|Vivid memories remain from 9/11|
|Written by Todd Mishler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Thursday, 08 September 2011 15:13|
Alisha Benson, public service coordinator for the Lake Geneva Public Library, hangs photographs Tuesday in preparation for a Sept. 11 display. The photos will be on display in the library’s Smith Meeting Room until Sept. 30. Terry Mayer/staff photo
(Read the story in the Sept. 11, 2011 e-edition HERE.)
Grant McMillin can’t remember what he was doing when the 9/11 attacks began, but it didn’t take long for him to find out what was happening.
“I remember seeing the planes hitting the towers,” said McMillin, 81, of Elkhorn. “But I’m not sure we made the best decisions after that. I’m not sure we should have gotten into these wars, and we shouldn’t still be there after 10 years.”
McMillin and his wife, Annamarie, have volunteered in the community since the mid-1990s, an involvement that provides a sense of fellowship and belonging they believe has helped many in this country put into perspective the tragedies that occurred in New York, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania that fateful day 10 years ago.
McMillin knows all about how Americans rally during difficult times, having grown up in a family of farmers during the Depression. He was 11 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, another day that has lived in infamy.
“They told me about it that night, and it was on the radio,” McMillin said. “I remember FDR’s message to the nation about us being attacked and going to war. I ended up having several relatives go into the service ...
“ ... anybody who could enlisted. And everybody tried to do something to help.”
McMillin also understands firsthand what sacrifices men and women in the military have made in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.
He served with the Army’s 57th Field Artillery Battalion, which was part of the United Nations forces that moved into enemy territory early in the Korean War. The conflict lasted from 1950 to 1953, and McMillin spent 32 months of it as a prisoner of war.
Fontana resident Bob Webster, 83, also an Army veteran, recalled how the world changed when America was attacked.
On Sept. 11, he saw the first reports on TV — and was “glued to the television the rest of the day,” he said.
“But I thought maybe it was a good idea to go into Walworth to get gas and stock up on some staples and groceries,” Webster recalled. “Later we decided to get in touch with our pastor and see what he thought would be appropriate to do, and we ended up holding a service at ... Christ Lutheran Church (in Sharon) and raised money for the Red Cross.
“I’m not usually a pessimistic kind of person, but I was thinking that this was just the beginning and that we’d be experiencing a lot more,” Webster recalled. “Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, but last Friday (Sept. 2) I couldn’t help thinking that we’d see another attack on Labor Day weekend. But we’ve been blessed to be spared from more attacks.”
These days Webster does his best to make sure people remember the troops who have served and are serving in the wake of 9/11, including being a driving force behind weekly Support Our Troops rallies in Elkhorn.
Dan Kosterman, 82, of Lake Geneva isn’t a veteran, but he also lived through World War II and spent 22 years as an emergency medical technician and firefighter before retiring in 1990. He often wonders about the then and now.
“I was in seventh- or eighth-grade at St. John’s in Racine, and the nun, who was the principal, went into each of the classrooms to tell us what had happened,” Kosterman said of the events of Dec. 7, 1941. “I remember nobody would talk. We didn’t really understand what it all meant, but we heard more about it that night on the radio. It was a pretty devastating thing.”
Devastation — and confusion — were again paramount in Kosterman’s mind when he began to hear about the events of Sept. 11.
“I remember watching and hearing so many things about how al-Qaida wanted to kill Jews and Christians and cause destruction for Americans and the U.S.,” he said. “How had it happened, and who carried it out? It sure created a lot of animosity. Life changed in a lot of ways.
“Sept. 11 was just a nasty situation, and it had a big impact on this country, but it’s totally different today because of so much media coverage,” Kosterman said. “Pearl Harbor changed the country and the world, but I don’t know, it seems like to me that it had a longer-lasting effect.
“Still, with 9/11, I’m glad I wasn’t there, but yet I often wonder, ‘What if I had been?’” he added. “You think about the clouds of chemicals and the emergency personnel who all have cancer now. It still causes bad memories.”
Prayers for brethren
John Dahms is an instructor and the fire training coordinator at Gateway Technical College’s Health, Emergency Response Occupations center on the Burlington campus. Dahms said he still struggles with everything that happened on 9/11.
“It was a life-changing event … it took me almost 10 years to go visit ground zero,” he said of his summer 2010 trip.
“I was the fire chief in Brookfield, and that day we were having a staff meeting and the deputy chief had a TV on and they were reporting that a plane had crashed into the trade center, and thoughts of the 1993 bombing came to mind. Then the second plane hit the towers, and that really got our attention.
“By 10 a.m. the (Federal Aviation Administration) had grounded all flights. We were on alert, and nearby Froedtert in Wauwatosa was a receiving hospital, so we had to develop contingency plans for mutual aid and everything. It was a long, stressful day.
“We sent a lot of thoughts and prayers to the East Coast, and two weeks later, we sent folks out to New York. There were so many funerals, and our people attended as many services as possible just to show our support.”
He said that many people have chosen fire and EMS careers and/or training in response to 9/11, but those numbers have understandably gone down.
“In the first few years after the attacks, increasing numbers of people felt a need to serve their communities,” said Dahms, who has worked in the fire service industry for 35 years. “People were drawn to this in a lot of ways, but for many it was just something they felt they needed to do. And they’ve been doing a heck of a job. But for many, especially those where it’s not a full-time career, it’s really a sacrifice and they’re making 10 cents on the dollar for responding to calls, especially with the cost of gas.”
Looking for explanation
Adam Alter is a 1994 graduate of Delavan-Darien High School who returned to his alma mater as a social studies teacher in 2000. He said his sophomore class was discussing the Salem witch trials when another teacher knocked on the door with the startling news on 9/11.
“That was before we had TVs in our classrooms and the Internet was still fairly new,” Alter said. “We watched some on the computer, but we went to a large group room that had TVs. We saw the first building fall and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, there were people inside.’
“We heard about al-Qaida and everything, but we were still in the dark, so all of the students were just asking what’s going on?” Alter added. “Usually, as instructors, something will happen and we’ll have time to explain things, but we were all experiencing and finding out about 9/11 together.
“For the next day, I asked them all to come up with four or five questions about what had happened, and why was the biggest thing they wanted to know.”
Personally, Alter said he felt the same as many people did that day and during the aftermath.
“The obvious realization to me was that so many of us had had a false sense of security,” he said. “We weren’t as safe as we thought we were.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 08 September 2011 15:31|