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Remembering 9/11: Officials, residents share memories

September 9, 2016
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Even without knowledge of what was to come, news of the crash of the first plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center early Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, grabbed the attention of Americans across the country.

Televisions were turned on. Family members were called or awakened.

And as we watched smoke billowing from the massive damage to floors 93-99, we saw a second plane come into view and crash into the south tower in a massive fire ball.

The world changed between 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. as realization came that the crashes were no accident, that New York City - and America - was under some type of attack.

President George W. Bush acknowledged that reality within minutes, calling it an "apparent terrorist attack on our county."

The events that followed - the deliberate crash of a third plane into the Pentagon, the collapse of the south tower, the crash of a fourth plane into a field in Pennsylvania, the collapse of the north tower - hammered that fact home in just 102 minutes.

The official death toll has been set at 2,977 people; the blame attributed to 19 highjackers with the Afghanistan-based Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda.

As America marks the 15th anniversary with various remembrances for the dead, we asked officials and residents in and around Lee County to share their most vivid memories:

"At the time I was the Deputy Supervisor of Harrison Township in Michigan. The Township was hosting a meeting of the other township officials in the area to work on our NPDES Phase II permit. We were sitting at the conference room table inside Town Hall when a member of my staff came in and whispered in my ear that two planes had hit the twin towers in NYC and that a member of the General's staff from the Selfridge Air National Guard Base was on the phone for me. At the same time all the beepers in the room went off. I spoke with the staff member and was told that it appeared the USA was under attack and that the planes stationed at the base would be taking off 'hot.' No sooner had he said that we could all hear the jets roar above us.

"The rest of that day was one of watching as the media covered what was going on, listening to the jets take off and talking with residents who were understandably concerned and scared. At the end of our day I asked our staff to join me at the flag pole and we said the Pledge of Allegiance and offered prayers for those who were loss, those who were the first responders and for the well-being of our nation.

"I will never forget the feeling I had driving into the office that day. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, the sky was that color it gets in Michigan when the autumn is getting ready to announce its arrival and yet I had this odd feeling that something was just off. I had mentioned the unease to someone in the office. Little did I know what was about to happen an hour later."

- Cape Coral Councilmember Rana Erbrick


"I remember it like I do when Kennedy was shot. I was still laying in bed at home in Alva. I awoke my wife and said you need to watch this. It's incredible, something has happened in New York. We actually saw the second plane crash. It was a long time into the day before we had a clear understanding of what had happened. It was a day that will live in infamy - another one."

- Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann

Commissioner Mann, who already had a trip planned to New York for a college reunion in little more than a week, thought about canceling the trip in the wake of the attack but decided to go.

"We decided to go ahead and meet. Everything had changed. We got one of those tour boats that go around the Hudson and we were in view of the wreckage; the smoke was still coming out. It was an eerie, eerie feeling. We were so struck, we could not speak. You could see the smoke coming from what had been the twin towers. You looked back and it was a very emotional scene and we were all struck by the profound nature of what had occurred."

Flying back to Fort Myers out of Logan International Airport in Boston - the airport from which the planes that hit the World Trade Center took off - Mann experienced his first pre-flight pat down.


"We were visiting our daughter in North Carolina. I didn't see the first plane hit, but then they replayed it and I knew as a pilot that the plane doesn't fly level into a building in clear weather. I didn't have to wait until the second one to know what happened. At Pearl Harbor they attacked us away from the United States. On 9/11 it was in the U.S. and it hit me. Pearl Harbor was one of two times I saw my mother cry because she knew my brother and I would have to go. When I saw it was an attack, that was my most vivid memory."

- Hal Crispi, Army Air Corps, WWII, Korea and Vietnam


"I had just come out of the doctor's office and went to pay the bill and everyone was glued to the TV. I asked what was happening and they said the World Trade Center was hit by a plane. I know there are nuts in the world and I thought 'Here we go.' I never forgot those people jumping out of the building to get out of the flames. I was a volunteer fireman in New Jersey. I know what flames are and how hot they are. When you feel that heat, that 50 feet becomes five feet. You have to get out."

- Jerry Montagnino, Korean War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, Army, Marine Corps


"The shock and sadness for the people in the WTC. Also the smell of the smoke I will never forget."

- Cape Coral Councilmember Rick Williams, who was living on the Connecticut coast, downwind from the smoke and the dust that 'covered a fairly large area.'


"I was working at a telephone company in Upstate New York. I was working with six engineers and was drawing on auto-CAD when I turned around and there were no engineers. They had all left me. I went down the hall and everyone had gone into a conference room with the big monitors. That's when I saw it. I could smell the napalm and I had to leave the room, violently ill."

