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Cover Story

Sept 8 , 2011
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Remembering 9-11

Central Iowans share memories of that tragic day a decade ago

By Amber Williams

I was sitting in a landscaping van, parked in the Des Moines Masonic Cemetery — an eerily fitting setting — when I learned of the attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001. I heard it on the radio, listening to Mancow's Morning Madhouse. My first thought? "What a jerk. That's nothing to joke about." So I switched the station.

It was no joke.

The weather was beautiful — perfect, almost. It was just as peaceful and sunny in Des Moines that Tuesday morning as it was in New York City.

Most everyone remembers where they were on that seemingly serene morning a decade ago. Powerful images depicted in newspapers and on TV remain frozen in our minds: the second plane plummeting into Tower 2; the people jumping from more than 100 stories up; the moments when both towers crumbled to the ground; the suddenly silent scene of dust and rubble after the buildings vanished from the New York City skyline.

Yes, most everyone remembers where they were that day. Here are a few of those memories as told by local citizens.

A world changed forever

Craig LeClere, 54, of West Des Moines, was taking his two daughters to daycare on his way to work at an advertising agency. He didn't learn of the attacks on the Twin Towers until he got to his office, where the TV was always on, he said.

"Both buildings were still standing when I got there, and I watched the first building come down. I thought it was an accident until the second plane hit. I watched both buildings come down.

"My first reaction when I saw the plane hit was, ‘this is the beginning of the end — the beginning of something really horrific, and the end of life as we know it. This is going to escalate into something really, really bad.' "

LeClere watched TV all day in his office. A couple of co-workers came in to watch with him, but for the most part, he spent the day alone, watching.

"Everybody was somewhat speechless. There wasn't much talking going on throughout the office. Some individuals didn't even acknowledge it — I don't know if it was to keep their minds off it, or what."

When he got home, LeClere said it still felt like the world had changed. He watched the news on TV with his wife, but at the same time, they tried to keep the kids occupied doing other things. They were too young to be exposed to it all, he said.

"To me, the world changed drastically in the course of a day. It stayed with me for a long time after that, too. It still does. If I see images of the Twin Towers going down, it brings back a lot of anger and hatred."

Today…

"I don't feel like it's over. I wish it wouldn't have taken so long to get Osama (Bin Laden), but I know it's a very difficult task. I still feel the world has changed — it's become a more dangerous world. I hate to say it, but I don't think it's going to get any better."

Prepare for anything

Originally from Augusta, Ga., Tiphani Grimes, 22, was in middle school when carnage and chaos ripped through the streets of Manhattan. Nearly 800 miles south of New York City, Grimes and her classmates were starting the day with science, and they were already positioned in front of the TV to watch an educational program as part of the curriculum that day. The lesson they learned was one they neither expected nor forgot, as they watched in shock when the first plane penetrated the World Trade Center.

"At first I was in disbelief. I had a child's mind. Then I saw the panic and the police in the streets, and it occurred to me that this was real. I was in true shock. Being a kid, the feeling of safety had gone out the window — the ‘all the world is a dream; no one could hurt America.' It brought war, violence and animosity home."

But kids are kids, as it should be, and Grimes admits, at school, among her peers, she and her classmates naively made light of the heavy situation.

"We were selfish — not thinking about the rest of the world or how other people feel. We were still wanting to play around and make jokes. We were thinking about the football game that was supposed to go on that night. But the game got cancelled, and it became more real."

Gravity grabbed her when she arrived home that afternoon, she said. Her parents were submerged in the news, as the TV etched the images, retelling the story as it echoed throughout the house.

"That's when I got scared. At school, there were things they couldn't show and wouldn't let us see. At home, it took things to another level. The news showed the history behind the attacks and the hatred toward America. It elevated the situation. The pivotal moment was the ‘Shock and Awe Attack' (President George W.) Bush did — whatever that was. I don't even remember it that well now, but I remember there was bombing, and I thought, ‘if they can do that to that country, they can do it to us.' There was more destruction. My parents were panicking and talking about bio-terrorism."

Being from a military family and living so close to Fort Gordon Military Base, the Grimes family mobilized, she said. They developed survival kits and prepared for the worst.

"It was high anxiety. This was the big unknown, and as a kid, my imagination ran wild. We had to be prepared for anything. We went into security mode. I pretended no one was out there plotting against us just to create some normalcy for myself."

