The following story first appeared on the New York Times.
Across the Nation, Tragedy Spawned Inspiration
Manny Fernandez, New York Times, Sept 11 2011
FRISCO, Colo. — The Sunday after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, several dozen friends climbed a mountain to make a declaration, and to do something to work off their awful, anxious energy.
It was partly a statement of brawn and youth: they carried a 10-by-16-foot American flag, along with 20 feet of steel pipe for a pole, up 10 miles of trail to a nearly 13,000-foot summit. There, they gathered thousands of pounds of rocks to anchor the flag against the ferocious winds that can scour the peaks here. And then it was done.
“It was like we were able to carry up the burden that was in our hearts,” said T. J. Johnson, 42, a firefighter in nearby Breckenridge who was on the original trek.
On Sunday morning, many of the same group of friends, including Mr. Johnson — older and definitely in a different spirit — gathered at the trailhead to Peak 1 of the Ten Mile Range and headed up once more.
They again carried a flag, but there would be no attempt this time to mount a grand declaration, visible for miles, about America and its determination, grit and resilience. Arriving at the summit after hiking for three hours, they unfurled a smaller, wind-tattered flag, held it aloft with trekking poles through a moment of silence and filed back down. Mr. Johnson played “Amazing Grace” on his harmonica.
“Whether we have a big pole and flag is irrelevant,” said Dave Simmons, 40, a master brewer at a local beer hall who was on the first hike and came back on Sunday.
The saga of the flag bearers of Frisco — their original plan scrawled on a cocktail napkin on the night of the attacks in 2001, to hike, raise money for the Red Cross, plant a flag — created its own web of healing, loss and anger in this ski town 90 minutes west of Denver.
In 2003, after the group had climbed twice more to replace the flag for the season, it was found burned, the pole bent and trashed, with a note attached condemning the United States invasion of Iraq that year.
A criminal investigation went nowhere.
“I know all the usual suspects — I talked to them, and they swore they didn’t do it,” said Gary Lindstrom, a former police officer, who was a Summit County commissioner at the time. Mr. Lindstrom said in an interview last week that he has puzzled over the flag attack, and the local political passions it stirred, ever since.
Things changed after the flag burning. The United States Forest Service, which had tolerated the presence of a technically illegal monument on public land, pulled back its support and threatened new flag-raisers with arrest.
Kurt Kizer, a landscaper and self-described ski bum who also was on the first hike — it was his scrawl on the napkin that sketched out the plan — was also back again on Sunday. He said the time for anger and retribution was over.
“They know what they did, and they have to live with it,” he said.
Now a new generation has been drawn in. Chris Aden, 13, learned about the climb from his mother, Pat Aden, who heard about it at a happy hour last week.
“He insisted we come,” Ms. Aden said. So a mother and a son who was only 3 years old when the towers fell, hiked together. Chris even brought his own small flag to wave from the top. KIRK JOHNSON
UNION CITY, Calif. — After more than two decades as a flight attendant, David Potvin knows all too well the fast but often fragile friendships that form among members of his perpetually transient profession.
“There’s 2,000 people based in San Francisco alone,” said Mr. Potvin, who had arrived at the city’s airport earlier on Sunday. “Sometimes you don’t see each other for a year.”
Still, the bonds that form in the air can often be stronger than those on the ground, a connection in evidence on Sunday when about a dozen flight attendants gathered here at a small, handsome memorial dedicated to United Airlines Flight 93, which took off from Newark for San Francisco but crashed outside Shanksville, Pa., after being hijacked.
Some of those who came knew the crew. “He was a funny guy,” Mary Koch said of one of the pilots, Capt. Jason M. Dahl, “always talking about his odd jobs at home.” Others simply hoped to find comfort in their colleagues’ company.
“Anybody who has flown has a connection,” said Lesley Minkey, 51, who has been with United for 27 years. “We’re still wearing the same uniform they were today. And any of us could have been sitting in that seat that day.”
Ms. Minkey had come to Union City — an East Bay commuter town of about 48,000 people, about 20 miles northeast of San Jose — with her colleague Shaunna Bohan to “be somewhere where other people we’re feeling it as well,” she said. Others had come alone, like Elton Martin, who works for American Airlines, and carried a bouquet of white roses. “I’m here to honor their honor,” Mr. Martin said.
He knew no one there, nor had he ever heard of the Union City memorial, a soft S-curve of rose-colored monoliths which was built in 2007 by a local military veteran, Michael Emerson, who wanted to honor the Bay Area’s connection to Flight 93. But as Mr. Martin became acquainted with the memorial he also came to know the other attendants who had found themselves drawn there on Sunday.
Most wore wings pinned on their chests, some studded with diamonds — one for each decade in the air — and gravitated toward a section of the stones where the crew members’ names were engraved. Some recalled the day of the attacks, while others chatted about recent trips: the hotels and layovers and various joys and aggravations of their daily, gravity-defying grind. Ms. Koch — who had worked on Flight 93 several weeks before 9/11 — said she not only knew the crew members, but what they probably were doing, and feeling, as the attacks unfolded.
