Memories still fresh from day of attacks
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – This is one of those days, a day just about everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing. It’s a day when routines were shredded, and everyone, absolutely everyone, spent as much of the day as possible trying to absorb and understand the inconceivable.
Today, 10 years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, memories are still fresh. Here’s a look at how a number of locals went through that day, and the days to come:
Jon Asper, chief of the Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, was brushing his teeth that morning when his partner, Nettie, told him a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.
“I asked her if it was a big plane or a little plane,” Asper said. “When she said it was an airliner the first thing I said was ‘There’s another one coming in a few minutes.'”
That shock of recognition came because Asper and firefighters from around the region had participated in a class a couple of years before. There, the instructor said terrorists were looking at using big jets as weapons.
Like other local cops, firefighters and ambulance crews, Asper had to work through that day. Knowing, at least in part, what firefighters were going through in Manhattan, Washington and Pennsylvania, weighed heavily on him.
“Firefighters don’t think about themselves,” Asper said. “Knowing there are people you can’t get to is what kills you.”
Like many people, Edwards resident Bonnie Vesey was watching the morning news that Tuesday.
“Our son was already at Edwards Elementary School,” Vesey wrote in an e-mail. “Jack (Vesey’s husband) and I watched in horror. I called my dad – we all were born and raised in Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.
“I needed to get away from the TV coverage so I went to Edwards Liquors. Ken Sady, Larry Martinez and I were hypnotized. I left in tears and went to pick up our son at school. There were parents and teachers all crying and hugging each other.
“After those tragic days it was more difficult to travel by plane and I scrutinized anyone who looked Arab – pretty bad to admit.
“Even after 10 years, I treasure every day with my family and friends more than ever. Better yet I really appreciate living up in the serenity of the mountains. I feel safer here.”
Gass, today the executive director of student services at the Eagle County School District, was the principal at Gypsum Elementary School in 2001. The new school year was just under way and Gass was headed to Edwards for a routine principals’ meeting that morning.
On his drive up-valley, Gass’ mother called and told him what had happened. When he got to the meeting, the TV was quickly turned on and the meeting adjourned shortly thereafter.
“We were all just trying to absorb what was going on – what it meant for us and what we knew,” Gass said.
Back at school, there was almost too much work to do to think about the morning’s events. Parents called, wondering if the school was safe. Gass said, truthfully, that his wife and two children were with him there that day.
“In any kind of crisis moment, people step up and do what has to be done,” he said. “Then you go home and try to decompress.”
“My husband I were getting dressed and running a few minutes late, so we were hurrying through showering and getting dressed,” Katie Campbell recalled in an e-mail. “I remember the light streaming through our bedroom window. I know exactly where I was standing in the room when I saw it happening. I had just walked back into our bedroom from the kitchen and was putting my shoes on and was watching a plane fly into the twin towers.
“I called to David, ‘Honey, what are you watching? Why are we watching a movie, and why would this kind of movie be on in the morning?’ He poked his head into the bedroom and said, ‘That’s not a movie.’ And then we realized it was actually the news.
“I have cousins in both Manhattan and in D.C., and was wondering if they were OK. I called my mom to see if anyone had heard anything about my cousins, but of course no one had. My cousin’s husband works for Marsh and McLennan, so our family was panicked until we learned he worked in a different office in Manhattan. One of my cousins works at the Pentagon, but was stuck in traffic all day and never made it to work, thank God.
“To this day I am amazed at how no one in my large, Catholic family was not injured that day, with three members in the immediate vicinity of the tragedies. I use that day as a touchstone to remember and be thankful for the gifts of life – our individual abilities and talents, our jobs, our health, but mostly the people who we surround ourselves with, family and friends.”
Kelton, a Vail resident, got her news about the attacks from the other side of the country. One of Kelton’s daughters, living in Washington, had just had a baby and was up very early – about 6:30 a.m. Mountain time, just as the attacks took place.
That early notice allowed Kelton to call friends and family back east just before the phone lines jammed completely. She also had time to call former Vail resident Gordon Brittan in California. The Brittans had grandchildren in New York, and they were able to get through, too.
“The next day was (husband) Art’s birthday,” Kelton said. “We’d booked Walter’s Cabin for a picnic dinner, and we went anyway.”
One of the guests that night was looking up at the sky and said “You’ll never see this again – there are no planes,” Kelton said. “It was so quiet there – it was really beneficial.”
Vail resident Joan Packer was in Connecticut visiting her son that day, in a small town with a view of the Manhattan skyline.
“My son works in Manhattan, but he was a little uptown from the towers,” Packer said. That day in that commuter neighborhood, people were out in the streets, waiting for word from loved ones in the city.
“Everybody there had someone in town that day,” Packer said. “It got so I couldn’t watch the news – it was just too much.”
The World Mountain Bike Championships were opening in Vail that day, and Bart Garton woke up early to work as a cameraman for the event.
“My dad called as I was in the shower and told me to turn on the news – the first plane had hit the World Trade Center,” Garton wrote in an e-mail.
“As I got dressed, the second plane hit. Then there were reports of a plane crash at the Pentagon. Knowing something big was up, but also needing to get into work, I jumped in the car and headed for Vail. I called a friend for updates, and she started crying as the first tower fell. I remember saying, ‘Life as we know it has changed.’ When I got to the production office, our producer (the late, great Jon Efraimson) and I watched in horror as the second tower fell. We both realized we had just seen thousands of people die. The entire day was put on hold, and we all returned to our families.
“I found out later that a very close aunt of mine was supposed to be on Flight 93, which ended up crashing in Pennsylvania. Amazingly, she showed up to the airport so early they put her on the flight before that one.
“The following day, the championships resumed. It was extremely weird working such a cool, outside event with the world’s best athletes in the most beautiful location on a sunny day, and just being numb inside.”
Local financial adviser Jeffrey Apps had scheduled a seminar scheduled to talk about stock market volatility that day. It didn’t happen, of course.
“I was driving back from dropping my kids off at school when I heard the news on the radio,” Apps said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I pulled over and just prayed.”
Over the next 36 hours or so, Apps and his wife – like so many others – was glued to the TV. Apps was with her much of that time – his world was shut down for the next five days, as the financial markets were closed the rest of that week.
After watching the coverage on TV, Sims emailed, he soon knew the plane crashes were a terrorist attack.
“It made us very sad for the needless loss of lives,” Sims wrote. “I had retired from the Pentagon in 1989 and still had many friends in the building. I knew for some strange reason I would help even the score one day.
“My Minturn VFW Post combat members met immediately at Bob’s Place in Avon to discuss what happened and our options. We were all mostly over the hill for combat but everyone wanted to join back up and help fight this new war on America. From the first day we knew it would be a very long war and President Bush would strike back soon.
“After (the attacks), I was emailed by a fellow B-52 pilot who commanded the 8th Air Force in Shreveport, La. This message set in motion my recall to active duty which I accepted with my stated goal of getting even. I reported back to active duty in May 2002 at 58 years old, deployed to Korea in August of 2002 to become a bomber operations and targeting officer, deployed with the 8th Air Force Combined Air Operations Center and staff in November 2002 to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, to practice the war plan to take Iraq if directed by President Bush.
“I directed combat strikes into Iraq and Afghanistan until the end of April, 2003. My goal was realized and soon after that we moved to the Pentagon where I retired for the second time in June 2004. For two years I was honored to do my part in keeping America safer.”