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Local residents came to the aid of those affected by 9/11

September 9, 2011
Sam Shawver ( , The Marietta Times

It was 9 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2001, when Lynn Laing arrived at the reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville, Pa., where, just 24 hours before, hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed, killing all 40 passengers and crew, as well the plane's hijackers.

A decade later what she saw and heard still haunts her.

"I often heard (the victim's) children asking why someone would do this," Laing said."Those are the heart-wrenching memories that haunted me most when I returned home...after I had time to think about what I'd seen. It's difficult to explain but I can understand a little about the post traumatic stress soldiers feel when they return from war."

Laing is one of the Mid-Ohio Valley residents who not only remembers watching the attacks and aftermath unfold on television but remembers being there to help.

Laing, a teacher from Marietta, was part of an American Red Cross national disaster team of volunteers who respond to major incidents across the U.S.

"I reported to the headquarters and was assigned to assist the director of mass care-responsible for feeding volunteers, police, FBI, fire and rescue workers," she said. "The main focus at the time was to get things organized."

She said the central impact area of the crash was referred to as "the pit."

"There were stories of body parts being recovered from the pit, so I chose not to receive credentials to enter that area," Laing said.

One of her team's responsibilities was to set up a tent and bales of hay as a temporary monument site where memorial services could be held for victims' family members.

"The services were held in shifts because so many families were coming in," Laing said.

A few years after she left the site, someone presented Laing with a copy of the movie "United 93" that chronicled the events and actions of passengers and crew that led to the crash.

"I didn't watch it for about four years," she said. "But when I finally did, it really helped. The movie focused on who these people were, about their lives and families. It helped bring some closure for me."

A decade later Laing said she's concerned that people will forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Our culture has a tendency to bury painful memories and move on," she said. "But I don't ever want people to forget that day."

The scene at ground zero

Major William Augustine was serving with the Salvation Army in Marietta when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.

"I went to serve at ground zero twice, once within a month of the attacks, and again during the following Easter," he said.

In October, 2001, Augustine served at a hydration station directly across from the demolished trade center site.

"I could see smoke still coming out of the ground-it smelled like diesel or kerosene burning," he said. "Every time I smell diesel burning it takes me right back to that time."

Augustine said the Salvation Army volunteers worked from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"We called them half-days," he said. "Fire and rescue crews were working around the clock."

In the early 1970s Augustine and his wife, Evelyn, had received Salvation Army training in New York City. At that time the World Trade Center was just under construction.

"We saw some of it going up and being somewhat familiar with New York we took it sort of personal when the planes flew into the trade center," he said. "When that second plane flew into the tower it was like being hit in the stomach."

Augustine said it seems like his time at ground zero was just yesterday.

"I still have trouble with watching the video on television for more than a few minutes," he said. "And I can still see the firefighters and rescuers who found body parts in the wreckage. When they found a body part everyone would just stop and come to attention to show respect for the victims' families."

He said nightmares plagued his sleep for months after the first visit to ground zero.

"To me it was like a war zone," Augustine said. "But there was something about being able to help out. It was a privilege to serve the police and firefighters.

"My second visit on Easter was a little different, more roads were opened up and it seemed some people were just trying to get back to normal-but things will never be normal again," he said.

Returning to New York

Marietta resident and New York City native Esther Salem also has memories of ground zero.

An associate professor and program coordinator for digital technology at Washington State Community College, Salem worked with the American Red Cross near ground zero two months after terrorists flew two passenger jetliners into the twin towers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I'm not saying we should dwell on it every day but it is important for people to remember," she said. "And they should especially remember those first responders, fire, police and rescue workers who were running into those buildings to save lives when everyone else was running away."

Salem, who grew up in Manhattan, less than four miles from the trade center, returned in 2001 to help with logistics, setting up centers in preparation for volunteer Red Cross workers coming into the city.

"The scene was just too hard to describe," she said. "Buildings had all the windows broken out and they were covered with tarps or sheets. But the Trinity Chapel, which has been there for more than a hundred years, didn't have a scratch. The chapel was being used for a respite center for firefighters, police and rescue workers."

Salem worked with the Red Cross for two weeks before heading back to Marietta.

"I think it helped me feel like I was able to do something to help," she said. "It was exhausting but people would often stop and thank us for coming."

Salem was later instrumental in developing a memorial at Washington State Community College.

"Being Jewish, we don't usually place a headstone on a grave until a year after a loved one is gone. Then we plant a tree in their memory," she explained.

A pear tree was planted and a memorial plaque erected on campus in remembrance of those who died in the terrorist attacks.



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