“The thought that goes through my head is sitting on that jump seat, and just knowing. ...” Her voice trailed off. “I’m just so proud.”
Overhead, jets roared on final approach to Oakland’s airport, just north of here. Leslie Duenas, a retired United flight attendant, comforted Ms. Koch. And though many of the attendants did not know each other well, they felt a kinship with one another, Ms. Duenas said, and with those who had died working in their strange trade, often finding a kind of family at 35,000 feet.
“Some of these people you’ll see again,” Ms. Duenas said. “And some of them you won’t.” JESSE McKINLEY
A Daughter Remembers
DALLAS — Christina Rancke’s favorite picture of her father is the one of him relaxing at home, sitting on the couch one weekend morning with his feet up on the coffee table, reading a newspaper. He has a coffee mug on his right and his daughter on his left. She was just a toddler then, but already she wanted to be just like him: She holds a newspaper in her hands, too, and together on the couch they look like two grown-ups on a train, flipping through the day’s papers.
On Sunday morning, as she sat inside Highland Park United Methodist Church, surrounded by so many fathers and their daughters, Ms. Rancke thought of these moments from her childhood. She was 11 years old on September 11, 2001, the oldest of three children — her sister, Brittany, was 9 at the time and her brother, Todd Jr., was 7.
Her father, Alfred Todd Rancke, 42, died that morning in the World Trade Center. He was a managing director at Sandler O’Neill, an investment banking and brokerage firm, and he and his wife, Deborah, were raising their three children in Summit, N.J. His office was on the 104th floor of the south tower. Ms. Rancke knew it well: Take Your Daughter to Work Day had become their annual ritual.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him,” she said.
In Dallas on Sunday, the distance of years and miles seemed inconsequential.
The church was packed because of the anniversary of the attacks, and Ms. Rancke and her cousin had to sit in an overflow section outside the sanctuary. In his sermon, the pastor spoke of the victims and of the continuing threat of evil, and he said that dogs had to sniff the building to make sure it was safe. At one moment, her cousin, Paige McInerney, who was Mr. Rancke’s niece, grabbed her hand and held on tight — Mrs. McInerney used to work at the World Trade Center, too, and was in the building during the attacks.
Ms. Rancke lives in a sorority house near the church. She is a 21-year-old junior at Southern Methodist University, with a double major in corporate communications and advertising. “That’s my goal, to honor him and to make him proud,” she said.
A short walk from the church, rows of tiny American flags had been neatly arranged in the sections of grass outside a university museum. There were nearly 3,000 of them — one for every victim of the attacks. Ms. Rancke helped plant them. MANNY FERNANDEZ
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Like so much else in Florida these days, the ambitious and touching 9/11 memorial unveiled in this small town on a broiling Sunday was jolted hard by the recession.
It began small, with a request in 2004 for a chunk of steel from the remnants of the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the idea of a small but fitting tribute. It grew large, with 11 tons of marble for one sculpture and sheets of steel for four others. Then it got even bigger, with requests for a $1 million glass building to house the sculptures.
But reality — as well as the few choice words of a Pembroke Pines commissioner and the reluctance of taxpayers, who balked at the cost — took hold. In the end, the memorial is a testament to tragedy, courage and perseverance. But also to compromise and common sense: the steel and marble sculptures stand outside under a gazebo at a cost of $167,000, which it is hoped will be repaid through donations.
“This was designed to be delivered to the residents of Pembroke Pines at no cost to them,” said Angelo Castillo, a city commissioner here and a New York City transplant who asked Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for the piece of steel. “And my original concept was much more modest.”
“Sometimes it was difficult, but what we have here, at the end of the day, is something spectacular,” Mr. Castillo said.
The people in the crowd that pushed into the gazebo after the bagpipes grew quiet and the speeches ended could not have agreed more. To them, the cost and controversy are irrelevant.
“It’s a moot point,” said Elizabeth Ennis, 44, a physician’s assistant. “It’s a statement from the community that we stand together.”
Four towering steel sculptures ring the gazebo. One depicts a larger-than-life New York City firefighter, his jacket flapping in the wind. He is straddled by jagged towers of steel, representing the trade center’s north and south towers. A child stares resolutely from the top of a pile of steel.
The city could not afford bronze, so Felix Gonzalez, the sculptor and a retired Miami-Dade County firefighter, welded the steel. The materials were donated or were paid for with discretionary county funds. The artists, who spent years on the project, donated their time (Mr. Gonzalez receive a $20,000 stipend).
“People came out to watch me make these at an abandoned firehouse on the edge of the Everglades,” he said. “Firefighters from New York City stood there and cried and hugged me. It kept me going.”
In the center of the gazebo lies the four-sided marble sculpture, which represents shock, grief, acceptance and rebuilding. Faceless forms cower, pray, protect each other and then rise toward the sky. At the top, rests the chunk of steel from the twin towers.
“These people who died were bigger than life,” said Benoit Menasche, the 74-year-old sculptor. “How can I not give them something bigger than life.” LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Search for Renewal
NATCHEZ, Miss. — “This date is a sign.”
