By Bobby Bordelon
Reporting by Carol Hall, Nancy Lindsey
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, four commercial air liners were hijacked by terrorists, looking to damage the United States. Two of the planes slammed into the World Trade Center twin towers in Manhattan, one crashed into a section of the Pentagon, and one crashed in a field south of Pittsburgh, PA. Over 200 people lost their lives on the hijacked planes while thousands of fatalities and injuries resulted from the other crashes.
Set on Sept. 11 each year in Greenbrier County, WV, the annual Parade of Lights honors the emergency responders that provide critical services to those in need. This parade brings the many vehicles of departments across the county into one big parade, complete with helicopters and over ten minutes worth of 70 plus fire trucks, police cars, EMS vehicles and more.
Commemorating the emergency responders who looked to protect the public when it was under attack and those who continue to serve the public, the Parade of Lights is a look to the present-day effects of this service.
What follows is a composite of several pieces and responses and memorials throughout the Mountain Media News Communities in the immediate days after the attacks.
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The events of the day constituted the worst attack on the U.S. Since Pearl Harbor and the worst-ever terrorist attack on U.S. Soil, officials and journalist said.
President Bush, who was notified about the attacks while attending a literacy conference in Florida, spoke to the nation brief three times Tuesday.
“Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended,” Bush said. “The resolve of our nation is being tested and we will show the world that we will pass the test.”
In response to the national tragedy, the Federal Aviation Commission decreed that all airports in the country be shut down and that all planes already in the air land at the nearest airport. The stock market, schools, and stores were closed, highways were jammed with traffic, and prayer services and vigils were held. People suspended their routine activities and many rushed to be with their children or loved ones. Military services were put on alert worldwide, as the U.S. Prepared for possible military action. Federal buildings were evacuated throughout the nation, but many, including the Pentagon, were reportedly planning business as usual Wednesday.
Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore declared a state of emergency in Virginia in response to the apparently coordinated attacks in New York City and Arlington. He activated Virginia’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; the teams, based in Fairfax and Virginia Beach, are comprised of experienced fire, medical, communications, and search and rescue specialists.
In Patrick County, VA, residents went to the scheduled Red Cross Bloodmobile drive at the R.J. Reynolds Patrick County Hospital to do what seemed the most practical thing they could do to help – give blood.
The Stuart Rotary Club, sponsors of the Patrick County Agricultural Fair being held this week at Rotary Field, made the decision to close the fair Tuesday night. Henry Ayers, fair chairman, said the fair was not closed out of fear that anything might happen in Patrick County, but out of respect for the victims of the terrorist attacks, their families, and all Americans who have been shocked and saddened by Tuesday’s events. Churches were opening their doors for prayer.
Ayers added “it just seemed appropriate in light of the national tragedy to open Tuesday night. … Assuming that everything is as it is now, that nothing else happens, I think we’ll operate the rest of the week. American Will go back to a degree of normalcy and we’ll do that same.”
In Greenbrier County, WV, six local pastors took the pulpit on the lawn of Greenbrier Community College/Carnegie Hall at noon on Friday, Sept. 14.
Speaking before the large crowd under blue skies, Rev. Doc Michael of the Seventh Day Adventist Church said “God makes us and He will be with us in our time of trouble. Our trust must be in the name of the Lord.” He thanked David Perkins of GCCC for allowing them to use the campus to come together. Lewisburg Methodist Church Pastor Julian Sulgit spoke on Christ as the “light of life” and lit a candle representing Christ as the light of the world.
Sulgit was followed by Rev. Gary Gurley, pastor of the Richlands United Methodist Church. Rev. Patricia Jarvis of the Lewisburg United Methodist Church asked for a moment of silence during which she prayed for the rescue workers, dead and alive, and the leadership of the country for them to have strength and wisdom and for us to be able to “live our lives in peace without looking for vengeance.”
Rev. Dr. Ross M. Evans, also of Lewisburg Methodist, noted how “awesome” it is to stand before God and asked everyone to have forgiveness for the terrorists who “don’t know what they’ve done.”
Assistant Pastor Clifford Curry from the St. James United Methodist Church in White Sulphur Springs noted that when we pray, we “don’t gloat when the wicked get their due.”
In closing, the audience sang Amazing Grace after which Rev. Ella Dorsey of John Wesley Methodist Church gave the benediction. As the crowd was breaking up, someone began singing God Bless America and everyone joined in. As people sang, held hands, and cried, a military jet flew overhead which, it is reported, gave people a reassuring feeling.
Emergency Manger Agency (EMA-formerly Office of Emergency Services) director, Rudy Holbrook noted the EMA is to provide whatever assistant is needed to local responders who are fighting a natural, or manmade, disaster.
“Can we be ready for an incident? No one can. Terrorism can happen day or night. It’s very easy for terrorists to achieve their goals. Security is expensive so it’s not often done. We just have to wait and respond,” he said. Holbrook noted the Emergency Operations Center was activated after the terrorist activity in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. “We’re monitoring events. The Governor and the state Office of Emergency Services are all on alert.”
Rumors were flying around the county that The Greenbrier had been closed and the “gates locked,” but this has proved to be untrue. According to Lynn Swann of The Greenbrier, “The Greenbrier was never closed and never put on alert, whatever that means. The rumors are unfounded,” she said.
At the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Fairlea, Public Relations Manager Mary Page Nemcik noted the facility has an internal emergency plan.
“This was recently put to the test in an exercise in cooperation with the Greenbrier Valley Airport, the EMA, and local Emergency Response Teams. We were in full disaster mode in the emergency room. This test showed us our weaknesses and strengths. It was a great learning tool,” she said. Nemcik said they were on a “heightened security level” at the facility and were coordinating with local authorities, other area hospitals, police, and city officials.
Chief Deputy B.E. Hosey with the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department noted Tuesday morning that all flights across America were canceled and security had been stepped up at the local airport. “Traffic in and out is being monitored and all vehicles are being challenged. The County Commission has closed the Courthouse as an added security measure, and all Federal courthouses have been closed,” he said.
Senior Trooper T.L. Bragg with the Lewisburg Detachment of the State Police noted they had been put on standby in case something would happen and that they are also involved in the security at the airport.
“Other than that, we’re pretty much doing routine things,” he commented.
Lt. Col. Mike Pitzer, spokesperson for the National Guard said no West Virginia units had been called out although they have been put on alert. “If they call us, we’ll go,” he said. “However, I don’t know which specific units would be called, it would depend on what type of skills or what the specific needs were at the time,” he said.
Meanwhile, at the airport, the security level has increased and the parking pattern has been changed.
“I can’t go into details on our security,” O’Sullivan said, “but I can tell you security has been increased, stepped up to another level. Many people here had to change their plans as all planes were grounded.”
O’Sullivan is an Air Force veteran and spent six and half years at the Pentagon.
“This is a terrible tragedy. The Pentagon is a symbol of American military power. That is what reins in these terrorists and that was probably why it was a target of American Power at home and abroad. Fortunately, everyone knew from the time I spent there were probably long tone. The Air Force areas weren’t hit.”