Grand Junction looks back at 9/11
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans changed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways the manner in which they conduct their daily lives.
Even now, 10 years removed from the attacks, people in Grand Junction still are sorting out how to deal with them, from those who voyaged to New York City and Washington, D.C., in the immediate aftermath to those who tended to matters at home.
Some who lived near the attacks moved inland, others stayed put, but that day still haunts them.
“It still really upsets me,” said Marcia Hayter, who was then as she is now a seventh-grade social-studies teacher at Grand Mesa Middle School.
“Our world changed that day in a lot of ways,” Hayter said. “The kids I have are 12, and our country has been at war for their entire lives.”
Hayter’s students of 2001 processed the events that disrupted their lives by putting together a magazine of events surrounding and following the attacks. The cover depicts the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers.
When the attacks happened, “I told the kids: This is your Pearl Harbor, this is your Kennedy assassination,” Hayter said.
A decade removed, the children in her class are aware of the day, but not its enormity.
“In some ways, they were a little bit sheltered,” Hayter said of her current class, most of whom were 2 on the day of the attack. “Now to a certain degree they are ready to hear” the full story.
That story has a multitude of facets.
The day after the attacks, Arlene Goad and a friend organized a small service in an Elm Avenue church, one that has changed names several times since as congregations have moved in and out, and played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Times probably have not changed all that much, Goad said, “because it could happen again. We just need to hold onto our faith and be aware that anything can happen. There’s a lot of tragedy in the world, and the U.S. just happened to be involved in this one.”
The attacks still reverberate in the daily lives of Americans as they board airplanes to travel and are searched by the Transportation Security Administration, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. The department was established in response to the attacks.
Just-installed fencing surrounding Grand Junction Regional Airport, and similar security measures at other airports around the nation, is part of an effort to isolate airplanes from potential terrorists.
Police, fire and other emergency personnel were to be webbed together on the same radio frequency statewide, allowing them to communicate directly in the event of an emergency, an effort that is still continuing in Colorado, 10 years after the attack.
Greg Trainor, Grand Junction’s director of utility and street systems, can tick down without taking a breath the various options available if there is a threat to the municipal water supply. The city has three interchangeable sources, tests for organic and inorganic contaminants on a regular basis and could shut off a tainted supply on a moment’s notice.
A stretch of Interstate 70 is named for U.S. Army Cpl. Wade Oglesby, of Grand Junction, who died in Iraq, which was invaded in response to the 9/11 attacks.
The memory of the attacks live on in a sculpture on Seventh and Main streets, where police and firefighters are depicted showing building occupants to safety.
Now some 3,650 days after, memories of that day still trickle out.
Ken Steadman of Collbran was in the fifth corridor of the Pentagon that morning, working in the legislative affairs office.
He was on the phone, learning of the attacks in New York from a friend “and all of a sudden the building shuddered.”
Steadman said he had to work his way through the smoke-filled corridor to the parking lot.
“It was a helluva mess,” he said. “I saw Mr. Rumsfeld (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) carrying a stretcher at one point.”
Among his fellow Pentagon workers, Steadman said, “I saw a lot of heroism. They went into the building and tried to pull people out.”
In Grand Junction, World War II veteran Miles McCormack, now 90, said he marvels about “how we’ve gone this long without something happening” after the 2001 attacks.
A combat flier in World War II and Korea, McCormack said he would have “no hesitation” about flying again and noted the airline pilots he knows, “don’t think about that too much.”
Chuck Kornman of Grand Junction didn’t hesitate to board a plane immediately after the attacks, flying with other Red Cross veterans to Manhattan.
As their plane circled Manhattan, “It was just incredible, the silence” among those volunteers who had worked at many a disaster site, he said.
He and other volunteers worked with the families of people who died in New York, most them the breadwinners.
The survivors were in “more than shock,” he said. “They were just immobilized.”
Like everyone else laboring at ground zero, he breathed in the dust and fumes and developed a cough, Kornman said.
“My lungs were clear, but I coughed and coughed, and (doctors) could not figure out what was wrong. I coughed for five or six years. It wasn’t productive or anything. I just coughed.”
Today, he is a “disgustingly healthy” 88 years old, Kornman said.
But he has a pain, one that he shares with the people who saw the towers collapse, learned of the heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93, which augured into Pennsylvania farmland as terrorists and passengers battled for control, and eventually realized that it was a commandeered jet that crashed into the Pentagon.
Ten years later that pain “is a dull ache,” Kornman said, “instead of a sharp, penetrating ache like it was then.”