This Statue of Liberty fiberglass replica is on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City. In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks  on the World Trade Center, it stood  outside a Manhattan firehouse.

This Statue of Liberty fiberglass replica is on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City. In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, it stood outside a Manhattan firehouse.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

Local community reflects on 20th anniversary of 9/11

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published September 4, 2021


MACOMB COUNTY — Nearly two decades have passed since the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil took place.

Sept. 11 is the 20th anniversary of a series of events that have become a fixture in the identity of Americans old enough to recall the day.

On that day, almost 3,000 people were killed during the attacks when 19 individuals associated with the militant group Al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against U.S. targets. Two of the planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; a third plane struck the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.; and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

To commemorate the anniversary, C & G Newspapers spoke with local people who shared their stories from that time in American history.

Staff Sgt. Drew Schumann, of the 127th Wing public affairs office at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, said 9/11 was his first day of community college in New Jersey.

“I was driving on I-676 in south Jersey and remember not seeing any planes in the sky,” he said. “That was right in the flight path of Philadelphia International Airport. I thought, this is creepy and there were signs saying Lincoln Tunnel and Holland Tunnel closed. That’s never the case.”

Schumann said that he heard on his alarm clock radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.

L’Anse Creuse Public Schools Superintendent Erik Edoff at the time was a teacher at L’Anse Creuse High School-North in Macomb Township.

“I remember that day exactly,” he shared. “I don’t remember exactly the first whisper or talk, it was obviously before smartphones and streaming. We had televisions in classrooms, but they had live TV.”

At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the south tower.  

Edoff remembers turning on the TV and seeing the towers still standing, shortly before they collapsed. The south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., the north tower at 10:28 a.m.

“I remember it being very quiet in the class,” he said. “Students were watching.”

Edoff recalls that a couple of kids were not paying attention to news coverage for a second, and he and his teaching partners made the statement that “we don’t know what’s happening right now, but this might be the most significant event of your lives so far. Please pay attention.”

Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts said 9/11 was one of those life events, like when President John F. Kenndy was assassinated, that people know where they were. What stands out to him in the weeks following the attacks was how the United States came together.

“You think of it now with what is occurring in our society and think back to then, we had an understanding of who we were as Americans,” he said. “Regardless of what our differences are and how we think about things politically, we knew we were all Americans and that was the most important bond we had.”

Macomb Township Fire Chief Robert Phillips said what he recalls most from 9/11 is how emergency responders were all ordinary men and women who got up that morning, put their uniform on, went to work, doing exactly what was expected of them.

“Probably a lot of them knowing what the outcome would be,” he said. “It didn’t faze them, it didn’t slow them down. They did everything they could to save lives.”

The Never Forget Project’s website indicates that the Fire Department of New York, or FDNY, lost 343 firefighters on 9/11.

Phillips said positive public sentiment of first responders peaked on 9/11 and soon after the attacks.

On 9/11, now Macomb Township Firefighter Joe Warne was working at a car dealership.

“One of the guys came down and said a plane hit the building, and we all said yeah right, that’s impossible. Then the second plane hit, and we watched it live,” Warne said.

The Macomb Township resident said he was probably like every other American seeing what was happening.

“I was angry and wanted to get the people who did it,” he said. “Over the years, you still get angry watching the footage. Knowing what I now know about cancer, it put occupational cancer on the map for firefighters.”

For three years now, Warne has taken a 140-mile walk, with funds raised benefitting firefighters with cancer.   

“So many more, other than the 343 heroes that went up, knowing they were going to their deaths, many guys digging through the rubble ended up contracting cancer from being in those fumes, the jet fuel and all those toxins,” he said.

Looking back on that period in American history, Warne said Sept. 12, 2001, was really the iconic day.

“Everybody loved each other that day,” he said. “There were flags flying on every house and every building.”

At the time of 9/11, Army Maj. Gen. Darren Werner was 33 years old, a major in the Army and stationed at Fort Hood in Texas as part of the 4th Infantry Division.

Werner, of Macomb Township, is the commanding general of the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, Army Materiel Command. He is based at the U.S. Army Garrison-Detroit Arsenal in Warren.

“I got into my office that morning, and there were a couple of folks already there,” he said. “The morning news was on the radio, and I can remember the broadcaster talking through what was happening. The way they described the first plane was a small unidentified airplane that was off course. As the day unfolded, it went from a plane in distress with mechanical problems to something that changed everything from that point on and the world we live in today.”   

Werner said his division was preparing for a monthly readiness review on the equipment that day.

“We had a whole new sense of importance when we sat down that day,” he said. “We knew we would be, in short order, loading the equipment up on a ship somewhere.”

On 9/11, all military installations in the U.S. were placed at Force Protection Condition, or FPCON, Delta and restricted to only military personnel.

FPCON DELTA, the highest alert, describes a situation when a terrorist attack is taking place or has just occurred in the immediate area. Additionally on 9/11, the entire airspace of the U.S. was closed by order of the Federal Aviation Administration. That marked the first time in history the order was given.

“Right after the planes went into the tower, the whole country shut down,” Werner said. “Fort Hood closed up — nobody in or out until we figured out what is going on. I know military individuals I’ve worked with in the past told me they were in different locations and had to drive across the country to get back to the Pentagon.”   

On several occasions, Werner was in foreign countries on the anniversary of 9/11 and witnessed quite a different recognition of that day than what is seen in America.

“We’re very vigilant on days surrounding 9/11 because there is a lot of emotion that goes into what they did by attacking our country,” Werner said. “Their reasoning is tied to their emotions and on the anniversary, there are some countries around the world that may not have the same ideals, who in some cases, celebrate the attacks on the U.S. I’ve been in some countries where that has been the case.”