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9/11 memories: 'I hope that we never see an event like that again'

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Editor's note: This article previously misstated who called Jeanette Johnson on 9/11. It was her sergeant.

Jeanette Johnson was working in her yard on Sept. 11, 2001, when she heard about the tragic events of that day.

“My sergeant called and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” Johnson recalled.

The first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan at 6:46 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

The Idaho Falls Police Department called her in, saying she and her K-9 partner, Kira, were needed immediately. She was on her way out the door when the news declared a second plane had hit the World Trade Center’s South Tower. It was 7:03 a.m. in Idaho Falls.

She and the department’s other K-9 team were called in to do a sweep of the Idaho Falls Airport. Though the attacks had happened more than 2,000 miles away, the officers avoided the mindset that something like this couldn’t happen in their city.

There was particular concern about the Idaho National Laboratory and whether it could be a target. The dogs searched the airport, finding no explosives. Johnson and Kira then switched their focus to checking on the city, responding to calls of suspicious cars or isolated backpacks. It was 1 a.m. Sept. 12 before she could head home.

Throughout that fateful Tuesday, Johnson and her fellow officers only caught snippets of what was happening on the East Coast. Occasionally they learned details while passing a television. Other times they listened to the radio.

“Everyone was asking, ‘Hey, do you know what’s going on?’” Johnson recalled.

Despite her exhaustion, when Johnson got home, the first thing she did was turn on the television to learn more.

“You get angry,” Johnson said of her response to learning the details of the attack and those behind it. “At least, I got angry.”

Johnson said she was also moved by the heroism of those who had responded to that day, especially the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, who sacrificed themselves to stop the hijackers on their plane from reaching their target.

Assisting with security at the airport had been an occasional duty of Johnson’s before the attack, but for the next year, she would spend the first four hours of her shift there. After a year, the alert status at airports was lowered, allowing her to spend less time there. She has still occasionally checked in over the years to assist with airport security.

“We were going to make sure, hopefully, it would never happen again,” Johnson said.

— Johnathan Hogan

‘I hope that we never see an event like that again’

Idaho Falls Fire Chief Duane Nelson was at home on Sept. 11, taking time off from his job as a firefighter to be with his daughter, who had been born a week prior.

What should have been a slow day to become acquainted with a new family member was shaken when “The Today Show” interrupted its coverage to announce a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Like most who remember that day, Nelson remembers it clearly due to the shock.

“(Our grandparents) remember where they were during Pearl Harbor. Our parents remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot,” Nelson said. “I was just sitting and holding my daughter watching the news.”

For Nelson, the attack was not simply a tragic event happening to faraway strangers. His sister had just moved to New York City and was living only a few blocks from the World Trade Center.

Much of his day was spent trying to find out if his sister was OK. Phone lines were so busy, however, as others from around the world tried to reach their loved ones with the same concern.

“It was impossible to get ahold of anybody that morning,” Nelson recalls.

Their mother later told Nelson she heard from his sister and that she was OK. It was a couple of days before he was able to talk to her directly via phone.

Though Nelson was frustrated and angry at the death and destruction, he said he was also moved by the patriotism and unification that followed across the country. He said it was a sharp contrast from today, when the country is sharply divided.

“I would hate to need those types of events to bring us together,” Nelson said. “I hope that we never see an event like that again.”

— Johnathan Hogan


Post Register reporters conducted several Q&A’s with community members who shared their remembrances from Sept. 11, 2001. Their responses follow:

Dr. KENNETH KRELL, Intensive care physician at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical CenterWhat do you remember about that day and what stands out to you the most?

I think like everybody I remember exactly what I was doing. It’s a little like if you’re old enough to remember John F. Kennedy’s death and where you were at that time. So I remember very well, I was in the CEO’s office, in Doug Crabtree’s office in administration. And someone came in and said, “You got to see what’s going on,” and then turned the TV on. And the first plane had hit the towers. It was, it was like watching a bad auto accident. You knew you didn’t want to see this, but you couldn’t really turn away. And just sat there, stunned, and then remember the second plane hitting, and being baffled by what could be going on. How could this happen? And then the fear of what did it mean was going to happen around the rest of the country. So it was, and still is even thinking about it, really disconcerting and frightening.

I think it was the uncertainty of knowing in those early hours what had occurred and what was going on that was so frightening, because it wasn’t real clear exactly what had happened for a while and how this could occur.

What were you doing? How did you feel?

I was in the administration board room at EIRMC. I don’t remember what the meeting was, but with Doug Crabtree and a number of people. And I remember nothing got accomplished in terms of that meeting after that point. So we sat there for maybe an hour and watched what was unfolding and the uncertainty of it and the horror of it.

How do you feel now looking back on it?