So began the Rev. Jon Shonebarger, and so began the Faith Independent Baptist Church, which as of Sunday morning consisted of a Facebook page, a stack of Bibles and brochures and a dozen people in a meeting room at a Hampton Inn.
There was nothing of the solemn grandeur of ground zero in New York, nothing remotely evocative of the sepulchral concrete hollows, the towers that surround them and the sense of world-altering catastrophe that lingers over them. There was coffee and muffins and hotel carpeting, and mostly empty rows of chairs.
Pastor Shonebarger has no particular connection to the tragedy. He was at a church in Oakley, Kan., at the time of the terrorist attacks, moved to Colorado for a few years afterward and since January 2010 has been the chaplain at a correctional facility outside of town here, ministering to “2,600 inmates from 71 nations of the world,” he says with a little pride.
“I deal with people from third world nations,” he said. And then, leading into his reasons for starting this church, he added, “I’m seeing America turn into something it doesn’t want to be.”
“I believe that there was something that happened in this country, a coming together,” he said of those first few days after the attacks. “There was, if I can say this, an awakening.”
Pastor Shonebarger was speaking not only, or even primarily, of the political and patriotic unity of that time. Churches were full, he said. Prayer groups were crowded.
But something went wrong. He spoke of poverty and unemployment, of natural disasters, and of spiritual drift. “Ten years later, America is in bad shape,” he said. “Why did I choose this date? I chose this date for a reason.”
His prologue finished, Pastor Shonebarger announced the day’s Scripture reading. The congregation turned to Philippians, and they set off on the reawakening. CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Trying to Find the Words
FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. — The Lincoln County Fair will still have a miniature horse race, a demolition derby and enough cotton candy to give visitors a sugar high for days.
But on Sunday, the normally lighthearted weeklong festival — one of the largest and oldest in the South — took a somber and nostalgic turn, if only momentarily.
With the carnival rides twirling and kids screaming in the background, the crowd at the giant grandstand removed their cowboy hats, put down their ice cream cones and saluted as two young girls on horseback trotted past carrying American and Tennessee flags.
“I guess today is a good day to tell her about the attacks,” said Jade Butcher, who was pregnant a decade ago with her daughter Taylor, one of the riders, and who has still not quite found the words to explain the day’s significance.
The twin towers and the Pentagon were hit while the 2001 fair was in session. The local news media, which expected to cover the carnival rides and races, instead scrambled to report news of the falling buildings. Radio coverage of the attacks was broadcast over the fairground speakers, provided by a Grand Ole Opry announcer.
The organizers then decided to keep the fair open, said Jerry Mansfield, who was the county mayor. This year, he read a handwritten memorial statement while an acoustic version of the national anthem played.
“John Wayne once described courage as ‘being scared to death but saddling up anyway,’ ” he said. “Ten years ago, courage was further defined.”
A Boy Scout troop saluted, the crowd cheered, a Baptist preacher offered a prayer, and country music was piped through the speakers.
“And now,” Mr. Mansfield announced, “the horse races!” ROBBIE BROWN
A Focus on Family
MARSHFIELD, Mo. — Balloons and banners hung from the rafters above a picnic table filled with gift-wrapped and chocolate-frosted temptations. The happy chatter of four generations broke the stillness of a typically quiet Sunday here in this small Ozark Mountains town.
It was a party, of course. Little Tristan Melton had turned 4 the day before. And his great-grandfather Greg Jackson would turn 55 the day after. So the family split the difference to celebrate. And, yes, they understood the significance of the date.
“It’s hard to get everyone together,” said Steve Holton, 43, who organized the party. “Today kind of worked out for everybody.”
This was how Sept. 11, 2011, was lived in this agricultural community of about 6,600 people, where the reminders of tragedy infused a day otherwise notable for its normalcy.
Pastor Jack Dinwiddie asked for a moment of silence and prayer at morning services at Free Will Baptist Church. Daniel and Britteny Henslee labored on their porch to clean out an old refrigerator before driving it to their grandmother’s house. And while his wife watched television coverage of the 9/11 anniversary, Derrick Young took advantage of the sunny skies and worked on his old pickup truck.
At the family reunion at the Marshfield Rotary Playground, Mr. Jackson, who remembered watching the attacks unfold on television, grilled hamburgers and bratwurst while Tristan, too young to understand the emotions imbued in the day, frolicked on his new red scooter. The rest of the family, about a dozen people, talked about the weather and jobs and one another. When asked, they said all the right things about using the day to look back and look forward. But, honestly, they would add, it was mostly about being here.
“We’re just celebrating everyday things,” said Jenny Jackson, 61, the family matriarch. “We know what the day means. But we’re focusing on the birthdays. We’re trying to enjoy life.”
Moments later, Tristan abandoned the balloon he had been harassing. His new target was a cake, wrapped in a plastic bag. After his official pleas to look inside were rebuffed he decided to brave the consequences, ripping a hole to peek inside. And seeing the generous dose of sugar that the afternoon promised, he wrapped his arms around the cake in a beaming embrace. A. G. SULZBERGER