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Readers, area leaders share their memories of Sept. 11, 2001
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Readers, area leaders share their memories of Sept. 11, 2001

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Steve Benell


On Sept. 11, I was a resident of New Jersey, roughly 20 miles away from the towers. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing; my morning commute always included a view of the towers over the horizon. What I remember the most (that) brings me to tears every time I think about it is a wall in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a scenic area view of the city ... with the towers burning in the background, the entire wall was covered with wax from constant burning candles. The biggest tearjerker for me was the crayon-written missing-person posters made by small children with photos reading “missing my daddy,” knowing that there was no survivors. I can still bring myself to tears remembering that day. It was a tragic event and we shall never forget and pray it never happens again.

Paula Bryant, 61

Director of critical care, Great Plains Health

I was the manager of the telemetry unit at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. I got a phone call from my husband, and he was watching TV and he said, “You know, a plane just hit the towers.” I’m, like, what?

I was totally going about my business. I was working the floors that day. And so he told me what had happened, and so of course I ran to a patient room and turned the TV on to try and see what was going on. That’s how I learned about it. ...

Everyone was very fearful. We were an inner-city hospital. We had a lot of visitors. We’d talk about security. There was absolutely really nothing in place.

But as the day went by and people began to talk, then the rumors (about) what would happen next came around. We were right there at the University of Texas campus and also just a few blocks from the governor’s mansion and the (State) Capitol in Austin.

The rumors were that they would make another attack and they would attack the hospital. And so we were probably unrealistically afraid. But we were. And, of course, it was all anyone could talk about.

Kim Gosnell

Director of information services, Great Plains Health

At the time I was in social studies class at Lincoln East High School. I was a junior.

I remember there was a lot of chatter among the teachers and administration. And then they turned on the news in our classrooms.

As a young adult, I remember feeling disbelief, “this isn’t really happening.” But as the news carried on, I remember feeling just a lot of admiration for everyone who was going to help out and rescue.

At the time, I remember I wanted to leave class and go home. I just remember feeling like I wasn’t as safe as I was a few hours ago.

Tom Gottschalk

Biomedical manager, Great Plains Health

I was literally right across the Hudson River, in a place called Jersey City (in New Jersey), at a hospital called Christ Hospital. You could see the (World Trade Center) towers two miles away.

I was a biomedical manager, but we were doing a start-up (at the hospital), so we’d only been there (since) I think it was August. ... I was working for a third-party company, bringing these people on board, getting the program started.

We actually heard people running through the hallways (saying) that the tower had been hit. That was the first flight. We thought it was an accident with someone flying into the tower.

We came out to the ER parking lot and started watching while the first (tower) was billowing. Shortly thereafter, the second one hit, and we knew it was a terror attack.

And there was a flyover from the fighter jets. (They) came in low and fast. ...

We saw both the towers fall. There were probably a good hundred people between employees and other people on the block.

Especially when the first one fell ... it’s a cliché, but everything’s in slow motion. Is this real? Am I still in a dream or something?

By this time, the hospital was already prepping for mass casualties. So we were setting up a mass triage out in the ER parking lot. Part of my job and my team’s job was to go around (and) get portable battery-operated (equipment) that they could use in the parking lot to help triage patients.

We did not get the main trauma patients. ... We had some brain injuries, but the majority of (patients) were broken bones, bruises, a lot of lung issues from everything that was breathed in. (We treated) primarily everyone who was outside (the towers).

​Dan Hudson

North Platte police chief

I was a young sergeant assigned to LAPD’s Hollywood Division working nights. The night of Sept. 10 into the morning of Sept. 11 was my first shift as the watch commander by myself, no lieutenant and three or four other sergeants in the field. I remember the lieutenant talking to me the night before saying, “OK, Hudson, if this happens do this, or if that happens do that.” I was like, “What could possibly happen that we haven’t all done a thousand times?” Well, I remember when the plane hit the first tower, we were all glued to the TV. Then the second plane hit the second tower, one of the female records clerks was watching and said, “Air traffic control must be making mistakes.” I remember saying, “No. We are at war. We just don’t know with who.”

