It has been 15 years since nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Islamic terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon, the World Center Buildings, and a field outside of Shanksville Pennsylvania.
“We gathered here in the morning around 7 a.m. to drink coffee and start the day,” said Lt. David Wagoner with the Elkin Fire Department, recalling that day. “I was getting some paperwork ready for inspection and I had the TV on when I first heard about the attacks. After that I just couldn’t get away from the TV. It was a very dramatic experience. When they finally both fell, I was like, ‘it’s over.’ It was a horrible loss of life.”
“Every station on TV was carrying it that day,” said retiree Jan Sloop. “People were calling family members and friends, say ‘have you heard about this.’ It was on everybody’s mind.”
“I just remember it was mayhem everywhere you went,” said Bobby Carter, assistant manager of Belk in Elkin. “I was working as a representative for a company going from store to store. Everybody was talking about it in all the businesses.”
“I was in Germany in the Army when it happened,” said Julie Darnell, engineer in the Army branch of the military. “We were watching it on television and we were horrified. It was late evening for us in Germany and people were waking each other up and the companies were getting together in their day rooms. You could hear a pin drop in that room it was so quiet. Here we are in Germany, and America was being attacked. It was just sad.”
Several people remember how people got together after the attacks for support.
“We rallied but it doesn’t take away fro the devastation of the event,” said Wagoner. “We weren’t ready for it.”
Darnell remembers some of the foreign reaction to the event in Germany.
“The Germans were so respectful,” said Darnell. “The weirdest thing I ever saw, all of the cathedrals and everything over there had the German flag out straight in a salute and the American flag was hanging above it. I had never seen that before.”
Much had changed in the nation after the attacks with security getting tighter in many parts of the country, airports being regulated more, and training for firefighters, police officers, and emergency personnel becoming more strenuous.
“I think it probably woke us up again as a nation, which from time to time, that has to happen,” said Wagoner. “I hate that it does. There were a lot of regulations that came out after that day. We had the National Incident Management system and training after that day to help against these types of disasters and I don’t mind taking them. There was more focus on management and logistics. The paper work is now three times heavier than it used to be. Training is more strenuous, but it’s always for the better. There was a lot of money spent on improving our preparation, but I just don’t know that you could ever prepare for something like that. I felt overwhelmed and I wasn’t even at the towers. One of the things that came out of all of that is that everybody is trying to get on the same page as far as communications. Of course, if something like that happens, it’s just mass confusion. It just happened so quickly.”
“Three months after that day we flew to Orlando and security was just ridiculous,” said Carter. “Even now it’s still crazy. I flew to Las Vegas back in May of this year and it’s still strict.”
“Think about those big blue and yellow concrete things they have in front of Elkin High School,” said Darnell. “You go to a federal building in Winston and you now have to go through that barricade to get in. That stuff didn’t exist before then.”
Wagoner believes that the aftermath of Sept. 11 made people look differently at the work and duties of emergency personnel.
“All of the patriotism that you see afterwards was one good thing,” said Wagoner. “I have a lot more people to thank me for what I do and we live in a small town but still, I appreciate it. We’ve got 4,400 people in this town and we run about 600 calls a year. We’re out and about and it can be a lot sometimes. The military does the heavy lifting, but somebody has to be here to take care of everything else. You’ve still got to do your job and although this is not as high tech here in Elkin, it’s the same thing that goes across the country. You have to be ready to go out at any time. You don’t know what you’re going to run into.”
Others remember how Sept. 11 brought many soldiers into war and the effects it had on friends and family.
“In my period of time, I was born in 1945 at the end of WWII,” said Sloop. “We’ve had some rough times sending our brothers and sons off to war. Anytime there is a war, it’s a horrible thing. It affects so many people. It’s not just the soldiers, it’s their families and friends, too. My dad was in the Navy in a battleship. He wouldn’t talk about being in WWII. Mothers cried worried as they send their husbands and sons off to war because they’re left to pick up the pieces.”
“I think we should learn to be more cautious in our endeavors as Americans,” said Darnell. “As far as operations overseas go, there was nothing we could have done to prevent that. You need to learn to look and observe and listen.”
The aftermath of Sept. 11 was a time of conflict between people on decisions of whether to stay at peace or go to war. Some people believe that the events of that day divided the people.
“I think it changed our perspective,” said Darnell. “That’s when our nation became split. Half the nation wanted blood and the other half didn’t want to mess with it. That’s when the big divide between the political parties happened. It was already big, but it got bigger. People started exercising more caution. There were no safety concerns about that in America. People are so suspicious now. It humbled us a little bit and it put fear in people’s hearts that wasn’t there before.”
“It opened up a lot of doors to things that people probably never thought about,” said Sloop. “I think it wakes people up a lot of the time. The economy changed. The American people took one side or the other being for it or against it. It affected a lot of homes.”
Other people believe that some of the effects of that day have gone away as people have settled down, but Americans should still keep the memories of that disaster in mind.
“Sometimes I think that we’ve gone back to where we were before that day happened,” said Carter. “We’re so blessed here in the way things are that things go right back to where they were. We’re lucky we’re not in Iraq or Syria where all of that is going on all the time. I wish it didn’t work like that. After Sept. 11, there was more of a togetherness between people. Something like that has to happen for people to wake up. I think we should be good to our fellow man regardless. As long as they’ve got blood running through their veins, it doesn’t matter what they are, who they are, that should unite the country together.”
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.