But things were not normal, and Grimes found herself constantly reminded of this, as her parents continued to implement a strategic defense plan for the family. They conferred with other military families and with the nearby base for advice on ways to be prepared for more attacks.

"It was about protecting our home and family and being prepared for anything."

Today…

"I feel even more nervous. When Osama bin Laden was killed, I just prayed. I feel like an attack is going to happen. Even though we have these organizations and defenses in place, I feel like if they want to attack us, they will. Sept.11 showed me there's hate in the world, and there are kinks in our security — that became a reality, instead of the idea that ‘that will never happen to America.' It's still there. There is tension, terrorism and violence. People just have to be prepared, and some military training is better than none. I'm more on the lookout now. I create my own safety."

Question everything

Like the rest of the world, Nate Todd, 30, became a TV addict the day of Sept. 11, 2001. He'd just nestled into a day off, preparing to spend some quality time with his couch and remote control, when he saw the many stories of the attacks consuming every minute on every channel. His initial reaction: "Let's go to war."

"But that has changed in the last 10 years, drastically," he said. "It got me into politics. Instead of watching sports and things like ‘American Idol' — I had no desire — it was all history, politics and monetary systems."

By about 2005, Todd admits, he might have developed an obsession for the truth behind 9-11.

"I started looking into the events of what happened — the details — instead of sitting idly by and letting the media tell me what happened. I started reading and researching on the Internet. I literally watched hundreds of documentaries. It changed my whole view on everything. At first, I was for (George W.) Bush; I was for war, but I was young and under-educated."

No matter how the information was spun, it came down to the numbers, and they didn't add up, he said. With a background in construction and experience with blue prints, architecture and engineering, the collapse of World Trade Center 7 literally baffled him beyond belief. Building 7, which is similar in size to a 47-story football field, was a neighboring building at Ground Zero. It was not struck by a jet that day, but by 5:30 p.m., it was a pile of dust and rubble just like its twin brothers. Todd says, facts behind 7's dissolution were being suspiciously overlooked by media.

"In the beginning, everyone just wrote it off. But the way 7 came down, the official story doesn't mention it, and the media don't touch it — they barely even admit the building exists. But the physics, the geometry and the mathematics, it just doesn't add up."

So Todd took action by distributing 9-11 documentaries and other documents to everyone he knew. Some came back with questions of their own, like his pastor at his church, while others refused to listen.

"My grandma doesn't want to believe it, but I love the argument," he laughed. "It's a big concept to try and explain. I think I have an idea, but it's a much bigger picture. Almost everyone in that administration is to blame, in my eyes. Everybody blamed everybody else, and then they all got promotions and even more power granted to them. Meanwhile, it's chipping away at our liberties and freedoms by instilling fear. My only fear is that it could lead to some form of slavery, and there could be a day when people won't even know what the Bill of Rights is, or what liberty truly means."

But rather than fear or hatred for our attackers, Todd feels impassioned — a rejuvenated focus on "the important things in life," such as his family and his health. While the fear of terrorism lingers in the back of his mind, like a kite stuck in a tree, it is not an anxiety Todd's willing to entertain.

"Something could happen anytime, anywhere — even while crossing the street. But more people die of a bee sting every year than from terrorism. So am I supposed to be afraid every time I see a bee?

"It just makes me want to tell people: keep being informed; look at it from every angle; consider all theories; and question everything, especially from mainstream media sources. The Internet and alternative media are good starting points for information. I don't watch TV, and I don't watch the news anymore. I read a lot more books, and I try to look at all the information — weed through everything — in order to figure out which is the best truth. Ten years later, I want to see a big push for the truth.

"I support our first responders, the victims and their families and military personnel, but I don't support the war or the leaders behind it. It's like the big bully on the school yard walking around punching out the little guys. Eventually one of those little guys, or a group of them, will rise up and take the bully out. If China came here and did to us what we're doing to the Middle Eastern countries, we'd be arming our children, too. Every time our bombs kill civilians, we're recruiting more enemies — more potential terrorists.

"We have a good idea here in America and the system to keep it that way, but it's not perfect. But it's the best model of freedom in the world. Am I a proud American? Yes. I'm a proud father and a proud husband, but I'm not proud of what's going on right now."

