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Spotlight: Quiet September skies

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Photo Courtesy of Diane Whetsel Certified search-and-rescue dog Sage is seen here with his handler Kim Lark inside the destroyed part of the Pentagon, called the "pit." Owner and original handler Diane Whetsel wrote that this photo is the only one that she has and is aware of. According to Whetsel, cameras and recording divices were confiscated before first responders entered the area of debris after the attack on 9/11.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Where were you when the world changed?

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Twenty years ago, 19 terrorists, who were affiliated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida, hijacked four planes to commit murder/suicide attacks on the U.S. and their plans of terror changed the world forever.

Out of this attack came a change that united most free countries of the world. It is well-known how countries and governments aligned with the U.S. when the news broke of planes hitting the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as well as of the brave men and women who wrested the control of United Airlines Flight 93 out of the hands of the terrorists and, doing so, sacrificed their lives by crashing the plane into a field in Pennsylvania.

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The French newspaper Le Monde published the day after the attack, on Sept. 12, 2001, a headline that reflected the opinion of people around the world: “Today, we are all Americans.”

Today, 20 years after the attack, locals and people who are deeply connected with Roswell and New Mexico, answered the question, “Where were you when the world changed on that morning in September?”

Diane Whetsel

Diane Whetsel lived in Roswell in 2001. Her dog Sage had been trained — with her as handler — to be a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) search-and-rescue dog since she was 18 months old. Sage was part of the New Mexico Task Force No. 1. The 62-member Urban Search and Rescue Team was New Mexico’s first official response to 9/11. Together with their search-and-rescue K9s, the team was sent to Washington, D.C., to help find survivors at the wreckage of the Pentagon.

Whetsel lives today in North Carolina. In a Facebook message she wrote, “I was not with Sage at the Pentagon. It’s understandably often assumed that I was. The truth is, I had been in a horse wreck on 9/9 and was suffering from fractured ribs, a partially collapsed lung and about 10 stitches in my head. I had to send Sage with a surrogate handler for 9/11.”

Whetsel said that another member of FEMA, NM Task Force No. 1, was certified to handle Sage. “It was very hard to send her out without me. I remember having to sit at home nursing my wounds while watching on TV as our team loaded onto buses in ABQ (Albuquerque) as they headed for the Kirtland AFB (Air Force Base) for deployment. Sending her on without me was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was worried sick. The surrogate called me each night to brief me on the day’s work,” Whetsel said.

Sage located the body of the terrorist who had flown American Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Her job as search-and-rescue dog, this time with the recovered Whetsel as handler, continued. Sage’s missions included helping to find victims of the hurricanes Katrina and Rita, searching for missing or captured U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and aiding in many New Mexico missing-person searches. Like so many first responders, being in the midst of the toxic fumes and vaporized cement clouds, Sage was diagnosed with lung cancer. Before her death in August 2012, Sage was recipient of the ACE Award for Canine Excellence in the Search and Rescue category in 2009 and was named a 2011 Hero Dog by the American Humane Association. She inspired human cancer patients and survivors, went to cancer camps and took part at “Relay for Life” events together with cancer survivors.

Asking Whetsel if she had photos of Sage at the Pentagon, she wrote that she has only one. “Unlike the WTC, where everyone and their mother were taking pictures, the Pentagon, well, it was the Pentagon, so it was a secure scene and only the official FBI photographer was permitted to take pictures. They actually confiscated all cameras from the rescue workers prior to going onto the Pentagon property,” Whetsel wrote.

Joan Boué and Hudson Boué

Living today in Roswell, Joan and Hudson Boué lived in 2001 in a small town, Reston, Virginia, about 15 miles from Washington and the Pentagon. Part of their experiences on 9/11 was featured in the Daily Record on Friday. However, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the days that followed had a long-lasting effect on the couple.

Joan Boué said, “I realized that our lives can change in a minute. And, really, how little control we have about what happens in our life. We can control a little bit in our household, within our family, but the reality is, we just don’t know what to expect day to day. It made me very cautious about where I went and what I did for weeks, maybe even months, after that incident happened. It was like in our backyard, especially the Pentagon. Oh, my gosh, that was a scary part.”

