Joined by local officials and faith leaders, The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms will host a solemn outdoor service of remembrance Sept. 11 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Joined by local officials and faith leaders, The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms will host a solemn outdoor service of remembrance Sept. 11 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Photo by Inner Circle Photography, provided by The War Memorial


20th anniversary of 9/11 inspires reflection among local officials, resident

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 8, 2021

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GROSSE POINTES — It was a devastating day that changed life in America in a matter of hours.

Sept. 11, 2001, dawned like any other, but before the morning was over, a band of terrorists would claim thousands of innocent lives as the nation watched television news coverage in horror. Twenty years later, local residents are remembering that day and paying tribute to those killed in the attacks.

The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms will again hold a service of remembrance in honor of those who died. War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke said he believes this is the third year they’ve offered this service, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11 on the lakefront lawn. The program is free, but attendance is limited to 100 people because of COVID-19. Attendees must RSVP by noon Sept. 10.

According to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website, 19 al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners for the purpose of crashing them into selected targets. The first two planes struck the north and south towers of the World Trade Center Complex in New York. A third airliner slammed into the Pentagon in Virginia. Passengers on the fourth plane, Flight 93, upon learning what had happened elsewhere, fought the terrorists, causing their plane to crash into an empty farm field in Pennsylvania. The attacks claimed 2,977 lives — 2,753 in New York; 184 at the Pentagon; and 40 on Flight 93.

The War Memorial service will include reading the names of the 19 Michiganders who died that day, along with moments of silence at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., the times when the planes crashed into the towers.

“It will be a moment to reflect on the Michiganders who were lost … and reflect at the exact moments (of the New York attacks) through word and fellowship and song,” Burke said.

Among those lost was David Alger, 57, a native of the Pointes who was running his family’s successful investment fund company, headquartered in the World Trade Center. Alger and most of the firm’s employees died that day.

“It was a moment in our history that I think is ingrained in the memory of anyone who lived through it,” Grosse Pointe Farms City Manager Shane Reeside said.

Reeside, who was the Farms’ assistant city manager then, recalls city employees huddling around a TV in the fire department day room.

“(We were) just trying to grasp what was going on,” Reeside said. “And then we saw the plane strike the second tower (as it happened). It was all so surreal.”

It was a time before social media — Myspace wasn’t founded until 2003; Facebook, 2004; and Twitter, 2006. Instead, people in public and private spaces collected around television sets as the story unfolded.

“It was people gathering together and mourning the loss,” Reeside said.

Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Bruce Smith was a lieutenant in charge of the Oak Park Public Safety Department detective bureau in 2001.

“I was in my office, and someone came in and said a plane hit the New York Trade towers, and I said, ‘How could that happen?’” Smith recalled. “So we ran into the conference room to turn on the TV. And then another plane flew into the other (tower), and it just made you sick to your stomach.”

Smith said they also saw first responders racing to the scene after the first tower was hit, only to die in the line of duty as the second tower was struck and both towers, engulfed in smoke and flame, collapsed.

“Life in the United States instantly changed,” Smith said.

Since 2001, nearly another 300 first responders have died from illnesses related to the toxins they were exposed to fighting fires and searching the rubble for survivors.

In September 2001, Grosse Pointe Park City Councilman James Robson was a recently retired Wayne County Sheriff’s Office police commander at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus. He was shopping at English Gardens in Eastpointe when he “heard some rumblings” about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. Like most people, he at first thought it had been a freak accident — until the second plane hit.

“I knew it was game on and a completely new era, and another level of security concerns were upon us,” Robson said.

The day “has special meaning” to Robson, because the victims included a friend and colleague, Port Authority Police Inspector Anthony Infante, who worked at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Infante was at a Jersey City meeting when news spread about the first plane crash, and he was one of those who rushed to the scene to help evacuate the crumbling buildings.

“Lovable guy,” Robson said. “I’d meet him at these (airport security) conferences. He had that classic Bronx dialogue and Bronx attitude.”

Grosse Pointe Park Mayor Robert Denner was working in his home office that day when his wife, Nancy, called him out to see what she was witnessing on TV. Denner said it was “the most tragic thing I can remember.”

“It was just horrifying,” Denner said. “To have live television coverage of that, it’s almost more than you can handle. Many, many people know somebody who lost their life. It had a devastating effect that was really personal.”

Reeside said 9/11 had “a profound impact” on government and police operations, as well.

The Pointes began “looking at areas of vulnerability that we had never thought of before,” Reeside said.

“It changed everything,” Reeside said. “Airport and airplane security changed dramatically. As a little kid, I remember the door to the cockpit was open and the flight attendants (would encourage children) to go inside.”

“One of the most unfortunate things they instituted is, they don’t allow non-passengers to go to the gate area (anymore),” Robson said. “Younger people don’t even realize you could do that (at one time).”

Making sense of 9/11 was challenging for everyone, but it was more daunting for some than others. Jeffrey D. Brasie, of Grosse Pointe Woods, was living in Cincinnati in 2001, where he was the CEO of Clovernook Centers for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Cincinnati-based rehabilitation organization that also had offices in Dayton, Ohio, and Memphis, Tennessee. He said more than 70% of their staff and clients were blind or had very limited vision, and some were hearing impaired, as well. One of the big hurdles they faced was interpreting what had taken place for people who had never seen a skyscraper or a commercial airliner, much less a plane crashing into a building. Brasie said vision specialists in all three offices likened these sights to something those without vision had experienced — comparing a commercial plane to a much larger bus with many more passengers, or a tall building’s height to the equivalent of walking a certain number of city blocks.

“It was difficult — it really was,” Brasie said “God bless the people who could explain this. … It was horribly emotional. No matter whether it was a person you were serving or an employee, it was very hard to explain why this happened.”

None of the students enrolled in the Grosse Pointe Public School System were alive when 9/11 happened. GPPSS Superintendent Jon Dean said classroom discussions about that day are “age-dependent.”

“We don’t have a districtwide program (for 9/11),” Dean said. “All of our teachers recognize the tragedy and importance of that event.”

Sept. 11 offers a lesson in American resilience, too.

Reeside and his family visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York several years ago. He said he was struck by “the many firefighters and police and doctors and good Samaritans who rushed in to help, and perished when the towers collapsed.”

In the midst of so much devastation, “the human instinct was to save lives,” Reeside said.

For reservations or more information about The War Memorial’s 9/11 service, visit www.warmemorial.org or call (313) 881-7511.

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