Twenty years ago Saturday, the United States and the world were changed forever with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Saturday, local residents will pause in McDowell County to remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 and also honor the 13 American service members who died last month in Afghanistan.
A special service will be held at noon at the McDowell County Courthouse in downtown Marion. Randy Hollifield, one of the organizers and a Vietnam War veteran, said the service will be held to remember the Sept. 11 attacks and honor the memory of the 13 service members, 11 men and two women, who died in the Taliban’s Aug. 26 attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul while executing the Operation Freedom Sentinel evacuation. During the ceremony, the names of those 13 service members will be called out along the tolling of the bell for each one.
The American Legion Post 56 Honor Guard will fire three volleys and taps will be played, according to local veteran Frank Dean, who will be the master of ceremonies.
The service will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which started the war in Afghanistan.
On that date, four airliners were hijacked simultaneously by terrorists intent on causing death and destruction in America. Two of the airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in New York City, causing the towers to collapse and additional destruction in America’s largest city. A third airliner slammed into one side of the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. and destroyed a section of that massive office building. A fourth airliner crashed near Shanksville, Pa. presumably because the passengers fought back and thwarted the terrorists’ plans. None of the airline passengers and crew survived these horrific crashes. Almost 3,000 people died that day and many of them were firefighters, police officers and paramedics who rushed into burning buildings to save the victims.
For days and months afterward, first responders and emergency crews went to work to find any possible survivors and identify the dead. Massive amounts of debris had to be searched and then later cleared away. The United States government and its allies launched the War on Terror and sent military forces to fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This would result in the longest war in United States history, which came to an end just recently with the departure of the last American military plane.
An entire generation has come of age since that day and much has changed since then. But for many Americans, the date of Sept. 11, 2001 will be forever etched in their memories. That includes people here in McDowell County.
The McDowell News reached out to three local leaders in the field of emergency response, law enforcement and firefighters to ask for their memories of Sept. 11, 2001.
Emergency Services Director William Kehler was just 21 years old and working full-time on an ambulance as a paramedic with McDowell EMS in 2001. Since then, he has risen to become the director of the department.
“I wasn’t on-duty at EMS on 9/11,” Kehler said to The McDowell News. “I vividly remember getting a call from a co-worker asking if I was watching the news. After turning on the television, my heart sank thinking of the horror playing out across multiple cities and towns. The bravery displayed that day by so many will be something that I never forget.
“9/11 was a unifying time in the U.S. Flags were flying all across this country at businesses, homes, and on vehicles. Citizens came together to support each other like never before. I often think about all the emergency personnel, military service members, and citizens that were killed that day. So many individuals paid the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to save others. I think about their children who have grown up without a parent. At EMS Station One, we have a large American flag which has the names of every first responder that was killed on 9/11. It’s a powerful message and one that helps us never forget what occurred on 9/11/2001.”
Allen Lawrence is the chief of the Marion Police Department. But in 2001, he was a young officer getting his start in a law enforcement career.
“I think everyone in our country remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on 9/11/2001,” said Lawrence to The McDowell News. “I was 24 years old at the time and a young police officer working night shift. Normally, I would have been at home sleeping after working all night, however, on this particular day I had a class at Western Piedmont Community College when the news broke of what was taking place in New York. Immediately I had multiple different emotions from confusion to sadness for those who had lost their lives, then to anger for those that had attacked innocent people going about their daily business.
“After that day a lot of things started changing within law enforcement and emergency services as a whole. In the months and years after 9/11, we observed tighter safety measures and protocols at airports, sporting events and other venues. Today oftentimes, those safety measures feel like inconveniences if we are rushed or in a hurry, but are certainly necessary. We should be thankful for those safety measures that have been put in place to make sure everyone is safe and has a good time whatever event they are attending or where ever they are traveling. It is unfortunate that we have to think and plan for the bad things that can happen, but 9/11 is a stark reminder of something that we have to be committed to. Prior to 9/11, we had always planned for large events, but that planning is more refined now and many times includes multiple agencies at the local and state level.
“Aside from improved safety measures, the thing I remember the most about that day in the weeks and months after, was how our country came together to help, and support those impacted by 9/11. Living in a great country like the United States has afforded us a lot of freedoms and benefits that others in the world do not have. Freedoms and benefits that our United States Military and other Emergency Services work hard daily to make sure is not taken away or compromised. Some have given their lives’ to make sure those things stay in place. I think it is very important for us to reflect and remember 9/11 and remember the sacrifices that were made that tragic day. We have all had a tough few years, but we live in a great country that is resilient and despite our differences we come together in difficult times and accomplish some amazing things.”
Ray McDaniel is the chief of the Marion Fire Department. When the attacks happened, he was 28 years old and working at the Ethan Allen plant in Old Fort.
“This marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as it was a day that will forever be in our hearts,” said McDaniel to The McDowell News. “We have come to the point that now it is in the history classes in schools. I will always remember hearing of the news as I was working at Ethan Allen in Old Fort N.C. Later on that morning, the whole factory got together for prayer and they let all employees go home to be with their families as there was a lot of uncertainty of America being under attack. I remember the months to follow being in shock of unbelief that it really happened. As tragic as it was, there were a great deal of lessons that came out of those events that day that benefited emergency services. Communications, interoperability, building construction, Incident Command System, and the support of a nation just to name a few. I remember that it was a time that our nation was drawn together to love and support each other no matter what our difference of opinions, race or religion and as we are coming upon the 20th anniversary we need that love and support for each other again.”