Hudson Boué had witnessed the sight of the Pentagon on the day of the attack. He said that the smoke clouds were not simply clouds, but looked like they were “boiling” when he passed on the way home from the capital. At the time, he was an attorney with the Department of Interior. He said that, after a week of constant stress and worry about the possibility of a follow-up attack with a “dirty bomb,” the couple learned that one of their favorite restaurants was open. “We drove in, very few people (were) on the road. But in order to get from Reston to Crystal City (Virginia, where the restaurant was), you had to drive Highway 110, which goes right in front of the Pentagon. That part was open; it was closed before. When we got near the Pentagon, I looked up and here were tanks and missile batteries you could see visible from the road. You couldn’t see it (from above) because they were back in the trees. You had to be right there. I decided, I don’t want to slow down here.”

Both, Joan and Hudson Boué said that the atmosphere remained eerie and that the skies were quiet for weeks. “You couldn’t even hear a bird,” Joan Boué said.

Joan Boué said that they felt a closer connection with their friends. “We realized we needed each other during that time and, I think, we need each other to be able to express ourselves. The more we talked about it, the more we tried to understand what went on and how it impacted us. We still keep in touch with them,” she said.

Recovery from the trauma went slowly. “It took me a very long time to reach my comfort level where I wouldn’t think about it every day, where I would go out and just do my thing and not have that constantly on my mind. But it probably took several months before everything started to feel normal, or centered, again,” Joan Boué said.

Donovan Fulkerson

Donovan Fulkerson was living in Dallas, Texas, in 2001. In an interview, he described what he witnessed and felt on Sept. 11.

“I’ve got a wife and one child and one on the way, and I am at the gym just doing my normal morning routine. I was on the treadmill and I usually don’t pay attention to the TV. All of a sudden, I just happen to look up. I noticed nobody was moving, nobody was doing anything. They are all looking up at the TVs. I turn and look up and I see and start to piece it together. Every TV now has totally shifted to one of the different feeds that were going. So we are just watching and listening and taking it in. I called my wife to make sure that she was ok and wasn’t stressing out. She said, I’d feel better if you would just come home. I went home. We made sure that everything seemed to be OK to be traveling and so forth because we are in Dallas and we have a major world trade center there. If they are bombing world trade centers, we’re one of the top world trade center spots in America. There is that concern.”

Fulkerson said that his event company where he was working still continued with their schedule. He had to drive into Dallas. “When you are in Dallas, at every given time, you can see three to four planes in the air at all times – it was normal. I remember, as we drove in, it was real creepy, because at that point everything was grounded. We’ve got mostly empty streets. That’s not normal when you’re in Dallas. Dallas is always the living city, even at 4 a.m. There was a lot of emptiness. People were still doing things, but it was not normal – especially with quiet skies, especially downtown, because you constantly hear that roar of the planes.”

Fulkerson said that he and the people with whom he was working wrested with questions such as, what happened? Did they need to evacuate? Was the Dallas World Trade Center a target? How do we help? With Fulkerson being the sole provider of his family, he knew he couldn’t leave.

“I am coming from a church ministry background,” Fulkerson said. “First thought is, how do we help? I wasn’t on a church staff at that time, but it’s still that thought, what do we do? What is my part in this? Do I go and give my time, helping in the efforts, because that’s immediate. You start realizing the enormity of what is going on in New York City.”

Fulkerson said, “I had a pastor friend who loaded up that week and went and stayed two weeks and helped with the efforts. So I stayed in close contact with him, hearing the stories on what was going on. It helped because I got a lot of the truth (about) what was going on on the ground. As much as I love our news media, there is a lot who just create agendas with no purpose so you always wonder, what are we being fed? Is it truth, is it not? That helped, having a couple of friends being on the ground and being able to really digest what was happening. I was blessed to get a little more understanding on what was needed and what wasn’t. I was still debating a week later if I should go, and he said there is no need for other bodies. Take care of your family and keep moving.”

