Never Forget

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A quote from Virgil prominently displayed at One World Trade Center in Manhattan accompanies an exhibition about 9/11 featured this month at Hailey Public Library. Photo credit: Hailey Public Library

20 years after America’s fateful day, local first responders take a look back

By Eric Valentine

Starting today, Hailey Public Library will host a powerful poster exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The exhibit was developed by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. It marks the passage of two decades since attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 killed nearly 3,000 people.

“September 11, 2001, The Day That Changed the World” exhibit explores what happened on 9/11, documenting its impact and examining its continued significance. Honoring those who were killed in the 2001 and 1993 terrorists’ attacks is at the heart of the 9/11 Museum’s mission.

“So many Americans, and people from all over the world, lost their lives that day,” stated exhibit curator and Hailey librarian Caitlyn Mills. “It’s important we don’t forget. It represented a loss of innocence and impacted millennials like me in profound ways. But, in a strange way, that shock and sadness helped bring people together, too. It truly was a day that changed the world.”

The exhibit will run through Sept. 30. Content is carefully worded to be approachable and accessible for audiences in eighth grade and up, the library said.

What follows are responses from two Valley leaders and first responders Wood River Weekly reached out to in recent days. We asked them the following questions:

• Where were you / what were you doing during the events of 9/11?

• What were your immediate thoughts/fears/hopes/etc. that morning? Especially in terms of your work.

• Looking back 20 years later, what changed in you or for you most?

• How have your concerns about terrorism evolved over the last two decades?

Here are their answers.

Hailey Police Chief Steve England

• Where were you / what were you doing during the events of 9/11?

I was working the graveyard shift as a Patrol Officer for the Hailey Police Department, and just about to get off shift when I was made aware of the first Tower being hit. We had a small TV at the old PD in Hailey City Hall, and I began to watch in awe, and myself and those coming in for day shift began to discuss what could be happening. I immediately went home, to the house I still live in today, and continued to watch the news coverage for hours on end.

• What were your immediate thoughts/fears/hopes/etc. that morning? Especially in terms of your work.

Initially, I thought what a lot of my fellow Americans most likely did, that the first plane was a freak accident of epic proportions. Then, as the other tragic events began to unfold—planes being hijacked, and the second Tower and Pentagon being attacked—it was clear this was a terrorist attack. I immediately thought and prayed for all of those who had perished and their families, and for the First Responders that were giving their all—even the ultimate sacrifice—to attempt to save whomever they could. I also thought, for weeks after, about joining the military once again to help fight whatever war on terror our country would be facing, but ultimately realized I had served my time and my community still needed me in my current role.   

• Looking back 20 years later, what changed in you or for you most?

I have always been very patriotic and believe in “service above self,” so while many Americans came to have an even greater love for the USA while we were all uniting as a nation, I have always had that deep love of our country. What changed most for me is my understanding and acceptance of others and their respective views, regardless of where they came from or their “status.” I also believe there is a very small percentage of those in local, state and federal law enforcement that should not be in this esteemed profession. That said, I had never been so honored to be in this profession in the time/years following this tragic event. It was unfortunate it took this tragic event for police to be held in such high regard, and to see where we are today with certain national rhetoric is disappointing. All we can keep doing is working to earn the public’s trust, regardless of your position and where you work in the law enforcement field.    

• How have your concerns about terrorism evolved over the last two decades?

Any American of age to remember and have lived through the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, most likely will always have a different perception or take on terrorism. For me, it changed the way I analyze and prepare for school settings or large-scale events, because you always have to be prepared for an act of terrorism (domestic or otherwise). On a national level, regardless of your political views, we see what is going on in Afghanistan right now with the Taliban resurgence, as well as ISIS, and with the upcoming 20th Anniversary of the tragic events on 9/11, it makes me wonder if we are any better off on the war on terrorism than we were 20 years ago. I suppose only continued intelligence, vigilance, and time will tell.   

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Ron Bateman

• Where were you / what were you doing during the events of 9/11?

I was coming off shift on Tuesday morning, 9/11/01. The unfolding events hadn’t made the news by the time I’d left the station. As was custom for me (at that time) I met up with some other firefighters at the Waffle House before heading home. My daughter was 3 years old and my son was 3 months; with my wife returning to work at Indiana University after FMLA leave, I was on point with the kids for the day. Before she left for campus, I got a phone call from a friend who was about ready to start the fire academy, telling me to turn on the TV. My reaction was probably like most—incredulous at what was happening in front of me in real time. I spent most of the day in front of the TV or on the phone with friends (mostly firefighters) while trying hard to be a good dad and not to neglect the kids.

• What were your immediate thoughts/fears/hopes/etc. that morning? Especially in terms of your work.

Truthfully, my immediate thoughts / fears / hopes that morning were about my kids—that the world that had been filled with possibility and potential just a day before was now irrevocably broken and held far less for them than it had for me. Mostly I remember a feeling of dread. Second to that, though, as a firefighter, I remember the feeling of arbitrariness—how it was these guys on this day and it could’ve easily been those the day before or those the days after. Although I didn’’ have a language for it at the time, I have come to realize that it was a collapse of “sensemaking.” University of Michigan Professor Karl Weick introduced this idea, which could most simply be described as the process by which we understand the world so that we can act in it. We didn’t know what we were seeing and didn’t know how to react. The ability to solve problems is precisely why the fire service exists—so if you can’t understand the problem, you obviously can’t solve it. It was foundation-rattling for the fire department.

• Looking back 20 years later, what changed in you or for you most?

It still lingers in ways that I don’t remember before 9/11, but it’s mostly an appreciation for the work that fire / EMS / LE do. I remember an active alarm at the Indiana University School of Law in the week after 9/11, and literally swimming through people who had evacuated the building. Most of the time, students would ignore the alarms and not leave, complicating our job. As we left the scene, the crowd of hundreds were clapping for us. It was uncomfortable; those accolades belonged to someone else, hundreds of miles away who had sacrificed everything. I work with folks now who have no recollection of those events; they were just too young. Soon, there will be those who weren’t even born. I think that what’s changed in me is that I am no longer a new firefighter, but a middle-aged fire chief… and it’s my job to connect that past with this present and future, that urban reality with this rural one… and how the job we do may be a little different, but the reason we do it—and the opportunity to serve—is the same. That truly ensures that “Never Forget” isn’t a platitude, but a reality.

• How have your concerns about terrorism evolved over the last two decades?

As with most things that aren’t proximate, concerns over terrorism—at least like that experienced on 9/11—have substantially faded over the past two decades. At that time we had been directed (by fire department administration) to close all the apparatus bay doors and lock the doors. The anthrax scares came next, and our focus shifted to hazardous materials training. The training in the past decade has shifted more to “active shooter” events. The evolution of my concern surrounds, not terrorism, but our collective sense of community. 9/11 brought a sense of unity to the country that I hadn’t seen in my lifetime; a sense of unity that stands in stark contrast to today. Our collective suffering, in 2001, brought us together. I wish that could happen today.

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