- K.D. Marlowe, Air Force, Vietnam War


"I turned on the TV news in the FSW (then Edison Community College) library, where I worked at the time, after hearing that the first plane hit the WTC. After several students had gathered to watch, we all saw the second plane crash, live. The gasp and the silence and the shock and the horror... I can still feel that."

- Cape Coral Councilmember Jessica Cosden


"So many things but the planes hitting the tower, people walking along hazy streets totally dazed, the second tower falling unexpectedly killing numerous people that were in the building trying to save lives. It was the beginning of the awakening and the distrust of our American values while we doubled down on bringing those responsible to justice. We have been safe since but we have changed very much."

- Cape Coral Councilmember Jim Burch


"I was in an office in Fort Myers. Some people came out of an office that had a TV and said the World Trade Center got hit by an airplane. My first thought was that it was one of those little helicopters doing tours and it took a wrong turn. It took a few minutes to sink in that it was more dramatic. I got to a TV when the second one hit and saw that. That was my most vivid memory. We were wondering during that whole morning and trying to figure out if we should close the office down."

- Ralph Santillo, National Guard veteran


"My most vivid memories of that tragic day are the heroics displayed by public safety personnel, particularly firefighters, who sacrificed their lives in an attempt to save others. I think the actions of the Fire and Police Departments in New York City became the nucleus for how we as Americans respond to such a crisis."

- Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag


"I was driving on Colonial Boulevard with my wife looking for a BBQ grill. I heard about 9/11 on the radio and was astonished. I went home right away, turned on the TV and saw the towers come down. It was so horrible and so riveting. You couldn't take your eyes away from it."

- William Deile, Retired Army Colonel


"I believe what shocked us the most that morning was not the unthinkably diabolical method used to attack us, or the scope and magnitude of the attacks. What was most shocking was that our very way of life was attacked, right here on our own soil. We asked ourselves, 'How could something like this have happened?' All of us - sons and daughters, husbands and wives, co-workers and friends - were doing nothing out of the ordinary that typical Tuesday morning. However, to this day I can remember exactly what I was doing and where I was when I heard the tragic news of the attack. I was working in my patrol car at the intersection of Veterans and Country Club Boulevard heading back to


- Cape Coral Police Chief Dave Newlan


"I was 31 that horrific day. Just driving into State Farm for work when I heard on the radio a plane had hit one of the towers. As I got inside, I stood mesmerized at the TV with all my coworkers around. You could hear sobs coming from many including myself as we watched the towers burn, people jumping and eventually seeing the two towers crumble. The memory that has left the most impact is having to talk to my daughter, who was 4, about why everyone was crying all the time and why she couldn't watch TV. I learned that day to always hug my children a little tighter. Life is too short."

- Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki Retzer


"I was 3 years old at the time, but I remember the TV being on and my mother was concerned about my dad's safety."

- Steven Placke, Cape Coral, FGCU student


"I lived an hour and 45 minutes from Ground Zero. So many memories, but I was worried about my children being safe because I was not with them and I needed to go to them and make them safe immediately."

- Kevin Johanson, Cape Coral, security


"I was in the dollar store in New Jersey when someone yelled out that a plane hit the World Trace Center, and soon another plane hit the second tower."

- Marlene Doherr, Cape Coral, retired


"I was in Charleston, S.C., on a tour when a woman in black got on the bus and told us. We stopped at the market and we saw the second tower go. I visited family in New York the next day and you could still see smoke in the air."

- John Kahlke, Cape Coral, retired


"I was stunned when the plane hit the second tower and all the firefighters who were killed, and all the illnesses afterward are so sad."

- Valerie Clayton, Cape Coral, disabled


"Seeing the towers falling and knowing my brother firefighters were being killed."

- Mike Sembert, Cape Coral, self employed


"Like many other Americans on 9/11, I think I felt just about every emotion possible. But there is one feeling that will stick with me forever. On that day and for a short time after, I felt like we truly were one nation. It seemed that people were kinder, more patient and looked at each other as humans. The labels disappeared and we just helped each other as we mourned the loss of so many innocent lives. I pray that we will see that kind of love return to the United States again and that it won't take a national tragedy to bring it back.

"I was working in television news at the time. September 11th was my day off. My father, knowing my passion for breaking news, called me and told me turn on the TV after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I turned it on about the same time as the second plane hit. Immediately, I got ready and headed into work. They didn't have to call; I knew it would be an all hands on deck situation. I was assigned to cover the local blood donations that day. I was so touched by the thousands of people who wanted to help the hurting. Even though we saw true evil carried out on 9/11 in a way that we'd never seen before, on that day, I also saw the very best in my fellow citizens."

- Lee County Commission Brian Hamman



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