Asked how the events changed him, Fulkerson said it made him focus on his family, “How do I protect their future if something changed for me? It was restructuring and to focus on that more. Making sure that — if things did go down — meaning (if) we didn’t have access to food or utilities, how would we continue? That’s a big thing in life. You should always have contingency plans. It forced me to have contingency. We are blessed to live in a country, for the most part, that stays together and holds together, even in tough times and even when we have differences. But even that can go away. We were forced that day to question that.

“One of the things that I did notice that happened that was so cool was just this idea that everybody finally just gave a crap about the person next to them. Not that they didn’t before, but it was very evident. Everywhere you went there was that oozing amount of love from every background, every race,” Fulkerson said.

Veronika Ederer

Veronika Ederer is a columnist with the Daily Record and has traveled to Roswell and New Mexico multiple times, researching traditions of Native American tribes.

In an email she wrote that she was in Munich, Germany, on Sept. 11, 2001. She was helping a friend who was in charge of a pharmacy deliver medicine to a senior home.

“I found my friend and our colleagues standing in the small office of the pharmacy in front of a tiny TV screen, almost speechless with horror. They told me that a plane had crashed in the World Trade Center, and I saw the shocking pictures of the second plane and the collapsing towers. I remember the speaker of this public German TV channel was unable to find words and had to be replaced because he just could not go on. The whole afternoon we followed the events on the TV. Though I’m no U.S. citizen, I felt extremely sad and troubled, and those pictures of the collapsing towers stayed with me for many months. I thought about the victims and the helpers, but also what would change in the world from now on. Who was responsible for that and why? Could it happen again? I moved to Frankfurt (State of Hess, Germany) in March 2001. The city is quite famous for its skyline, but for some months I felt uncomfortable to look in the sky and see planes flying above me when I walked in the city. It will never leave me untouched, even after 20 years.”

Hilda Linares

Hilda Linares is a business woman living today in Roswell. On 9/11, she was living in Denver, Colorado, with her children who were age 5, 9, 10 and 15. In a Facebook message she wrote, “I turned on the TV as I went about getting my children ready for school. The news broke of a plane crashing into one of the twin towers. I remember, I went over and put the volume up and sat down a moment, thinking of the passengers and the people working in the tower. I got up to help my daughter get dressed and heard the second plane crashing; I ran over to the TV. I called my husband (and) asked him to not leave our oldest at school, to please bring her home. I was glued to the TV the rest of the day. It was a day of disbelief, a day of immense sadness. I hugged my children and husband a lot longer after that day. May those who’ve lost their lives that day rest in peace. The images will be forever remembered, not just the awful ones, but the ones of people helping each other.

Jim Werdann

Jim Werdann is a business man living today in Roswell. On 9/11, he was living in Oceanside, California. “I was awaking by a phone call from my brother who just said, turn on the TV. After staring at the TV for hours, I had the feeling of disbelief that this could happen, mad and angry that it did happen, and I wanted revenge to whoever did this, like most people. I had just retired from the Marine Corps in 1999, with disabilities, and they wouldn’t let me go back in,” Werdann wrote in a Facebook message.

S. Thorp

S. Thorp is a returning German tourist to Roswell. Her first name was abbreviated due to privacy reasons. On 9/11, Thorp was in Wiesbaden, Germany. She wrote in an email, “I was at my office late and afterwards drove to my parents. I almost fainted when I saw the pictures — my parents had the TV on. Not only did they (the terrorists) brutally attack our wonderful New York City, but the entire free world! We have to keep on being vigilant!!

Josh Berry

Josh Berry is an artist and business owner living today in Roswell. On 9/11, he was living in Dallas, Texas.

