Carson City firemen stand behind a piece of steel from the World Trade Center at the 2020 remembrance. It is now part of 9/11 Memorial at Mills Park. (Photo: Steve Ranson/LVN)
The sight of a passenger jet crashing into one of the towers of New York City’s iconic World Trade Center still resonates with Nevadans.
Like millions of viewers across country, they tuned into the morning news programs, but, instead, they saw video of two planes crashing into each tower at the trade center and into the Pentagon. Later, they learned a fourth jet crashed in a Pennsylvania field, killing both the 33 passengers and a crew of seven and four hijackers.
Pastor Pat Propster said Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that cannot be forgotten, reminding others to “Always Remember, Never Forget” the tragic events that transformed the United States.
This year’s remembrance begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Mills Park’s 9/11 Memorial near Seely Loop. The observance will be conducted in front of a piece of steel from the World Trade Center that serves as a reminder that American resolve and unity rises from the ashes.
“We were attacked, and we came together as a nation, people and Americans,” he said. “That is important for us to remember.”
The Carson City Christian Ministerial Association, along with three local speakers — Mayor Lori Bagwell, Sheriff Ken Furlong and Fire Chief Sean Slamon —will offer their insights. Yet, it’s the event from 20 years ago people will remember.
“People may forget what we say, but they will remember what happened on that day,” Propster said. “Lincoln at Gettysburg said, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.’”
Propster said it’s time to think of those who perished because everything can be gone in a flash.
“We were brought to our knees in prayer. We were broad shoulder to shoulder as a group of people called Americans,” Propster added.
It can’t be real
Twenty years ago on Sept. 11, Bagwell learned 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. The country hadn’t experienced a death toll like that since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Shock is what Bagwell felt that day after learning 19 terrorists hijacked four passenger jets earlier that morning — and before most people in the West arose.
“This can’t be real,” she said. “It was hard for me to imagine this was happening in the United States.”
Within the span of watching 1-minute of news, Bagwell said she felt shock, dismay, concern, fear and anger. She wondered where else another group of hijackers would strike next. As the days after 9/11 slowly passed, she saw the patriotism unfolding. Bagwell said she was proud of the country’s response, and the people who wanted to serve their country.
In 2001, Bagwell worked for the Nevada Department of Corrections while her husband, Jim, was a sergeant with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. She recalled how the community assembled at the Capitol for a candlelight vigil. Jim, she said, also became fixated with watching the news, also wondering where the next wave of suicidal terrorists would strike next.
From the days after 9/11 to today Bagwell said her husband bought a magnetic strip for his truck that stated, “9/11. We will never forget.” She said the magnet has survived the 20 years having been attached to vehicles Jim has driven during the past two decades.
“My husband still treasures that car magnet,” Bagwell said. “Another amazing thing … no one has stolen it.”
Lives changed forever
Bagwell looks at Sept. 11 as a day to never forget as does Furlong, who, at the time, was working for the Department of Public Safety.
“I came in to work, and it was another day,” Furlong remembered. “Then, we were shocked seeing it (the crashes) on TV. Horrific,” Furlong said. “Our lives were changed in one day.”
Since that horrific day of 20 years ago and what ensued, Furlong now remains focused on the lessons learned from 9/11 and how law enforcement has stepped up over the past 20 years with its training. Since 9/11, Furlong said agencies are communicating and working better with each other, and the intelligence has improved.
Furlong, though can’t discuss 9/11 without reflecting on the IHOP shooting that sent a numbing feeling through Carson City on Sept. 6, 2011, that occurred a decade after the four hijackings. Five people — including three Nevada National Army Guard members, a woman and the perpetrator — died as a result of one man’s actions. On that day and also with 9/11, Furlong remembers how quickly first-responders reacted and arrived to help.
“We responded to a terrorist incident,” Furlong said without hesitation of the IHOP incident.
Looking at this year’s 20-year anniversary of 9/11, though, Furlong said at a previous observance no one has been spared. Not then. Not now.
“Relatives and friends of those people span the entire country,” Furlong said. “American society … no one was left untouched.”
Guard implements security
By the afternoon on Sept. 11, though, city and state agencies implemented additional security precautions. The former Nevada Army National Guard complex on the 2500 block of South Carson Street, which has since been razed, tightened security.
Brig. Gen. Michael Hanifan was a major at the time, had completed his tour as commander of the State Area Command (STARC). Hanifan, a Douglas County resident and U.S. Military Academy graduate, said concrete barriers were placed in front of the former armory and Office of the Adjutant General. At the armories outside of the Carson City area, he said the Nevada Guard ensured the gates were locked and buildings secured by an increased number of soldiers or airmen.
“We made it difficult for people to get in 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 other state military facilities. At the Nevada Air Guard base south of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport’s main terminal, Hanifan said security measures were beefed up.
“It was already a very secured site,” Hanifan said of the air base.
In one day the National Guard quickly resembled the active-duty forces with its training and deployments.
“The events of 9/11 changed the perception of the National Guard,” said retired Maj. Gen. Giles Vanderhoof, the state’s adjutant general, in 2004. "The Guard is now regarded as a technically and tactically proficient fighting force fully capable of seamlessly serving alongside its active-duty brethren.”
Nevada Guard units left for overseas deployments in the Middle East, and over the next two decades, nearly 800 members of the National Guard including three soldiers from Nevada died during the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. On June 16, 2005, Spec. Anthony Cometa became the first Nevada Guard soldier killed in combat since 1944. Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn and Sgt. Patrick Stewart died Sept. 25, 2005, when the Chinook helicopter they were aboard was shot down by hostile fire 180 miles southwest of Kabul. Three crewmen from Oregon also died.
But with all the domestic and international deployments since 9/11, Hanifan said the Nevada Guard has also been able to refine its response to natural disasters.
“(Hurricane) Katrina help galvanize the Guard,” Hanifan pointed out. “Different states were allowed to send their assets to Louisiana.”
Nevada sent a number of units including military and security police to New Orleans to help with the hurricane’s aftermath in 2005, and since that time, Nevada soldiers and airmen have been activated for wildfire suppression, flood control and mitigation, security and assisting with health and safety, such as administering vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Navy takes action
Meanwhile, 65 miles east in the Lahontan Valley, the U.S. Navy began to increase its security as did other installations around the world. Retired Capt. Brad Goetsch, the commanding officer, told the Lahontan Valley News on the 10th anniversary 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. Since 9/11 Navy officials said the air station was busier than usual with additional carrier air wing training.
“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 after 9/11. 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, and 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 said vehicles were subject to searches and only valid identification provided access.
Current commanding officer, Capt. Evan Morrison was a pilot aboard the USS Washington. He said sailors had a good view of Manhattan.
“We were close enough to ground zero that we could see the city,” he described. “It was covered with a layer of smoke, and I could still see smoke rising where the twin towers were. It was a very somber moment kind of seeing that and very, very real of what was happening.”
At that time, Morrison said no one knew what was coming next, and as New York City and Washington, D.C., began to dig out the debris, neither did the rest of the nation.