Jackson said he had signed leases and had production equipment shipped to the new office space the previous Friday; and was going into New York City that day to work with a hired crew of four “heavy lifters” to set up his new offices with specialized wiring and cables.
“But I was running late getting to work on a bus and the subway, from my home outside the city. I got to the street by the World Trade Center, and stopped at a little store to get something to drink. And I watched the plane crash into the North Tower,” he told the attentive audience Saturday.
“I’ve covered Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush. I was in Tiananmen Square in China. I went to Vietnam and Bosnia and covered the troops in Desert Storm. And that day in New York and still now, a hard thing for me to understand is the police and fire responders running into the building. And the hardest part for me was to watch the people jump out of the building, to their deaths.
“When the buildings went down, we were totally engulfed by garbage and smoke. We know about most of the victims from the collapsed buildings. But there are psychological victims with the first responders.”
Jackson said most people probably thought the first plane crash was an accident because there was an airport nearby and planes flew around the towers frequently.
He answered a friend once about what his worst experiences have been, and said 9/11 is, from the debris falling to the second plane hitting the South Tower.
“People heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio. But 9/11 was the first time Americans saw it happen. To watch people jump to their deaths is unbelievable. From the 70th floor up, there was no way out. And I watched the second tower sway, then collapse in on itself. It was heartbreaking, especially for New Yorkers. You can see it on film, but to be engulfed by it is incredible.”
In the aftermath, Jackson said he had walked blocks away from the site by 4 p.m.; and found a ferry to Hoboken, N.J.
“I was covered with debris, and people probably could only see my eyes and mouth. But I got washed down by a fire department. And I have to remember seeing emergency responders, the first ones to walk into danger, running into the buildings, knowing they were death traps.”
He reminded the audience the World Trade Center was bombed in February 1993, and added, “It took more than eight hours to get all the people out, then. On 9/11, they had one and a half hours to get people out, who could get out.”
Jackson said the events of 9/11 are something most people don’t talk about, but it’s embedded in his memory – “a lifetime ago, but just yesterday.” He asked everyone to pray for those left in Afghanistan; and called 9/11 a “horror movie” in New York City. He asked people to send prayers to them.
He got a standing ovation for his presentation.
In addition to Jackson’s presentation, the VFW event included check presentations to the Tivy High School JROTC and its senior officer Bobby Woods; a color guard from the Tivy ROTC, the Honor Guard from the HCVC with a rifle salute, a flag-folding demonstration and the folded flag presented to Jackson.
And the first song played by the DJ was Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” about 9/11.
Alan Hill, Veteran Service Officer at the Hill Country Veterans Center in Kerrville, welcomed a patriotic yet somber crowd to the veterans Center on Saturday for a 9-11 program that included personal remembrances and a video of scenes from that disastrous day in New York City.
The HCVC Honor Guard posted the flags, followed by a moment of silence by all attending, exactly at 8:46 a.m. to commemorate the first hijacked plane being flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Kerr County Sheriff Larry Leitha thanked Hill for organizing this service; and all the veterans for attending.
Kerrville Police Chief Chris McCall said he appreciated all who attended this gathering. He said he honored and respected all those who went into the World Trade Center towers to provide help and assistance.
He said law enforcement and first responders step up to serve the public, and added, “God bless all veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
With the aid of a young Texas State Guard member with more “computer savvy,” Marcus Jones, Hill showed a video presentation that included news footage of the planes crashing into the North and South Towers, World Trade Center; and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Hill provided a timeline that included:
• 9:59 a.m. – the South Tower collapsed;
• 10:07 a.m. - United Flight 93 crashed;
• 10:28 a.m. – the North Tower collapsed.
The audience members were thanked for their service in the military and law enforcement; and told that on Sept. 12, 2001, this country grew and became one people because of the events of Sept. 11 and the days that followed.
Charles Holt, fire chief of the Center Point Volunteer Fire Department, brought two of his FD vehicles; and said he was glad the people haven’t forgotten.
Holt said, “To our fallen brothers, we thank them for their ultimate sacrifice.”
Hill invited Lt. Gen. Mike Oates, U.S. Army ret. to speak. Oates cited the attitude of “Send me,” saying that’s all people who respond to emergencies large and small.
“This is a new type of war. That’s what it is,” he said.
On the video, one section included a quote from former President George Bush, promising, “We will never forget.”
Hill invited Salvation Army Officer Fred Pentz to speak, and Pentz told about the man who was manager of a rooftop restaurant on one of the World Trade Center towers.
“That man lost 72 of his employees that day plus contractors working for him.”
Pentz said besides the fire and police personnel, another group that went in to help was the Salvation Army, with a large aid station close to “ground zero” to help the rescuers and first responders.
He repeated a quote from Winston Churchill that emphasized “courage” and applied that to all the emergency personnel who responded that day.
“All fire and police charged to the sound of the guns,” he said.
He said the Salvation Army was the first aid organization on the scene, within 30 minutes; and later took over feeding all the emergency personnel.
“Sept. 12 for the Salvation Army lasted four months, and we served 3.5 million meals.”
The audience also learned about an Englishman who was a lieutenant in Vietnam and later emigrated to the United States and its Army. In September 2001, Rick Riscorla was a director for Morgan Stanley with an office in the World Trade Center.
Pentz said before 9-11, this man demanded all his 2,700 employees practice getting down the stairs and out of the tower as fast as possible. On Sept. 11, 2001, that saved their lives. And then the boss was seen going back into the building, singing one of his favorite songs, because, he told those who tried to stop him, “I’ve got more people in the tower.”
He did not survive.
Pentz also told the story of Ben Sliden who on Sept. 11, 2001, was at day one at his new job as Chief of Air Traffic Control in New York.
“That morning, he watched all the monitoring screens and listened to everything; and he gave an unauthorized order for all planes in U.S. airspace to land immediately at whatever airport was nearest each of them.
“That’s how more than 100 planes and their crews and passengers ended up in Gander, Newfoundland.”
Pentz said, “For kids today, 9/11 is a page in their notebooks. The uniformed people in this room are the heart and soul of 9/11.”
The HCVC Honor Guard fired rifle volleys for a 21-gun salute; and trumpeter John Tittle played “Taps.”