“Something like that don’t go away because this is our land, our country,” Howell said, bringing her hand to her chest to emphasize her feelings.
Terrorists hijacked four planes. They slammed two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers resisted the hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
Howell was one of a couple dozen people attending a 9/11 Commemoration at the American Legion War Memorial in Heflin.
The commemoration honored the 343 firefighters and 60 police officers who died that day as they tried to save the people trapped in the rubble of the buildings and hijacked airplanes, and the victims.
But, Mayor Rudy Rooks also told those gathered to remember how it changed our nation.
Clint Cochran, who serves as a volunteer fireman for Heflin, said it was a day that changed the course of his life. He was 14 or 15 when he watched the news footage of the attacks in his history class. That was when he decided he would become a firefighter.
“That day, I guess God placed it in my heart what I was going to do,” Cochran said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way than to serve how I serve.”
But that day in 2001 was also a day that Americans came together as a country, Rooks said.
“We kind of fell off from that over the years; I guess we kind of became numb to it,” Rooks said.
Local attorney Coker Cleveland said he would like to get back to that feeling of camaraderie that took over in the aftermath of the attacks.
“When that happened, you know in government, there was no Republican and Democrat, there was America,” Cleveland said. “I would just like to see us as a country to get reunified and moving forward to helping America as a whole.”
The people at the ceremony shared their gratitude to the firefighters and police officers who worked to save as many people as they could that day. Many were tearful, but none were more poignant than Shane Smith, an eyewitness to the attacks in New York City.
“I appreciate watching the firefighters go down there,” Smith said. “Seeing them go but not seeing them come back. That was a real hard experience.”
Smith, a Heflin native who now serves as Heflin city clerk, was living in midtown Manhattan about two miles from the World Trade Center when the planes hit the twin towers. He saw the second plane hit and watched what he thought was debris falling from the building. He found out later that debris was actually people. Smith said it’s difficult for him to relive the memories every year, but it’s something he feels the country needs to do.
For days after the attack, New York City was quiet, Smith said about his memories. People reached out to each other in concern. They were more pensive as they tried to process what had happened, and people became more cautious, Smith said.
“It was like you were in a dream and you were going to wake up from it,” Smith said.
And yet, at the same time New Yorkers didn’t let the attackers have the last word. “New York kind of stood up for itself,” Smith said. “The next day businesses were going as usual.”
In the same way, Smith, who moved back to Heflin in 2009 after the company he was working for went out of business, has absorbed the events and they have become part of him, he said.
He remembers the concern shown by his friends and family here, he said. Smith also remembers those who never made it home after that day. He refuses to live in fear, but Smith said remembering the people who died that day makes him more appreciative of the day-to-day experience of life.
“I think it just slowed us down a little bit to make us think a little bit more and not take things so seriously but to think about life as well,” Smith said.
Rhonda Green, Heflin city councilwoman, said she believes it’s important to honor the deaths of those victims of the attacks, but also to remember that it can happen anywhere.
“You see war in other countries but you think, this is here,” Green said. “It could happen to anybody. It didn’t happen close to here but it could.”
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.