Anger and fear – those are the two words that resounded through local residents’ memories of the attacks on the United States on 11 years ago Tuesday.
The Cherokee County Veterans Council hosted Patriot Day, an 11-year commemoration of 9/11, at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center Tuesday. American Legion Post 50 Cmdr. John Reid III was master of ceremonies.
“On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, the world – and life as we know it – changed forever,” said Reid. “The response was swift, and all Americans – either directly or indirectly – were affected that day.”
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols proclaimed Sept. 11, 2011, National Patriot Day in the city, and asked all residents to participate in memorial services and fly flags at half staff.
“Today is the day we remember all who came together in the true meaning of patriotism,” said Nichols. “We will never forget.”
Gary Chapman, chairman and CEO of the Bank of Cherokee County, was the scheduled speaker for the event, but chose instead to have granddaughter Susannah Scott, and longtime employee T.J. Spears, read other local residents’ submissions on their memories of that fateful day.
“We asked that they tell us about where they were, what they were doing and how they felt when they learned the news,” said Chapman. “We also asked one other question: If you were the leader, what would you do?”
The submissions were anonymous, but the resounding sentiment was one of fear and anger, and a willingness to always remember those who lost their lives.
“I will never forget,” wrote one contributor. “It was a peaceful morning in Tahlequah, and I was having my eyes examined. My cell phone rang, and my wife was crying, telling me to get to the nearest television, that the U.S. had been attacked.”
Another contributor, presumably a teacher, wrote that the children in his seventh-grade science class had lots of questions, like, “What are terrorists? Who are they? Why would they want to hurt us?”
“It was such a terrible thing; I remember the fear,” wrote the contributor.
Another commented that, in his mind, “9/11 created a distinct ‘before’ and ‘after’ in the United States.
At different points in the ceremony, Spears sang patriotic songs, including a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” and Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?”
Blue Star Mothers Debbie Lipscomb and Billie Walker gave the invocation and benediction, respectively.
Representatives of the Veterans Council laid wreaths on empty chairs.
Among the wreath-bearers was Gold Star Mother Bonnie Harper, whose son, B.J., died serving his country following the terrorist attacks.
“I just hope everyone truly remembers, freedom isn’t free,” said a tearful Harper.
As the ceremony closed, Blackfox-Hartness American Legion Post 135 member Jerry Gay called attention to a man sitting quietly in the audience, wearing the dress uniform of the New York Fire Department.
Gay introduced former FDNY emergency medical technician Ralph Winburn, who was at Ground Zero on 9/11 and in the days following the attacks.
Winburn and his family moved to Tahlequah in 2006. He now works for Tahlequah City Hospital EMS, as well as on the medical surgery floor at TCH. He is also a licensed practical nurse.
“America responded the best they knew how,” said Winburn. “From the FDNY standpoint, it was quick.
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