“There was a knock on my door early that morning – my roommate telling me my Mom was on the phone,” Berry wrote in a Facebook message. “When I answered, she asked me if I was okay. I answered yes and asked her why. She said, have you turned on the TV yet? She went on to tell me about a plane hitting one of the towers. I imagined some small commuter prop plane in my mind and wondered why all the alarm. I went upstairs and turned on the TV. That was the moment the world changed. We watched the second plane hit. We watched the buildings crumble and people plummet to the ground like debris. We watched all day in shock. We were all watching downtown Dallas and wondering if we would be hit. It was such a weird moment. I moved some blankets and pillows into the living room and slept and ate there for three more days. Watching, but not wanting to believe. Seeing it before me, but not knowing how to process it. We were all united in our bewilderment at that point. It was something that happened but will always remain surreal. A deep wound that heals with a wide scar that won’t ever let you forget. For me and many of my generation, it was the day the world stood still. It was the turning point for life as we had always known it. We kept moving on, but we were never quite the same. The innocence never truly returned.”

Michael Waide

Michael Waide grew up in Southeast New Mexico. He wrote, “I was in school, 6th grade, when this (the 9/11 attacks) happened. We were getting ready for our next class, reading. We have two classrooms across (from) each other and another 6th grade teacher, a lady, came to our classroom.”

The teacher let the children watch the news on TV. “Planes were going into the twin towers; it was on live, 9:07 in the morning. We were watching the whole time. I was devastated. My heart still breaks for all of the families who have lost their loved ones on 9/11 and continue prayers. It’s amazing how two decades have passed by, (it) seems it was just yesterday when it happened. I will never forget that day. It was very hard on me. I was 11 when it happened and my classmates were sitting next to me. Very scary! My heart goes out to the families today!”

Todd Verciglio

Todd Verciglio lives and works today in Roswell. He wrote on Facebook messenger, “I was working in Kerrville, Texas, when it happened. I was watching TV in a break room as the second plane hit — our boss came in and asked what we were doing. I said, ‘I think our country is under attack!’ He said, “That’s in New York; it won’t effect us, get back to work.’ 90 days later that business closed its doors and everyone was let go. It was a high-end construction business. I think about all the things that have changed since 9/11 and the things that are still in place because of it. Hold your loved ones tightly; do the right thing no matter what; never forget!”

E. Schreiter

E. Schreiter is a retired flight attendant of the German airline Lufthansa. Her base was the International Airport Frankfurt in Germany. She is a frequent visitor to Roswell. She had just returned home from a flight when she heard about the attacks.

“I still remember it clearly,” she wrote in an email. “That morning, I had just fallen asleep after a long-distance flight. My father came over and woke me. He has never done that before. He told me to turn on the TV right away. We sat there spellbound and with goosebumps, and our tears were flowing. We were also unimaginably angry. I will never forget, especially because I love New York so much and was often in the WTC for breakfast. Every year I suffer. I have been always a fan of the U.S. Thinking about the poor people in the airplanes and the towers. What horror did they and their loved ones (have) to endure in their last moments of their lives. What a nightmare for their families, and the dust that shot through the streets. Not to forget the Pentagon and the brave passengers of the flight that crashed (in Pennsylvania).

Dallin Green

Dallin Green is district instructor for the Roswell Independent School District’s orchestra program. He grew up in Roswell. In a Facebook message he wrote about Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was in algebra class at Mesa Middle School. I was watching some of the footage on the classroom TV and had a feeling of heartache and disbelief that something like this was happening in ‘the land of the free.’ I began to realize at that moment how fragile life can be. I know every adult in my life must have been giving his or her own version of a ‘how terrible it is that this could happen’ speech, but I don’t remember any of that. In fact, I don’t remember much of anything in middle school. But I have never forgotten exactly where I was when I found out about the 9/11 attacks. Something that jolting always finds a way to make itself remembered.”

During the 9/11 attacks, 19 hijackers committed murder/suicide using four commercial planes. Excluding the terrorists, 246 passengers and crew members died in the planes, while 2,753 people died in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area and 125 at the Pentagon. Most who died were civilians, except for the first responders: 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers died at the World Trade Center. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks. However, the numbers of the victims of 9/11 continue to grow today, as many of the rescue workers who responded and came to New York City to help are succumbing to various types of cancer, having been exposed to toxins and carcinogens when the towers went down, encasing lower Manhattan in a dark cloud of debris and cement dust that turned day into night on Sept. 11, 2001.

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