9/11 – 10 years later: Tahoe/Truckee locals reflect on one of America’s darkest days
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. – The anniversary is coming again, only days away, when on Sunday, Sept. 11, the nation will again mourn the fall of the Twin Towers and the series of al-Qaida attacks that drew the nation into the Middle East and perhaps forever changed the way Americans view their security.Despite the event’s distance and the passage of a decade, 9/11 is far from distant in the minds of Tahoe and Truckee locals who remember the day as surreal, or remember it only in terms of emotions – words not enough for description.”I was watching the news waiting for my daughter to take her to school … it was just unbelievable,” said Interim Truckee Fire Chief Bob Bena.Being a first responder, Bena said watching the towers burn to the earth and the smoke clouds grow had an impact on him he’ll never forget.”You do understand what they’re doing. You have so much empathy because you know what they’re going through,” Bena said. “It’s hard for people to understand on the outside what first responders feel who work on the inside of emergencies.”Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Superintendent Steve Jennings said he remembers he was at home, then in Paradise, Calif., working as a deputy superintendent, exercising and watching the news.”My first thought was that it was a small airplane that got too close to the building and hit, and things started evolving from there,” said Jennings. “It was hard for me to comprehend.”Going into work later that day, Jennings said he remembers his superintendent steadfastly monitoring television coverage while at the same time trying to ensure his son, who worked in New York, was safe.”It took him a while to find out if his son was OK,” said Jennings.Truckee-Donner Recreation & Parks District board member Peter Werbel said he shared a feeling of wordless shock when a friend called him to tell him to turn on the TV.”My first reaction was ‘what do you mean were being attacked?’ And then I turned on the TV and I said ‘oh my God and I can’t believe this,'” Werbel said.However, it was the wars that followed that made the biggest impact, Werbel said, especially a funeral he was called to attend of a friend’s son who’d served the military and died in Afghanistan.”I hope I have to never go to another military funeral,” said Werbel.Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook was also watching the news before work. When the planes hit, Lashbrook said after the shock subsided, he said to himself the act could not have been an accident and remembers the day as one punctuated with resident fears and concerns.”It certainly rocked my sense of security … it certainly has changed the mindset of community and the nation since then,” said Lashbrook, adding that it reminded him of when the nation went through the Vietnam War.TTUSD Area 1 Trustee Kim Szczurek said at the time she was working in Incline Village as the administration chief for the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District. Viewing the tragedy as an emergency responder was intensely personal.”I think there has been a profound change in our perception of our vulnerability and perhaps how small the world is,” she said.Looking at her own family, Szczurek said terrorism was a reality with which she never had to deal; however, it is now for her children and those growing up in this generation.”That’s part of their life now,” she said.Chelsea Walterscheid, Truckee Donner Historical Society president, remembers the day vividly in a personal way, as her friend who works as flight attendant shared her experience as all of the planes ground to a halt nationwide and communities began offering support in masse.Walterscheid said her friend’s account told her it was an event which, for a small moment in time, galvanized Americans to see themselves not as separate individuals, but only as one nation.”It was playing on every channel,” Walterscheid said.Yet, perhaps one of the most vivid accounts from a national perspective wasn’t the chatter of televisions or the profusion of printed news, but rather, a solemn silence that saturated the American landscape.Isabelle Rodriguez, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Kings Beach, had a unique glimpse of this phenomenon as it spread throughout the nation.Rodriguez, who was working in Washington, D.C., at the time, was in Nevada on business, and she was to return to Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.With flights grounded, and determined to get home, Rodriguez said she rented a car to drive home on a cross-country trip. “It was one of the most eeriest of feelings in my life … there was a quietness in every community,” she said, as hotels were filled with grounded air passengers, and communities held their breath under the developing news.When she reached Washington, that’s when the everything came to a climax, she said, not by the commotion but by the atmosphere itself.”I don’t even have the words to describe it. I just want to say it was eerie, the air felt heavy,” she said. “The nation’s capital was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.’
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