Area residents reflect on 9/11 anniversary
By B.C. Manion
As the nation pauses to honor the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rich Diehl will be in New York to honor the memory of his brother.
The Land O’ Lakes man was selected by lottery to be among about 200 people reading the names of those who died from the attacks on that fateful day.
He and his wife, Eileen, will join Rich’s brothers and their families as they gather to honor his late brother, Michael, and others who died in the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.
Here are some recollections from the Diehls and other local residents who had a personal connection to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rich and Eileen Diehl
Diehl didn’t know what the receptionist was talking about when he walked into his office in St. Petersburg and the receptionist told him his brother was OK.
“I learned almost immediately thereafter that a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” the Land O’ Lakes man recalls.
The family thought everything was fine because Rich’s mom had talked to Michael and he had told her he was fine.
That was before another airliner slammed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
Rich saw the second plane hit.
“We were actually gathering in a meeting room and watching this all transpire on TV,” said Rich, who was working at JSA Healthcare.
As the day wore on, no one could get in touch with Michael. So, the Land O’ Lakes couple packed up the car and headed to New York the next day.
They didn’t know whether Michael was dead or alive, Rich said.
“We thought he might still be missing. We drove up there, then – thinking that maybe he would be found – hopefully found alive,” Rich said.
“Our daughter contacted the Red Cross. At one point, they said they had heard of a Michael Diehl,” Eileen said.
There was a Michael Diehl in a hospital on Staten Island, but it turned out that it wasn’t their Michael.
The couple was up in New York for about 10 days.
Authorities found Michael’s wallet and then some of his remains, said Rich, the oldest of the family’s four brothers.
There’s still pain in his eyes as Rich thinks about his brother, who was married and had two children.
“Michael and I were best friends,” said Rich, who frequently talked to his brother. “He was a great family man,” Rich said. “He valued his relationship with his mother, his wife and kids and with us.”
Eileen said Michael once told her, “You’re the sister I never had.”
Arthur “Fitz” Foster
“I was a little late getting to work that morning. As I got out of the subway, everybody started looking up. We just saw debris just floating across. A lot of paper debris. Everyone was wondering, ‘What happened?’”
He walked to his office and was at his desk on the 27th floor of the building.
“I had a window and looked toward where I saw the debris coming and I saw this big gash in the side of the North Tower. I noticed a lot of other people were at the windows, as well.”
Foster said he called his wife, who was at work in Long Island and asked if she’d heard about any problems at the World Trade Center. She told him she’d heard an airplane had crashed into one of the towers.
Foster said he couldn’t figure out how that could have happened on such a clear day.
Then, when he looked out his window, he saw the blur of an airplane going by and it struck the South Tower.
After the second plane hit, it became clear the country was under attack, Foster said. His office was evacuated.
Foster and a colleague later went back to the building to find out whether to return to work.
“Then we heard this “whooom” at ground level, we couldn’t see anymore the World Trade Center. All we knew was that this big debris field was making its way toward us. “We thought it was a bomb. It came down with such a force.”
He and a colleague put handkerchiefs over their faces and sought refuge beneath an elevated highway.
“Even when we heard the F-15s coming into town, we couldn’t see anything because of the cloud of debris, so we thought, ‘Maybe it’s enemies.’”
“You could see nothing. So, we decided to keep walking north. Largely to get out of the debris field, and also to find out what was happening.
“We saw people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and I said, ‘I’m not walking across the bridge. I don’t know how I’m going to get transport (back home) from there or whether the bridge would get blown up.’
“You just didn’t know what was happening at all,” Foster said. “We walked to the South Street Seaport.”
That was less than a half-mile, and that’s where they watched a television report to find out what was happening.
“We moved further north and when we reached Chinatown, we were able to get phone signal and I was able to call my wife.”
When they were in Chinatown, he said, they saw the second tower coming down.
“I will never forget something like that. It was like in slow motion, but the whole thing, I guess, came down in maybe 30 seconds. It just pancaked all of the way down.”
Foster said one of his friends, who worked on the 84th floor of the first tower, was late to work that day – sparing his life.
Another friend, who occasionally worked in the building to help set up technology for conferences, happened to be there that day, setting up equipment for a conference at Windows on the World.
That man, Wade B. Green, was never found.
Shortly after the attacks, Foster said his department was moved from the 27th floor of his building up to the 50th floor.
“You had people who resigned because they didn’t want to go that far up,” he said.
“I had just got done on my coffee break,” said the 67-year-old, who now lives at Westbrooke Manor and Assisted Memory Support in Zephyrhills.
He had heard the news about the first plane striking the North Tower and knew immediately that America was under attack.
Right after the airplane hit, there was soot a couple of inches thick on the cars, Chalker said.
“I went outside and I saw the second plane,” he said. “You could see the second plane aim at the second building. You knew it was deliberate.”
Chalker said he didn’t know what to do, but heard reports that the first responders needed dry clothing.
“We got involved with that. We went to Kmart. We basically bought them out,” said Chalker, who still wears the now-faded T-shirt he got from the fire department for his help after the attacks.
He saw televised reports of people leaping to their deaths.
“They were 90 floors up. You had one of two choices: You could burn or you could jump.”
He also recalled seeing people walking around, carrying fliers containing photos and descriptions of loved ones they were trying to find.
“It was terrible,” Chalker said.
The New Ground Day Camp was basically for children who lost a family member or witnessed the horror of the attacks, Stanina said.
“There were a lot of kids that saw people jumping, unfortunately.”
She said psychiatrists and counselors worked with the children.
The children drew pictures to express their feelings, Stanina said. While many of the children seemed to be coping well, some of the drawings were heartbreaking, Stanina said. She recalled one drawing, in particular. A child had drawn “a picture of daddy with wings.”
“That day happened to be my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary,” Rodriguez wrote, noting she and her husband had just dropped off their 1-year-old daughter at her mother’s to go to a dental appointment.
Her husband was in the dentist’s chair when he heard the country was under attack and rushed out to tell his wife. When the couple arrived home, they watched the towers fall.
Rodriguez said her husband, who was in the New Jersey Army National Guard was deployed to help guard the Holland Tunnel.
“At home, I had a feeling of dread, wondering if we would be bombed, if our water would be poisoned, or if a bioterrorism attack would occur,” Rodriguez writes.
“Our towns were filled with people wondering about their loved ones who worked in Manhattan that they could not reach because cell phone service was so poor,” she recalls.
Meanwhile, her father — a battalion chief with a fire department in New Jersey – returned home early from training exercises in Texas to help secure the area where search and rescue teams were working.
“They (rescue teams) mostly recovered the poor souls who were either doing their jobs as business men or women, or doing their jobs as police officers and firefighters,” she noted.
“Soon after 9/11, we attended a memorial service at Battery Park, in which Christopher and Dana Reeve spoke and Ray Charles sang “America the Beautiful.”
“Our New Jersey towns started filling with makeshift memorials, as local commuters were discovered dead.
“When I walk up a stairwell in an office building, I think of the firefighters who went up many, many stairwells, never to come back down.
“I think of the people running from the buildings with soot covering their faces. I think of the monsignor who was killed by a falling body while performing the anointing of the sick to another dying soul.
“I think of the NYC skyline that will forever be altered. I think of Lisa Beamer, and her now 10-year-old child that never met his father.
“I think of all the heroes and their families.
“I think of the troops and their families who are still sacrificing.
“And I think of the terrorists that are surely living amongst us, waiting to attack us again. “I think of how patriotic our country was soon after 9/11, and how divided we are now. “We will never be the same after 9/11.
“We should never forget this day and all those we lost.”