In August of 2001, I was unemployed. This was unusual since I had worked most school days since earning my Bachelor of Science in Education, either as a full time teacher or a substitute teacher or as the reporter for the Enquirer. Our move from Nashville, IL, in 1993, had slowed me down a little but as soon as the schools in Greene and Macoupin Counties got to know me I was called. I had worked two years in Grant tract jobs and didn’t want to do that again. I needed a tenure track job in the strike crazy environment.
One especially clear and beautiful morning in September as I was dusting the living room and watching the Today Show with Katy Couric, I saw a bunch of smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Center buildings. I remembered hearing about the building of the World Trade Center when my husband was stationed at Fort Hamilton in New York in the military in 1970. Now it was on fire! AND they were reporting that a plane had flown into it!
I had continued watching the news when Ms. Couric commented that there must be a problem at the airport control tower because it looked like a second plane was headed for the towers. I watched it hit the towers. It was, as Ms Couric showed by her comment, completely unbelievable that the United States was being attacked even though I watched it happen on, what was then, a reliable news program.
Then news of the crash into the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania made the morning even more implausible. My husband called from his job site and said to go outside. He said there were no planes in the skies. We live in a very busy flight alley between St. Louis, Springfield and Chicago and planes were constantly in the sky overhead. Even if we couldn’t hear them we could see their con trails. At noon, I drove over to the barn to water the horses and all was still totally quiet. No planes in the sky, no tractors in the fields, no lawn mowers going, hardly any cars or trucks on the road. I don’t remember even hearing the birds, but that could just have been me.
Later in the week I was asked to interview a young woman and her 9-year-old son from Hettick who were in New York at the time of the attack. Deanna Meffert and Andrew had flown to New York as one of ten U.S. finalists in the Procter and Gamble’s “Strongest Kid in America” contest. The mother had entered the contest and as a finalist they were flown to New York City to compete in the kid’s performance in New York. Ironically, they had just discovered the son had diabetes and almost didn’t enter.
So they left for New York on September 9 for an all expense paid three day trip to compete in the contest. Andrew began competing for the title of Strongest Kid in America. They all gathered in the penthouse so they could travel down to Chelsea Pier on the south side of Manhattan for the soccer kickoff part of the testing that momentous Tuesday morning. They were preparing to leave at 9:30 when word came about the World Trade Center. No one went anywhere. Everyone gathered pillows and blankets and just stayed together in the penthouse suite. The competition was cancelled and the grand prize was divided 10 ways. Proctor and Gamble furnished the kids shirts each day and many incidentals.
The hosts went out on Tuesday and got medical supplies, special foods or anything they might need while they could get them including test strips and insulin the boy. They also got lots of games and built a partition in the room so the kids could get away from the media coverage.
On Wednesday, with the airlines closed they were relieved when the hosts started making arrangements for the families to get out of town. The city of New York offered free bus transit to everyone. The contestants were on 53rd street with “Ground zero” anywhere from zero to 14th streets. Nothing with wheels was allowed out until Wednesday. Families left the hotel to walk around on Wednesday and Thursday. Most businesses were closed, but they walked down to Rockefeller Center and FAO Schwartz.
When Mefferts finally had their travel arrangements made they were headed for Cleveland. Anywhere out of New York was fine with them. It took them an hour to go three blocks to the train station because of all the roads that were blocked off. From there the travel was much more relaxed. They had been terrified and so glad to get back home.
I had the opportunity to write another story from a totally different perspective. A local mortician, Brad Targhetta from Medora, who had given me many fascinating accounts of his various experiences over the years, agreed to tell me about his work for the government in New York City. Brad worked with a group of people called DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team) since 1994. These people go into disaster areas to do anything from retrieval of the bodies, gridding a disaster site, or identifying bodies. There is also a similar organization who do this for animals.
Targhetta’s co-chairman, Bob Shank of Ohio was flown to the WTC scene immediately. The government had contacted Brad to contact members of the organization until he found 37 who could drop everything and go to New York. They had to be at O’Hare by 11:00 Wednesday morning to catch a military flight. The 37 people were escorted by two FBI agents in a C-130 with two F-16s alongside. As far as Brad could find out these were the only flights out of Chicago that day.
They landed at Stewart Air National Guard Base just outside of New York City. They were based in a hanger and given a 2-inch mattress for each of the 850 people staying on the hanger floor that night. From there the people were set into teams and worked out of five separate centers doing whatever the Medical Examiner told them needed doing. DMORT command area was at the Marriott LaGuardia. This is also where they stayed.
Brad explained that the outpouring of kindness from all over the U.S. was fantastic. One lady from northern New York State had printed flyers asking for shoe boxes stuffed with anything for the relief workers and survivors. She thought she would fill her car and bring them down into the city. She ended up with 2000 boxes of all different sizes in just 2 ½ days. This included 40 lb bags of dog food.
Targhetta worked in New York from September 12 until October 5 when his assistant at the funeral home, Chris Wooldridge replaced him. Teams stayed in New York for many months trying to find and identify the bodies in what was at the time the worst attack on American soil by a foreign group.