Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?
It seems unimaginable that anyone would ever be able to forget that morning.
Americans woke up as usual, ate breakfast, prepared their children for school and went on about their day. They went to work and hugged their families goodbye, fully expecting to come home. Yet almost 3,000 souls didn't come home, including 343 first responders and 266 flight passengers.
At 8:45 a.m. a Boeing 767 hit the North World Trade Center tower's 80th floor in New York City. The crash killed many people and trapped many others.
What seemed to be a horrific accident quickly turned to a nightmare when Americans realized this was intentional as the second plane turned toward the south tower and hit near the 60th floor.
In what was the biggest attack on United States soil since the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans watched in horror as people leapt from the floors above the crash to escape burning to death, and as the towers crashed to the ground.
There were several planes missing, where would they hit next? People listened to the radio and watched the news, waiting to hear where the remaining flights were. They tried to call loved ones, but the lines were locked. Helpless to do anything, Americans watched and waited.
Nineteen terrorists, some of which had attended American flight training and been here more then a year, hijacked the planes presumably under Osama Bin Laden as a retaliation to US presence in the Middle East and support of Israel. They smuggled box cutters and knives through security on the East coast and boarded planes with long flights ahead, so they had the most fuel.
Flight AA77 circled over Washington D.C. and crashed into the Pentagon, headquarters for the U.S. department of defense at 9:45 a.m. killing 125 plus the 64 passengers.
At 10:30 a.m. the towers started to collapse. The buildings designed to withstand high winds and fires were no match for 20,000 gallons of jet fuel.
Some United flight 93 passengers heard of the hijackings by cell phone. When terrorists took over, a group of heroic passengers knowing they would never make it back alive, overtook the hijackers and crashed the plane into a field. Passengers called home, one man telling his wife “I know we're all going to die.”
First responders dug in the rubble and of those that survived, many still face health issues to this day.
Afterwards the country banded together in an amazing display of patriotism and unity. The nation came together as we licked our wounds and comforted one another while we tried to make sense of a senseless act.
Our young adults were mere toddlers when this atrocity happened, as they go into the future, and make decisions for this nation, may we always remember that day. Let us pass the stories on to future generations and keep all history fresh in their minds so we do not risk repeating it.
The further we get from 9/11/2001, the unity once experienced has become fragmented and the country more divided than ever. Citizens must continue to sound the alarm, “Never Forget.”
Chief Marshall remembers
“That number 343 is stuck in my mind and a lot of my brothers and sisters,” said Russel Marshall, Athens Fire Chief. “You know exactly what that is and what it represents. It wasn't only 343 firefighters, it was 343 firefighters, plus brothers, sisters, mothers, husbands, wives, children, cousins, aunts uncles, grandparents, it's astronomical if you think about everyone who it affected, not to mention their friends.”
Say the number “343” to most fire fighters and they will immediately know what it refers to. The sounds of their PASS alarms going off a sound etched in the minds of most of those that survived.
PASS alarms notify others if a firefighter is no longer upright, and beep if they have fallen or been trapped such as in a collapse. The alarms went off until the batteries died.
Marshall was taking calls that day. When his secretary came in and said a plane had hit one of the towers, he dismissed it.
“I thought maybe a Cessna,” he said. “We continued to take calls.”
As they returned from the calls and the second tower was hit, the harsh reality and magnitude hit.
“In between calls we were glued to the news,” he said.
The first tower fell, with civilians and first responders inside who had bravely ran in to rescue those trapped inside and help evacuation efforts. A building meant to withstand 200 mile per hour winds came tumbling to the ground.
Then it happened again. America was under attack.
As the names of the fallen were revealed, the event took an even more personal turn.
In late 2000, the New York Fire Department hosted a special three-day seminar. Marshall was fortunate to attend. Expecting a big convention, he was pleasantly surprised to find only 50 people being trained by the most elite firefighters in the country. Instructors were selected from the countries best of the best. The young chief in training was assigned to a 24 hour shift with “Big Blue” Bronx rescue 3.
“I had never been to New York before,” Marshall said, something he will never forget.
“When I got to meet those guys, that was the highlight of the trip, to get to see that and make calls with them.”
Christopher Blackwell, one of the best, was assigned to mentor Marshall on the 24 hour shift.
Blackwell, firefighter and married father of three, who just months earlier had trained Marshall died when the towers crashed during rescue efforts.
“I will never forget him or the kindness he showed me,” Marshall said.
Blackwell was a 20 year veteran of the department with the last 12 being at the Bronx department. He was an expert instructor in collapse void search and the recipient of numerous awards. According to his mother he was born with “no sense of fear,” but was also “not reckless” according to his wife.
Sept. 11, changed the way firefighters do their jobs.
Firefighters come into the Athens Fire department and are expected to continue training daily to keep up with current and ever changing things in the industry.
“Even now, I have a very good friend that's a battalion chief there (Bronx), and he is having some health issues related after the fact. They were working the pile,” they are still working on helping those with lingering effects.
“Y'all know what the American pride was like in the days and months immediately following that. It seemed like for the first time the United States gelled together and was pulling in the same direction. The further we get away from it we start fragmenting our society, going our separate ways.
“For us the day (Sept. 11) is to always remember everyone that was involved from all the response agencies that were involved in that capacity, and all the civilians and the incredible loss of life and those that were impacted in various ways. We can never forget.”