It still brings back those feelings of the apprehension and the uncertainty and the horror. To even think about it now, we’ve never had that kind of event in my lifetime. Fortunately, we haven’t had it since then on that scale.

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Dr. RICHARD NATHAN, Infectious Disease Physician at Snake River Research in Idaho Falls

What do you remember about that day and what stands out to you the most?

I just started a private practice in New York, in the Hudson Valley. I was driving home from a night shift. It was just a really great ride home. The music was fantastic. The sky was perfectly blue. They had a news flash about how a plane hit the World Trade Center. I didn’t think too much about it in the beginning. It seemed odd, obviously very odd. Some little private plane that had somehow gotten lost. Then a bit later, not that long later, there was another airplane. By that time, I made it to the hospital to watch it on TV, and it was an absolute disaster. Pretty soon after, we started having problems with phone reception. And my mother lost her television because she was getting over the air signal that was beamed from the World Trade Center. It was really impossible to call people. My mother had been (caught up) in the original World Trade Center bombing. She had worked in the World Trade Center and was evacuated first go around. And I had been to the World Trade Center many times visiting family and friends. By the afternoon we realized it was a colossal disaster, and we had reports from across the country about other planes being hijacked. Kind of appalled, hard to describe how awful it was.

How do you feel now looking back on it?

I feel kind of mixed. In some ways, I think we made some mistakes along the way, unfortunately. I think that going into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden was a great idea. But I think we took some detours that didn’t make sense, including invading Iraq and not really understanding what we were getting into.

Kyle Pfannenstiel

CHIP SCHWARZE, Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO

Where were you on 9/11?

Sept. 11, 2001, started out like any other day. That was until I turned on the morning news and saw footage of an airplane flying into one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center. This early on, there was no explanation for this event, only speculation. I left for work with a heavy heart as I had family near the crash.

As I arrived at work, news channels were reporting another plane had crashed into the second tower. We quickly learned these were acts of terrorism, and the mood in our office became somber. We worried about how to find out loved ones in New York. Work basically stopped. That day was spent in a blurry haze of disbelief, fear, and overwhelming sense of helplessness.

What do you remember from that day?

The horrible emptiness of that day was soon filled with hope, joy, love and pride as America came together to ensure we would never have another 9/11 in this great nation. America’s spirit sored to new heights following these dastardly attacks. I was at a Boy Scout training just a few days after where 75 adults wept each morning as we raised our great flag, then cried again as the trumpeter played Taps when we retrieved our proud flag.

Yes 9/11 was a dark day, but I remember the greatness of the nation that arose from the ashes of the World Trade Center most. Proud, strong, united. I pray we find this again through less traumatic means to ensure this nation endures and thrives.

Jakob Thorington

ERIC GOSSWILLER, Idaho National Laboratory fire chief

Where were you on 9/11?

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was listening to the radio on my way to work with a colleague and heard initial reports of a plane crash in New York City. By the time we got to the Idaho National Laboratory Site, it was clear something was up.

I watched the events unfold at INL Fire Station 1. It was unbelievably shocking and painful. I don’t think I slept for a couple of days while watching New York fire and police departments and port authority teams grieve and engage in what became a helpless rescue effort.

What do you remember from that day?

It was the Pearl Harbor of my generation. Something you can never forget.

I have a good friend who was a lieutenant with New York Fire Department Rescue 4 in 2001. He has recounted many of his experiences with me. I’ve toured Ground Zero with him. It was very powerful having him reflect on his personal experiences with many of the people named on the Reflection Pool walls. They lost so many firefighters and most of their leadership.

I was amazed at how our nation put aside differences and rallied around each other following that event and wish we could find similar civility today. I think the many who lost their lives that day would wish better of us.

Let’s never forget.

Jakob Thorington

BUD CRANOR, City of Idaho Falls Public Information Officer

Where were you on 9/11?

I was at a National Emergency Managers Association conference on terrorism and oversaw public safety and homeland security in Nevada when that day happened. I was with the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Big Sky, Montana, when the attack happened.

Like everybody, I felt a sense of disbelief and shock. Emergency managers for every state at the conference immediately went to their rooms and started calling their states to put in plans that we had. It was a surreal calm that overtook everybody as we got busy and got to work.

What do you remember from that day?

When I stop to think about it, I feel the same emotions that I felt that day. It was just an overwhelming sense of unity as a country. Nobody flew home that day, and we all got in our rental cars and started driving back to our states. As I drove through Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, there were flags lining up the streets all along the way hours after it had happened. Notes were on doors about meeting up in local churches to pray for the country and overpasses were decorated with red, white and blue and messages saying “God bless the USA.”

I don’t talk a lot about that day because it still brings a lot of emotions to the surface. It makes me grateful for good people who rush toward danger to help others. Whether it was that day or any other day, and I think America is full of those kind of people.

Jakob Thorington

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