9/11 anniversary brings memories, reflections

AP Photo by Stefan Jeremiah
Tribute in Light, two vertical columns of light representing the fallen towers of the World Trade Center shine against the lower Manhattan skyline on the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, seen from Jersey City, N.J., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.


Twenty years ago today, our nation was transformed forever.

The whole world, it felt like, watched as planes hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.

Many Americans lost their sense of safety. Some grew angry and felt the immediate urge to fight back. Nearly 3,000 died.

In response, then-President George W. Bush deployed troops to Afghanistan in search of the responsible al-Qaeda, who were being protected by the Taliban. The war that followed recently ended Aug. 31 when all U.S troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Thirteen U.S. service members were killed in the process of trying to withdraw.

To some, 20 years is a long time. Many Americans who weren’t yet born or old enough to recall the attacks are adults now, having their own children. To some, Sept. 11, 2001 is just a date in history, despite its long-lasting effects. Many have memories of the day that are blurring with age.

Still, for so many, the day is burned into their minds. It has affected their lives in real, tangible ways and will for years to come. Here are some of their stories.

Herald file photo by David Pierini
Jacob Hemmerlein, 6 of Haysville, center, looked up at the large American flag outside Jasper Engines and Transmissions on Sept. 14, 2001, during a candlelight vigil for victims of that Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. Jacob was among some 200 people who gathered in a circle around the flag. With him was his brother, Lucas, 8, left, his mother, Tammy, and father, Brian.

Tammy Hemmerlein of Haysville, mother of a Marine veteran

As Tammy Hemmerlein stood among some 200 people around the flag at Jasper Engines and Transmissions with her husband and two youngest sons, she felt the secondhand pain, the devastation that her family could’ve been torn apart just like thousands of others were earlier that week. It was Sept. 14, 2001.

Nearly twenty years later to the day, the pain has dulled but still lingers. She still remembers some of the details of that candlelight vigil at Jasper Engines, where she then worked.

Three days earlier, Hemmerlein was at work when she and her coworkers got the news of the attacks. They watched a bit of it on TV, she thinks, but nobody left early, unlike some other businesses. Not much work got done, though. It was nearly impossible to focus on anything else.

“The whole world just kind of stood still,” she said.

The first few years after that were the hardest on her, emotionally. Two of her older sons decided they wanted to sign up for the military in response to the attacks. Only one ended up going through with it, though. He served in the Marines for about 10 years.

“Any time after that, whenever the National Anthem would play, I would just break out in tears,” she said. “A lot of young kids were saying they want to go fight, which to me was sad because they didn’t really know the effects of going into the military at that time, they were just so upset.”

As more years are wedged between now and that day, she doesn’t feel as emotionally delicate. She still tears up sometimes listening to the anthem, and she still feels for all of the families across the nation that don’t get to move on from the attacks like she has. But it’s still complicated.

“I can’t really put into words how I feel about it now today,” she said.

Herald file photo by Marie-Susanne Langille
Jasper High School junior T.J. Schwartz, along with the rest of the student body, put his hand on his heart during the singing of the national anthem the morning of Sept. 14, 2001, during a sports pep rally at the school. Since that Tuesday’s events, JHS students and teachers started each day with the pledge of allegiance.

William Hochgesang, former principal of Dubois Middle School

“I remember that morning quite well,” said Bill Hochgesang, who was about a year into his new job as principal.

Students were taking the required ISTEP test when the terrorist attack happened. Water and vending had been delivered and were being installed. And he was on his way back to the school office when the administrative assistant rushed out to him, telling him, “Bill, you got to come in and see this.”

The television was on in the office, and it showed the reports and footage of the planes hitting the towers. He talked to the school counselor about sharing this with the students. “We decided you know that they are taking the ISTEP, and we need to try to keep that intact,” Hochgesang said. “And when the teachers and kids were through, we can make an announcement for the teachers to turn on their TVs.”

With technology and email, however, the word got to the teachers. But they stayed quiet as well, he said. But after the testing, the students were told.

“So much happened that day,” Hochgesang said. "It was such a whirlwind. The rest of the day was spent talking to the kids about what was going on. The TVs came on, students were seeing what was going on, teachers were talking about it and trying to keep them calm. By then, it was both buildings (and) it was the Pentagon.

“It wasn’t panic, but there was some fear of the unknown,” he said, “so much uncertainty.”

In the following days and months, safety protocols were strengthened. “That’s when the enhanced security of our building was put into place,” Hochgesang said, “We were making sure every door was locked; people could only come in through one place. We started having holding areas for people who came in. If you want to get at the heart and the soul of people, children is an area that everybody is very protective of. It changed the way we did, and do our job and in education, from an administrative standpoint.”

Security was tightened on everything, he recalled.

“Even even in our bus annual driver training,” he said, “in the two or three years following there was training on hijackings and what to look for, because of all the stories you heard from 9/11. Bus drivers were being trained on what to look for, suspicious people.”

Those changes were evident locally and across the country.

