City of Fallon employee and volunteer fireman Gary Johnson places a rose at the on the city’s 9/11 Memorial in 2019.
Photo by Steve Ranson.
An emerging sun slowly climbing over the Stillwater Mountains east of Fallon didn’t foreshadow the tragedy that both the Lahontan Valley and the rest of the country would encounter. With the East Coast already experiencing the early morning rush, millions of people on the West Coast — which is three hours behind — were stretching their bodies and preparing for a new day.
The energy of the day, though, quickly shattered.
Twenty years ago on Sept. 11, more than 3,000 people including firefighters, law enforcement personnel and military men and women died in the worst act of terrorism committed on American soil. Nineteen terrorists hijacked four passenger jets earlier that morning, crashing two into New York City’s World Trade Center, a third into the Pentagon and a fourth after passengers wrestled the plane’s control of Flight 93, only to see the jet plunge into a western Pennsylvania field.
The country hadn’t experienced a death toll like that since the Japanese attack on the military installations at and near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. The number of deaths, though for Sept. 11 are staggering: 375 firefighters, 72 law enforcement personnel and 55 military men and women – in addition to 3,000 people from the towers, the Pentagon and the four passenger jets – died. Another 6,000 were injured.
Two of the 64 passengers and crew members killed on the American Airlines jet that slammed into the Pentagon were retired high-ranking Navy officers with Fallon ties, Rear Adm. Wilson Flagg and Capt. John Yamnicky.
Navy Capt. Ray Alcorn, who died in 2020, served as the NAS Fallon commanding officer in the late 1980s. He said Flagg was a in the U.S Navy Reserve and spent several tours of his two weeks of annual training at Fallon. Alcorn said Flagg, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, flew the F-8 Crusader in Vietnam. Yamnicky retired from the Navy in the early 1980s. Alcorn said Yamnicky had been an F-14 “Tomcat” pilot who also flew in Vietnam.
Steve RansonRemembering the day
Students from the Churchill County High School ROTC parade the colors at the 2019 ceremony.
Even talking about this day still affects Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford. His voice becomes softer, his eyes focused. Like so many others in Churchill County, Tedford remembers the day and knows what he was doing.
“I remember I didn’t have my TV on that morning,” said the mayor, who owns Tedford Tires. “I came in (to work) after I gave an early morning speech at the Elks Hall.”
Tedford, though, said he heard some chitchat, but he doesn’t remember the scope of the conversations. Once inside his office, he turned on the TV and was shocked with the news. He said the newscasters didn’t know if a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City. At the time, speculation centered on a small private airplane, but then the focus shifted to a passenger jet.
“As the broadcast went on, they were really starting to get an idea of what happened,” Tedford explained.
The unfolding events gave not only Tedford but all of the country a better look into the morning tragedy.
Terrorists commandeered two passenger jets and flew them into each tower of the World Trade Center located in lower Manhattan, another slammed into one side of the Pentagon and a fourth jet crashed in a western Pennsylvania field. Passengers on Flight 93 overwhelmed hijackers in an unsuccessful attempt to wrestle control of the plane from them.
Tedford, though, directed Steve Endacott, the manager of the city’s department of Emergency Management, to have staff complete security checks on the water plant and electrical substations. His thoughts shifted to Naval Air Station Fallon. In a telephone call, Tedford asked the air station's commanding officer, Capt. Brad Goetsch, to keep the city informed of any action that would affect the city and county.
“We have a support role as their home city,” Tedford said of Fallon’s relationship with the sprawling air station, which is also home of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center or TOPGUN.
Stuck in Montana
First responders including law enforcement officers throughout Churchill County place roses on the Fallon 9/11 memorial.
Robert “Bob” Erickson, former mayor and city councilman, remembers the tight security after Sept. 11. He sat facing Tedford to discuss 911. Erickson first served on the city council from 1983-87 and was also elected mayor for two four-year terms in 1987 and 1991. He filled a city council seat in 2005 and later ran for a four-year term in 2007.
“I was attending a convention in Flat Lake, Mont., with attendees from all over the country,” Erickson said. “I was up early, had the TV on. There was a break announcing a horrible accident in New York City.”
First Erickson followed the reports of one airplane slamming into a tower of the WTC. Twenty minutes later, a second jet flew into the second tower. Because the FAA grounded flights, Erickson and the others had to find other methods of transportation to return to their homes. Many, he said, either rented cars or bought cars to return home.
Two days later, the FAA lifted the flying ban, and Erickson took a commuter flight to Seattle. A long wait at Seattle ensued, but Erickson booked a flight to Sacramento — not Reno — where his wife drove from Fallon to pick him up.
