It was a dark day in American history, a day that shattered the innocence of one generation, and a day that has loomed large over U.S. foreign policy ever since: Sept. 11, 2001.
Rusk County residents young and old remember the day well.
Henderson native Shelby Decker said she was just 13 “when the towers fell” but the realization of what was happening was not lost on her.
“I knew this was bad, like really bad, in a way that was more than just a really terrible tragedy,” she said. “But I especially remember how scared all the teachers and adults were, that’s probably what frightened me the most. Until that point I don’t think I’d ever seen a grownup actually scared.”
One of those teaching professionals was Rusk County Judge Joel Hale.
“I was principal at Henderson High School and word came through to the administration fairly early that the planes had struck the Twin Towers,” he said. “We got the news on television soon after that and, all day, we watched and thought how can this be happening.”
Hale said the school was “just wrought with emotion” that day, and people couldn’t believe what was happening in America.
“We couldn’t believe it,” he said. “You would never dream anything like this could happen.”
Disbelief, and anger were emotions felt by many in the wake of 9/11.
Rusk County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mike Pepper said he was in Longview getting a new engine for his truck when he heard about the tragedy.
“It was scary,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening.”
Pepper said everyone he came in contact with that day was in disbelief, scared about what had happened and what may be coming in the future.
“At that time, we didn’t know if that was the only attack,” he said. “We were all watching out very carefully.”
Rusk County resident Susan May lives in Kilgore and said her son Cody joined the U.S. Marines following the attacks.
“It was hard, the fear that a mother feels, but I was also angry at what had happened,” she said. “While I was fearful for my son, he’s a grown man and had to do what he felt was right. I’m just thankful he came back home.”
Cody May went on to serve in Iraq and Afghansistan. While he said he wished the Sept. 11 attacks had never happened, it feels the tragedy helped open a lot of Americans’ eyes to the world’s issues.
“I think there’s are a lot of things we were really naive about,” he said. “As horrible as 9/11 was, it showed the face of an evil that’s spreading around the world. It also showed us that we need to be more careful and aware.”
Henderson Fire Department Chief Rusty Chote agreed, citing the many upgrades required by Homeland Security measures put forth after the tragic events.
“Since 9/11, Homeland Security has come out with a lot more training for first responders,” Chote said. “There were also a lot more federal grants available for better equipment.”
Despite how these changes have aided the cause of emergency responders, Chote says the price that was paid is never far from the thoughts of firemen.
“We will always have those others on our minds in everything we do here.”
“From the moment the first attack occurred (8:46 a.m. EST) I was trying to reach him and it took until nearly noon to finally track him down,” he said. “Those were probably the worst hours of my entire life. But even after getting in touch with him it was bittersweet, because I know a lot of mommas and daddies never did reach their children.”
Sept. 11 victims’ loved ones marked the 12th anniversary of the attacks Wednesday at ground zero with the reading of names, moments of silence and serene music that have become tradition.
At a morning ceremony on the 2-year-old memorial plaza, relatives recited the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., as well as the 1993 trade center bombing victims’ names.
Near the memorial plaza, police barricades were blocking access to the site, even as life around the World Trade Center looked like any other morning, with workers rushing to their jobs and construction cranes looming over the area.
Name-reading, wreath-laying and other tributes also will be held at the Pentagon and at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.