Today…

"Now I'm very passionate about everything I do every day I'm alive. I look at my kids, and it brings a tear to my eye sometimes. I'm more passionate about my family and life in general. My wife and my three kids — making their future better than mine, that became my passion.

A dangerous world

Is the world as dangerous as it ever was, and did 9-11 make us more aware? Or, is the world a more dangerous place as a result of the tragedy that took the lives of nearly 3,000 regular folks just starting the work day, and the thousands we've lost in battle over the last 10 years?

A decade has gone by, and although we occupy our minds and lives with daily duties and routines, 9-11 is not forgotten by any means. The day will stay in our memories and scar our history forever. 9-11 is remembered. CV

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9/11 Day of service and remembrance project to support military youth

250 volunteers expected at Gray's Lake to promote community service and commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

What: First annual September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance Community Walk. Before engaging in a two-mile walk around Gray's Lake "in the shoes of a soldier," volunteers will participate in a tribute event to honor the lives and legacies of the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Volunteers will also participate in a large-scale service project to benefit military children and youth.

When: Sept. 11, 2011, noon – 3 p.m.

Where: Gray's Lake, 2101 Fleur Drive, Des Moines.

Who: Approximately 250 volunteers of all ages and abilities, including local first responders, military families, veterans and community members, are invited to attend this tribute event featuring keynote speakers, retired Brigadier General Doug Pierce, who is the current mayor of Norwalk and Commander of the 132nd Fighter Wing during the 9-11 attacks, and Lucas Beenken, Wright County Supervisor and Iraq War veteran.

For more information: Contact Melissa Simmermaker, Des Moines AmeriCorps Alums President, at 725-3187 or dsmamericorpsalums@gmail.com.

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Facebook Comments (left unedited)

Tragedy struck our nation almost a decade ago, but we have not forgotten in those 10 years — where we were, who we were with, how it made us feel, how we reacted. Everyone old enough to remember Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 has his or her own story to tell. What is yours? What do you remember about 9-11?

Kelli Turk

It was my 18th birthday. I was sitting in 1st period at Lincoln High School, having a wonderful morning. When the bell rang to head to 2nd period, we still didn't known just then what had happened. I walked into my 2nd period class and sat ...down by the television just in time to see the second plane crash into the second tower. We spent the day crowded around elevisions in various classrooms watching the horror of the day unfold. I remember calling my dad to wake him up and make him turn on the television. Going out to dinner that night for my birthday and watching even more coverage on the tv's in there. To think that our country was so vulnerable to an attack like that caused a fear that went through the entire nation but it also brought a sense of pride in our country that today seems to have faded. I only wish that the amazing show of Patriotism and mutual respect that every American showed one another in the following weeks were still here today. I'm not sure when that disappeared or why, but we should not have to wait for another tragedy to show our love for one another. God Bless America

Matt Paardekooper

I was working at farm bureau that day listening to the radio when I looked up from my work and noticed all the women in my area crying . I had no idea what was happening. People were starting to panic lots wanted to go home . When I got home that night I saw the devestation for the first time. Got goosebumps thinking about that day.

Steven Christiansen

Senior year of HS in current events class when I find out. Had open period for the next 2 hours and spent it in the senior lounge with my class mates watching the news. I remember it being so quiet while we all watched. Some people cried but mostly we sat in stunned silence. I was panicking because my dad was at Aberdeen military base in Maryland and I couldn't reach him due to the cell phones going down. As long as I live I will remember that morning.

Raylee Melton

I was working at Dun & Bradstreet in DM. They had an office in the towers so all the managers were crying. They sent us home to be with our families. I watched the day unfold in the diner with my Uncle Larry, cousin Bill and Baby Melanie in Redfield.

Diana Miller Casteel

I was working at hy-vac with the chickens,in a building by myself listening to the radio. At the time i heard the news they didnt know yet that it was air planes they thought that we were being bombed in different places all at once. What an eerie feeling that was because they didnt know what or where the next one was going to hit. I never thought that i would ever hear of so much evil here in the U. S. A. I also remember how clear and quiet our skies was for a week or so after that because they wouldnt allow any air traffic in the skies. That was really eerie to.

Sindy Baker

We were at the hospital with my Dad who is no longer here RIP to them all and never forget



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