‘Where were you when the world stopped turnin’

Local residents share memories of historic 911 terrorist attacks

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 9/7/22

(A song by Alan Jackson)Where were you when the world stopped turnin'That September day?Were you in the yard with your wife and childrenOr workin' on some stage in L.A.?Did you stand there in shock …

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‘Where were you when the world stopped turnin’

Local residents share memories of historic 911 terrorist attacks

Posted

(A song by Alan Jackson)
Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
That September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or workin' on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Risin' against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?

CLAY COUNTY – Gene Callahan was part of a delegation from Jacksonville Fire Rescue who was dispatched to Ground Zero days after 19 militants with ties to al-Qaeda highjacked four jetliners and crashed them into selected sights.
He still remembers the smells, the sounds and the sights of twisted metal and the soot-covered faces of emergency workers digging through the carnage.
Along with the nearly 3,000 who were killed, he also remembers confusion and disorganization.

“We went up to New York, and we were trying to hook up with an emergency team from Miami, but we never could find them,” Callahan said. “So we just kind of stayed in New York. We observed what we could to help out, but we really didn't do much because it was so disorganized. You know, something of that magnitude, all these resources coming in, it’s very hard to organize all that stuff.”
Twenty-one years later, Callahan is retired and lives in Green Cove Springs. The memories, he said, will never fade.
“Well, you know, at that time, it was pretty confusing all over the United States and people were just sending people there and it wasn't very well organized,” he said. “So we got together a team of people and we went to we stopped it at the Pentagon first, and they had already done their job at the Pentagon.
“When we got to New York, we really didn't get to work too much because we could never find a way to hook into the system.”
Callahan said the group from Jacksonville showed their fire rescue badges and were given immediate access to Ground Zero. But once they got there, the size of the rescue and recovery was overwhelming.
“We were right there,” he said. “We tried to help, but there was no method to integrate us into the system.”

Did you weep for the children, they lost their dear loved ones
Pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out with pride for the red, white, and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?

Green Cove Springs Police Chief John Guzman won’t ever forget Sept. 11, 2001. And to make sure, he has a large tattoo displaying the World Trade Center Towers on his right arm.
Originally from Brooklyn, Guzman moved to Jacksonville four years before the attacks. He already was enrolled in the Police Academy, but the sights of seeing planes slam into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania inspired him to maintain a full-time job during the day and complete the course at night.
“I was working at a hotel and when the planes started hitting the towers, I watched it in the hotel lobby with everyone else in the hotel,” Guzman said. “I've actually been right in front of the twin towers before, I don't think I've ever gone inside them.
“The tattoo was kind of my homage to New York City.”

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

Brett Morando was in ninth grade when America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. That’s when he decided as soon as he graduated, he would join the U.S. Army and fight the country’s enemies.
“That day left an impact on me,” Morando said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to go into the Army.”
When Morando graduated, he fulfilled his dream. He enlisted. It wasn’t long before he spent 15 months in Iraq.
“I wanted to go there because it hit home and I just wanted to serve my country and make America safe,” Morando said.
Morando spent eight years in the Army. He’s now an officer with the Green Cove Springs Police Department.

Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
That September day?
Teachin' a class full of innocent children
Or drivin' down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor?
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?

Christopher Johns already was in the U.S. Army when members of al-Qaeda used four airliners as weapons to attack the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a flight bound for San Francisco.
In the middle of a class, Johns heard the words he never forgot.
“Our instructor came in and said ‘we’re at war,’” he said.
Johns, who’s still on active duty and a Major with the Florida National Guard at Camp Blanding, said he was in class when somebody ran into the room and turned the television on. Almost instantly, his base changed.
“That morning, we were an open base. You could drive on base without being stopped,” he said. “Overnight, we had new barriers and guards. It’s still like that.”
One moment he was a student. The next he was mentally preparing to fight.
“I remember nobody knew what was going on,” he said. “I also remember the instructor said this wasn’t an accident. That’s something you don’t forget.”

Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset for the first time in ages
And speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on “I Love Lucy” reruns?
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Stand in line to give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?

The radio was on inside Priscilla Welch’s Lake Asbury barn on the morning of Sept. 11. She was shoveling horse manure when she heard the alert about a possible attack in New York City.
“I threw my pitchfork down and ran into the house,” she said. “It was a wow moment. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I turned the news on.”
Still a rancher and a part-time server at Dalton’s Sports Grill, Welch said she still gets flashbacks from that fateful morning – especially during early September.
“I remember it every year like it just happened,” she said. “Sometimes I think about it and I still don’t believe it happened.

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

David Motes was needed in New York City days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
The New York City Fire Department was in disarray. Not only were 343 from 75 different firehouses among the dead and missing, but many of the others were busy trying to dig through the debris at both World Trade Center Towers to find possible survivors.
And the one thing a firefighter will never do is allow a brother to be alone when he goes to his grave.
Motes, who’s now the acting fire chief for Clay County Fire Rescue, worked for the Jacksonville Fire Rescue 21 years ago. He was one of eight from Jacksonville who was dispatched to Ground Zero.
The team attended funerals for fellow firefighters to make sure the fallen were given proper sendoffs. As the city struggled to find its footing after the attacks, firefighters from around the county rallied to support emergency workers from the shadows.

And the greatest is love
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
On that September day?


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