Twenty years ago Fulton County Commissioner Jeff Rupp was a commercial airline pilot on a three-day break when he happened upon the tragic news of the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and Rupp had scheduled to fly out of that city on a trip the next day.
Newscasters were reporting that a plane with the airline Rupp flew for had struck the north tower. Because the day was so clear and bright, Rupp was stunned.
“I wondered, ‘How in the world could they have screwed up so badly and got off course so far on such a beautiful,clear day?’” he recalled. “But about that time the second plane struck, and you knew that it wasn’t an accident.”
Rupp wondered if the pilots were co-workers he knew, and whether acquaintances working for other airlines – including his brother-in-law – were also affected. “It was a day of worry and uncertainty. The whole day you walked around in shock.”
The commissioner is one of several officials in Fulton County who recently shared their recollections of 9/11, and how the tragedies of the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the downing of a commercial flight in rural Pennsylvania affected them and others in local communities. All agreed with one thing: The terrorist attack brought Americans of all levels together in a show of patriotism and unity.
Rupp remembers that, for days after the event, he didn’t see plane contrails in the sky as flights across the country were canceled in the aftermath. “It was certainly eerie,” he said. “And it affected me for a good month afterward. My wife said I walked around in a depressed state.”
The nation’s flights eventually resumed, but the eerie effects of 9/11 persisted. “All the extra security that you had to go through (when flights resumed), and just being wary of everyone,” he added. “Is there going to be another attack, and is that person sitting over there the one that’s going to do it? It was just a strange time to go through.”
One positive attribute was a surge of patriotism that emerged throughout society, Rupp said. People in general rallied behind the United States, hoping they could prevent a similar terrorist attack from ever happening again.
“As a society as a whole, we all became angry about the fact. People were more united for awhile under a common tragedy,” he said.
She was 16 and in an AP U.S. History class at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo when Swanton Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle was informed with her classmates that planes had struck the World Trade Center. They watched the events unfold on television.
My first reaction was, ‘I can’t believe somebody would fly a plane into a building.’ It was kind of a shock that something like that could happen in the United States. It was like out of a movie or something that would have happened somewhere else,” she said.
But as a teenager, Hoelzle didn’t at first fully grasp the magnitude of the attacks. Instead, she wondered if she would be sent home from school, if she would report to her job, and if she would attend a study session after school.
“After we were told we need to go home to our families, we thought, ‘Oh, this is a big thing,’” she said. “We were all trying to wrap our heads around what was transpiring. I was 16, so to me, I was trying to figure out what was going on. If it had happened now my first reaction would have been, ‘What are they doing?’ It was a lot to take as a 16-year-old. I don’t think we fully understood the reasoning behind the atrocious attack… what led to something like this. Now that I’m a parent, I think I would have reacted a lot differently.”
Hoelzle noted that three months prior to the attacks she had flown on a school trip to France. “In three months I had gone from flying internationally, where my parents dropped me off at the gate to, okay, take your shoes off (during check-in). It was a big change,” she said.
The event affects her to this day, she added.
“For my generation…we’ve experienced a lot of these events in our formative years, and I definitely think that has impacted some people,” Hoelzle said.
Lyons Village Council President Julie Fenicle was at home 20 years ago when she heard the news of the World Trade Center. “I felt shock. Unbelievable,” she said. “I think it took all of our innocence away. We did not expect something such as that to ever happen in the USA. There was anger in the respect of, what kind of people think that violence such as that is the answer to anything?
Fenicle believes that, to this day, the events of 9/11 have negatively affected how Americans view their country. “I think there’s so much more distrust, just in general. The way our country is now versus 20 years ago is a world of difference,” she said.
And while she isn’t certain of the attack’s lasting effects on the country, “I think there’s a lot of hate in the world right now,” she said.
Frank Wilton was working in downtown Toledo the morning of 9/11. Along with his co-workers, the Delta mayor wasn’t sure at first what was happening. “We were waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he said. “Being prior military, I was pretty stunned.”
Wilton said in the aftermath he saw more American flags flying and witnessed a dramatic increase in nationalism among citizens, especially among younger people. “Everything has unintended consequences, and I think that’s what you saw happened with the rampant amount of patriotism for awhile,” he said. “A lot of people thought we were in a smaller world than we thought.”
He was at work in 2001 when current Archbold Mayor Bradley Grime saw news of the terrorist attack on the internet. Grime couldn’t believe his eyes.
“It was unreal, something that we’ve never experienced here in the United States, so it was unbelievable,” he said. “You wondered if it was a hoax. Absolutely, I was stunned.”
As he watched the attacks unfold, Grime became angrier. “Once it sunk in, it was really just a matter of disbelief,” he said. “(But) everyone supported President Bush, how he came out and addressed the issue.”
Grime said the patriotism that swelled in the nation following the attack stands today.
“It united everybody. It wasn’t a political issue, and to me that was kind of refreshing,” he said. “It was an issue that touched everybody. That was probably the positive thing that came out of all that. Just as the country united, I think the community in Archbold did also.”
And Grime thinks residual patriotism over the 9/11 attacks remains to this day. “It’s in the back of everybody’s mind, always. You hope that we’re not letting our guard down, and I don’t think we are,” he said. “It just never leaves your mind. I don’t think we’ve ever forgotten about it. As far as our homeland being struck like that, this probably tops everything.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.