Tri-cities airport hosts 9-11 remembrance

Photo By Rick Harris
Deputy Chief Craig Dye of the Kingsport Fire Department rings the ÒFiremanÕs BellÓ in honor of those who perished in the September 11, 2001 attacks. (Inset) A patriotic father comforts his young daughter who is overcome by the emotion of the tribute.

"The essence of America is its citizens."

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
Two years has passed, and Sept. 11, 2003 started out the same way as that tragic Tuesday morning commonly known as 9-11. Sunny skies and warm fall temperatures greeted New York City on that morning, but no one knew that four airline flights had been hijacked, which would cause well over 3,000 people to lose to their lives and the rest of us to always remember that horrific morning.
On the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Tri-Cities Regional Airport hosted a regional remembrance of those whose lives were lost and those whose job requires them to sacrifice their lives so that others might live.
Chairwoman of "Remember, Salute and the Ultimate Sacrifice" Lee Fish began the tribute while a fly-over salute was performed by the United States Air Force. More than 500 people gathered on the tarmac of Tri-City Aviation at 7 p.m. to hear keynote speakers General Gordon R. Sullivan and Chief James B. Gargan speak about 9-11.
"Essence. What is the essence of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard; the essence of the Sullivan County Police Department; the essence of the firefighters who are sitting here? Oh I can take you places and show you the essence of the Navy. I could take you to Pearl Harbor. I can take you out in the Arizona Memorial and ask you to look down into the black water of Pearl Harbor ... where over 1,000 sailors are still entombed in that ship," said President and Chief Operating Officer for the Association of the United States Army and former Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Gen. Gordon Sullivan.
"You can think of the essence of the U.S. Marine Corps which are standing to my right, or the major down in front. Essence. The essence of the United States of America is in our armed forces and these first responders. The essence of the U. S. is not monuments. It is not marble. It is you. It is you, sitting here on this tarmac. It is the American people. You are the strength of America. You are it's essence. Those who wait, those who support and those who protect us each and every day in our communities where we live. And those who take the fight to the enemy. I served as an American soldier for 36 years, and the longer I served the more I knew that the strength of America was the young men and women in uniform."
Sullivan told a story of a paratrooper whom he visited in the hospital with former president Bill Clinton. The young woman spoke with the president while lying in bed and told him she had something for him. She said the only item she had left after the crash that injured her was her paratrooper's coin. She gave it to the president. To Sullivan, that gift was the essence of America.
The second keynote speaker, Chief James B. Gargan, Ground Zero representative and volunteer, said he didn't like the term "Ground Zero" so he referred to it as WTC (World Trade Centers). Gargan spoke of his experiences while he served at the "dump" of the trade centers. He sifted tirelessly through equipment, wreckage, and over a 100 rescue vehicles uncovering forensic evidence for two weeks after the attacks.
"9-11 holds a special place in my heart. It changed my entire life. It is something I am proud of. But it is one of those things, that 'No, I would never do it again. No way.' It changed my life to the point that a word, a song, or a picture destroys me," said Gargan.
Gargan struggled to fight back tears as he told stories, one about the antennae on top of the tower which stands over 400 feet high and is 20 feet in diameter. When the plane struck the tower, five people went into rooms inside the antennae for protection. Those people were able to make phone calls to their loved ones and thought they would be protected because they were inside the antennae. Little did they know that the antennae would plummet straight down through the building.
The scene was "total destruction, total devastation, total incineration, and that's what made it frustrating," said Gargan. "Rescue ... forget it. There were very few (people) that were brought out. Some stories were told that were unrealistic."
One true rescue story was about a victim named John who was pinned to the elevator shaft on the eighth floor up to his chest. Right across from him was a New York City police man who was pinned to his waist. John could not move, but the seriously injured cop managed to find his firearm.
"He ran off a few rounds to let the rescuers know where they were. They found them. The city cop died, but they dug John out. He was the last one of the hospital," said Gargan. "They thought he was going to lose both legs, but I am here to tell you that he survived and he still has his two legs."
Gargan possesses the second largest piece of the fuselage of Flight 175 out of Boston. This was the second plane that hit at 9:03 a.m. The piece is five feet long and is of two windows. Gargan said he is haunted by an image of two women whom he sees sitting inside the windows. The piece was recovered from a car that it had struck. The Mitsubishi car was chopped in half from front to back by the fragment of Flight 175.
Inside the destroyed vehicle, Gargan and his crew discovered the car belonged to a young woman. They found a shoe and a leather keychain with a picture of what could be the woman's two young children. Nothing else is known about the fate of the woman, but Gargan said the rest of the car was totally incinerated.
"In my mind, and in the mind of every firefighter here, let me just tell you that internally there are no heroes. None. None. That's our job. That's what we train for. We look forward to doing it. We lost all them kids up there for a reason. That was a change of shift. Half of them should not have been there. All of my rescue companies, I lost at least half. They should have not have been there. They should have gone home," Gargan said.
"But you look down the street and you see the New York World Trade Centers gone, that's the biggie. The adrenaline flows and you want to be part of it. But the one thing that it has done, it has made people appreciate us a little bit better and I love you for it," said Gargan as he choked out the last few words of his speech.