Grand Junction memorial helps 9/11 survivor cope

Sally Benson

Four-year-old Joseph Trevino of Grand Junction watches his flag flutter as he waves it back and forth during Sunday’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Stocker Stadium. Joseph attended with his family.

At first, Grand Junction resident Sally Benson didn’t talk about Sept. 11, 2001.

She didn’t want to relive the day a friend from the town where she was living, Deptford Township, N.J., chose to take her to the South Tower of the World Trade Center to help her conquer her fear of heights. They got to the fourth floor of the tower before Benson panicked and took the elevator back to the ground floor.

“We went outside to get some fresh air, and that’s when it happened,” Benson said.

She saw people with no other means of escape jumping from floors above where hijacked airplanes crashed into both towers of the World Trade Center. She inhaled the acrid smell of the burning towers and winced at the suffocating heat it produced. Metal, debris and ash fell from the buildings and cut into her skin, leaving scars on her arms.

Benson’s fear of heights didn’t end, and she moved to Grand Junction in 2006 partly because of its lack of tall buildings. Even the bleachers at Sunday afternoon’s 9/11 memorial at Stocker Stadium made her anxious, so she took a seat in the front row.

“Coming to these memorials helps me,” she said. “It gets a little easier each year.”

About 1,000 people attended the event, which featured the playing of “Taps” on trumpets and “Amazing Grace” on a bagpipe.

A law enforcement color guard presented one U.S. flag as another, larger one billowed in the background beneath two ladder trucks parked at the entrance to the stadium.

Grand Junction Fire Chief Ken Watkins and Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper told the crowd that 9/11 provoked many changes in public safety but not in the desire of law enforcement and firefighters to protect Americans. Camper added citizens should remember Sept. 11 as a high crime.

“I was a little irritated the other night to hear a commentator refer to it as the 9/11 tragedy, like it was a natural disaster,” he said.

Congressman Scott Tipton said terrorists failed to understand the attacks would not break the U.S.

“Each successive generation of Americans faced a challenge. We will stand firm and we will stand strong. America is on the rise and we will stand together,” he said.

Grand Junction attorney Keith Killian, who worked as an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in Turkey, drew applause at the event for mentioning the death of 9/11 conspirator Osama bin Laden this May at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs.

When asked about bin Laden after the event, Benson said she was pleased he is gone. She only wished the friend who was at the World Trade Center with her could have celebrated that news before her death in 2009 from respiratory problems likely brought on by the toxic air at ground zero.

Benson said she may return to ground zero some day to see the 9/11 Memorial. She said a waterfall-edged reflecting pool at the sight reminds her of tears.

“It seems so peaceful and serene,” she said of the pool. “But there are still scars on my memory of that day and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of them.”


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