The now retired Goetsch, in comments provided to the LVN on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, said base personnel checked the perimeter and gates, and everyone entering the air station was required to show identification, perimeter and the games.
For the next three days, Goetsch said some air crews and jets deployed to help provide a security blanket over larger cities. At Fallon, Goetsch said officers at NAWDC (formerly Naval Strike Air Warfare Center) began planning strikes against whoever committed these attacks and how to fight back.
“Our instinct was to take the battle to the enemy and to help Fleet,” he told the LVN.
Because of security measures, the LVN reported traffic was backed up to NAS Fallon’s main gate. Those civilian and military personnel encountered delays of 15 to 45 minutes because of stricter security measures. The base was placed on the highest level of security. As a matter of additional security, however, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered civilian and military airfields closed to all flights.
Former NAS Fallon spokesperson Anne McMillin, who is now the public information officer for Churchill County, told the LVN vehicles were subject to searches and only valid identification provided access.
Tedford continually kept in contact with Endacott.
“While our military community members are taking care of our nation, we as a city and community want to do everything we can to keep their families safe, along with the rest of our citizenry,” Endacott said. “At the same time, the families of these military experts are integrated within the community of Fallon. Their children attend our schools. The adults coach community youth sports, lead our Boy Scout troops worship in our churches.”
Endacott added there’s an abundance of civilian talent and expertise that allows the base to conduct intensive training. He said aircraft mechanics, fuel truck drivers, technical advisers and other support staff live near the base. During the past 20 years coinciding with 9/11, Endacott said both the city and county made an assessment of the community’s vulnerabilities and the bet degree of response to deal with them. In 2001, students remained at school because of Navy’s security concerns with buses being tailed.
“We had implemented security at the base to include the transit of school buses.” Endacott added.
Retired Churchill County Middle School Principal Judy Pratt said the school district office kept the students in class that day.
“We announced before pledge what had happened and let teachers know before and had counsel on hand for the next two days,” Pratt said. “On the second day we began the day with a moment of silence.”
Goetsch said the trust between military installations and their nearby communities changed after 9/11. Because of the security measures, he said bases became islands again to exclude the communities round them. Personnel assessed bases for vulnerability and infrastructure and looked at everyone as potential targets.
According to Goetsch, mail was handled differently because of several anthrax scares involving powder sent inside envelopes to politicians, military installations and the media. During the ensuing month, Tedford said an anthrax scare occurred at the U.S. Post Office, but the white powdery substance tested negative.
“Everyone got in a war-fighting mood and had to be prepared,” Goetsch said. “We rolled Humvees and armor to the main gates.”
The intense measures at NAS Fallon lasted for almost three months.
National Guard remains vigilant
Meanwhile, the National Guard tightened security at its facilities including those in Nevada.
Brig. Gen. Michael Hanifan was a major at the time, had completed his tour commander of the State Area Command (STARC). Hanifan, a Churchill County High School and U.S. Military Academy graduate, said concrete barriers were placed in front of the former armory on Carson City’s South Carson Street and Office of the Adjutant General. At the armories outside of Carson City, he said the Nevada Guard ensured the gates were locked and buildings secured.
“We made it difficult for people to get because of the security measures,” he said.
The process to activate the first Nevada Army National Guard unit also began. The 72nd Military Police Co., departed to provide security at the Presidio of Monterey (Calif.) where the Defense Language Institute is located. The 152nd Security Forces and 152nd Intel Squadron saw dozens of its airmen deployed around the world.
The Nevada Guard provided additional security at the Reno, Las Vegas and Elko airports and also at the state military facilities. At the Nevada Air Guard base, which is located at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Hanifan said security measures were beefed up.
“It was already a very secured site,” Hanifan said of the air base.•••Ceremonies set to observer 9/11
Fallon, along with other communities in Northern Nevada, is remembering on Saturday the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, when a day of terror changed the way of life for future generations. On Dec. 18, 2001, President George W. Bush officially designated 9/11 as Patriot Day, a time to reflect and remember the day’s events.
This year's Fallon ceremony begins at the City Hall Courtyard at 11 a.m. Congressman Mark Amodei is the featured speaker.
A morning of remembrance coordinated by the Carson City Christian Ministerial Fellowship begins at 9 a.m. at the Mills Park 911 Memorial Site near the entrance to the Marv Teixeira Pavilion.
The city of Fernley and the Nevada Veterans Coalition will conduct a remembrance beginning at 8 a.m. at the North Lyon County Fire Station on Main Street