The city then went on tactical alert, which means nobody goes home and massive additional resources are brought in. All of the off-going shifts in the entire city were configured in mobile field forces and responded to Los Angeles International Airport were we stayed for the next 24 hours. We literally had several hundred officers deployed to LAX for the next several weeks. It was amazing to see how the citizens of Los Angeles came together.

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Joe Hewgley

Lincoln County commissioner

I remember I was getting ready for work. I was watching TV.

A special report came on about the tower being hit and I said, and being a pilot — I’d flown for 30 years then — I thought, oh my gosh, this is terrible.

I assumed it was maybe a small plane because airliners don’t crash into buildings. They have too many sophisticated controls, two pilots and it just doesn’t happen.

The first one I found out was hit, I told Penny a small plane hit the

tower, and then it came out it was a large plane.

Oh my gosh, how could that happen, they must have lost control. I was heartbroken and Penny and I just started watching the TV and the second plane came in and then you knew it was no accident.

Then the Pentagon and the plane in Pennsylvania.

Probably like most Americans, I was heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken to see thousands of people that needlessly lost their lives. They were just innocent people going about their daily lives, little kids, old people, people from all walks of life.

The second thing that I thought was anger. How could any monster do something like this. It became pretty evident that somebody had planned a very well-orchestrated attack on the United States. To me, it was an act of war. It was terrible.

Like most people, my reaction was that I had that real sense of pride in the U.S.A. and I was glad that we had President (George W.) Bush in office. I know that his father had some Al-Qaida problems in the past.

In the days to follow, personally I think the way he handled it was incredible. You could tell he was truly grief-stricken. He remained calm and collected in front of the American people and that’s not easy to do.

It was total shock and then anger. It’s one thing if you’re in a war and you’re fighting and you shoot them or they shoot you, that’s a part of war and it’s not good, but these people had nothing to do with that. They were innocent victims and I think that was a cowardly act.

Chuck Salestrom

Former director of public information and marketing, Mid-Plains Community College

At that point, our offices were on the North Campus. We had an old-fashioned big screen television that was on all the time. Depending on channels, it could be sports, it could be CNN, and on this particular day it was CNN.

I’m not sure how I heard about the first plane crash, either someone came into our office or something, I just don’t remember.

I remember walking into the lunchroom and watching CNN with people who were starting to gather around that screen.

It was one of those situations that I was there for about five or 10 minutes and then it was like, well, time to go back to work.

I did that and didn’t think much about it. Then I heard about the second plane that hit the second tower and I rushed out there and went back to watching that unfold.

Others had watched it in real time and were really, really upset with that.

The nursing program instructors were there and I remember a couple of them were visibly upset at what was happening.

Feelings: Total shock. I had the experience when I was teaching at UNK, I happened to be teaching a television production class in our production studies. We were connected to CNN and had the opportunity to see CNN livestreams and what they were doing with their satellites and that happened all over the world. That was really a great experience for our students to be able to see this kind of work and interact with CNN. We had a monitor running with that on, and somebody looked up and said, something’s happened in Oklahoma City. So we flipped a bunch of switches so we could all watch it and it was when they blew up the building in Oklahoma City.

We got to see that first hand and CNN was running all their raw video through their satellite feed so our students got to see everything. Our students got to see (some gruesome scenes). It was a reality shakeup to them.

We spent the rest of the day watching those feeds, so when the NYC piece happened, I really didn’t want to go watch that all again, so I went back to work.

When I went home that evening, Kristi and kids were watching it and no one really knew what was going on at that point.

Tyler Schmidt

Troop D captain, Nebraska State Patrol

I was a young police officer at the University of Nebraska. I had been working the night shift on Sept. 10 and was called at home in the morning of Sept. 11. A friend had told me a plane was reported to have crashed into the WTC. While on the phone I was watching CNN as the second airliner crashed into the other tower. I remember telling them that I had to go and hung up.

I went back into work and asked what needed to be done? Marked vehicles were positioned in and around infrastructure and at places of interest in Lincoln and on campus. There was a solid police presence.

Extended shifts and the gaining of information about what had happened in our nation were always changing. It was an unifying time. On Sept. 20 there was the Nebraska vs. Rice football game. I had never been thanked so much by the public. The community support to our law enforcement and military was remarkable. This event affected all of us and we recognized that we are all responsible to each other.

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