“It changed us as a nation,” Hochgesang said. “It showed that the United States was vulnerable. That was probably the biggest shock. We thought we were the most powerful nation in the world. And no one could touch us. And here, someone had.”

But Americans also changed in a positive way, said Hochgesang, who is now the school district’s superintendent. For instance, he noticed that more young men and women started signing up for military service after that.

“The most positive thing came out of that era was the love for country and the support of our troops,” he said. “A renewed sense of patriotism that came out of that era.”

Herald file photo by Kim Brent
Restrictions at the Jasper National Guard Armory slowly began to lift the last week of September 2001, although precautions such as parking close to the building and inspecting incoming deliveries would remain in place for some time.

Jeremy Mundy of Dubois, Navy veteran

For Jeremy Mundy, the week of Sept. 11, 2001, was already supposed to be one to remember.

That day — a Tuesday — he was going through chief petty officer initiation in Point Mugu in California. In the Navy, moving up to this rank was a huge rite of passage, both professionally and personally, he said. He was in the middle of drill practice when someone came out and disbanded everyone.

They were told to go home, grab their kids from school and report to their commands within a few hours. He got home in time to turn on the TV and see the second tower attack in real time. Training was suspended, and the rank he was supposed to be awarded Sept. 15 was pushed back until much later.

“All of the servicemembers were ready to go do whatever was needed, like, immediately,” he said. “And many of us were not called to do anything extraordinary or specific right away. There was just a feeling of desire to do more than what we could at the moment.”

In his two decades of being in the Navy, Mundy was deployed to the Persian Gulf six times — half before 9/11, half after.

“The first three times was the Gulf War, which was in Iraq, which was kind of detached, like it was all over there,” he said. “But after 9/11, you go back and think about the images that you saw on TV and how it affected people in your home country … It really set a different tone.”

With the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Mundy’s feelings of 9/11 this year are complicated. Overall, he’s proud.

“I just feel like our country was safe for 20 years because of the efforts of all the servicemembers that served abroad and here in the U.S.,” he said. “I feel like veterans should be proud of their service despite recent events. I think our time was honorably served.”

Herald file photo by Kim Brent
American flag in hand, Director of Admissions Lou Ann Gilbert led participants in the Vincennes University Jasper Campus-sponsored Walk for America fundraiser on their first lap in the gym at the Ruxer Center on Oct. 11, 2001. The walk, which was moved indoors because of rain, raised money for American Red Cross relief efforts. The 150 people participating raised $3,715.

Bill Schmitt, former mayor of Jasper

Bill Schmitt was taking care of mayoral duties that fateful day. He attended a groundbreaking for the new Jasper Middle School before going to a meeting in Indianapolis with then City Engineer Kent Humbarger. Once that was done, they got into their car and started heading back home.

And that’s when they noticed something odd.

“We saw these gas stations where people were lined out in the street,” he said. “We went past one, and there was a lady out in the middle of the road with a baseball bat, trying to keep cars from turning in there. I thought, ‘This is crazy. They must be having a gas war here.’ ”

As they drove to Jasper, Schmitt got a call from his wife, Carolyn, telling him that planes crashed into the World Trade Center Tower and that the country may be under attack. “I said, ‘My gosh, that explains everything, why people were feeling their gas tanks up.'”

As soon as they arrived to Jasper, he was briefed about everything and got to a television to see for himself. And he knew as the head of the city, he has matters to take care of and infrastructure to secure.

“I didn’t think Jasper was going to be a major target. But you just never know,” he said. “because nobody knew exactly what had happened, what was going on. Because all we saw was the carnage and what was taking place in New York and with the downed planes.”

The next morning, Schmitt met with the department heads to work on strategy and security plans. “We didn’t know if this a standalone (event) or if there some plan of attack that they (the terrorists) were going to try to go further? What would be vulnerable in our areas? Would it be our wastewater treatment plant? Would it be our water treatment plant, the power plant — would those be targets?”

The police department set up protocols. Schmitt and the other officials discussed who was allowed to be on city property and what to look for by way of suspicious people or behavior. Thankfully, nothing happened locally.

He did see a change in the community in the following days, weeks, months, years.

“It made everybody more patriotic,” Schmitt said. “It brought people together and everybody was willing to help. People were putting flags out. Everybody wanted to work together because they had a common enemy. That’s how it changed our community. It brought people together.”

But since that time, the unity has waned, Schmitt noted.

“With what’s going on now and how our country is being divided over political issues, they seem to have forgotten that,” he said. “In 20 years, there’s a new generation — and I’m not blaming it on on age group. I’m just saying that people that were really affected have gotten older, new people coming in, and politics have gotten to where the country is not put first.”

Schmitt hopes that reflecting on 9/11 will make people remember and honor the many men and remember who work in public safety. And he hopes that it will make people want to instill again the unity that was reflected after the attacks.

“I think that with the anniversary, it’s a good time for our country to reflect back on where we were at and on how people came together,” he said. “There was no ‘I.’ It was ‘us,’ U.S., the United States of America. And we’re going to stay strong.

“We’re still one country. It doesn’t make any difference whether you like who is in office or you don’t like the person. Still love your country.”

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