About 50 Pierre Senior Center members and guests spent time on Thursday looking back and remembering the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as the nation marks 20 years since the pivotal moment in American history on Saturday.
During the center’s weekly potluck and entertainment, people recalled where they were when 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed two into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth plane — United Flight 93 — crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers and flight attendants engaged the hijackers, killing the 44 people aboard.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people.
Senior Center members and guests paid their respects and recalled where they were 20 years ago on 9/11 with memories and music featuring Jeff Speaect and Don Smith.
Stella Fulgaro suggested the Sept. 9 event be a tribute to 9/11. Her husband was in the U.S. Air Force, a deceased son was in the Navy, another son in the U.S. Army, and her dad served under Gen. George S. Patton in the Army.
“There’s a lot of Patriotism in my family,” Fulgaro said. “On 9/11, I was in Rapid City. We all cried. We were devastated. I fear now — if they could do it once, what’s stopping them from doing it again?”
Smith, whose father was in the Army, was glad the Senior Center decided to remember 9/11 during the weekly potluck.
“I was in North Dakota,” he said. “It was a sadness. I thought it wasn’t really happening — those things don’t happen in the United States. We are not performing ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’ because we would have tears.”
Instead, Smith and Speaect decided to play traditional patriotic songs, such as opening with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The two added some upbeat numbers as well, like “Yankee Doodle.”
And the songs weren’t lost on the audience as some sang along, some stood and others fell silent.
Speaect wanted to recall 9/11 not only as sadness but as a moment of belonging.
“For me, it’s wanting to remember and pay tribute, but more to just give that this is the greatest land,” he said. “We are here to celebrate with these folks who love America too. I was a bank teller on my way to work and listened to it on the radio. It was the quietest and most somber day I can remember. Work was empty. For this tribute, the first song I thought of was ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ because it’s got a lot more meaning — what the flag really meant and what it should mean to all of us. It was waving then and still waves today.”
Mathias Schatz, known around Pierre as Uncle Matt, had a much closer family connection to the horror unfolding on television screens across the country and world.
“I was glued to the television,” Uncle Matt said. “I have a nephew who is a commercial pilot. He drove from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., that morning to fly. That day he was going to Los Angeles. He was told to land in Toronto and stay in the plane until a bus took people to the landing.”
All four hijacked flights — American Airlines 11, American Airlines 77, United Airlines 93 and United Airlines 175 — took off from East Coast airports headed to West Coast destinations. Flights 11 and 175 originated in Boston. Flights 77 and 93 originated from Dulles Airport in Washington and Newark, New Jersey, respectively.
“I have another nephew who was at the Pentagon,” Uncle Matt said. “That morning, he was asked to go into a briefing on something else — the coworker who was supposed to go asked him to go instead. The plane went into his (empty) office. It was a horrible thing.”
Leah Kirley remembered being in her home watching TV, appalled by what she saw. She found it didn’t seem like 9/11 happened 20 years ago. Doris Coder was also watching the attacks unfold on TV and said she was absolutely terrified. Sick to her stomach, Coder said she couldn’t imagine anything like that happening.
Air Force veteran Glenn Sandal remembered being at work when he heard the news about the attacks.
“I was at a gravel pit straining gravel, listening to the radio — upset with the situation,” he said. “I have been in the Air Force. It was a cheap shot to do that — take a whole bunch of innocent people with them.”
Dorothy Collett found it was hard to pull herself away from the TV as the day’s images replayed nonstop. Her husband, Eugene, was headed to work and just arrived to find people telling him about it. He said he couldn’t believe it when the first plane hit — then the second plane struck the other tower.
Senior Center Director Sandra Kangas remembered the day well.
“I was at work, for the state then, in what is now the Department of Education building,” she said. “Somebody came in looking pretty shook up, saying a plane just hit the twin towers. And things got worse. It was a federal review day, and a lady was worried about getting back to Denver to her family.”
Ron Catlin recalled the day in the familiar way many others have. He said he was having breakfast at home with his wife when reports came across the television. Catlin thought it was a small private plane that flew into the World Trade Center.
After the second plane struck the south tower, he knew it was a whole new thing. The Catlins didn’t pull themselves away from the TV screen the rest of the day.
Larry Venner remembered being away for business and how the news struck him and his colleagues while working.
“I had a grower meeting scheduled in Rapid City,” he said. “I was in a motel room getting ready when it came on the TV. I went down and told them about it. Then, we couldn’t get away from the TV. Everything zeroed in at that point, and it was very hard to conduct a meeting. Everyone went home. I know I first called home in Pierre.”
Larry Cass recalled his respect for those who died as he watched the news on TV from his home in Pierre.
“We were waiting for the second shoe to fall — saw them go down,” he said. “When you think about what could have happened… to me, it was a lot of courage on the plane in Pennsylvania… last time for calling family and last time we will be talking to you.”