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20 years in remembrance

A look back at 9/11 in Calaveras County

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Photos from the Sept. 18, 2001 issue of the Enterprise show Calaveras County residents' acts of patriotism in the wake of 9/11.

A note from the editor, Dakota Morlan:

On Sept. 11, 2001, Calaveras County residents were reeling from their own disaster: the Darby Fire. The blaze ignited on the evening of Sept. 5 and quickly engulfed the Calaveras County side of the Stanislaus River Canyon, burning 14,288 acres in total and destroying large sections of Utica Water and Power Authority’s flume system, cutting off water supply to 10,000 people in Murphys and Angels Camp.

Gratitude towards firefighters was already embedded in the zeitgeist of the moment, as was reflected in letters to the editor printed in the Calaveras Enterprise. There was also a palpable anxiety about the Darby Fire, future fires, and the destruction they might inflict.

The Sept. 11, 2001, issue of the Enterprise did not mention the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., likely due to its then-biweekly print schedule. However, the Sept. 14 issue did, and these articles are time capsules into the fear, shock, sadness, and patriotism of the time, to which it seems no American was immune, including those who lived 3,000 miles away from Ground Zero.

Residents flocked to the Delta Blood Bank in San Andreas to give blood, clogging the waiting room. American flags sold out at stores and a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Nearly everyone, when approached, could offer a rousing statement of unity and resilience.

But widespread concern and debate over the United States’ inevitable retaliation to 9/11 began almost as soon as the dust settled over New York City.

Then-editor Nick Baptista wrote in the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Enterprise, “If I read the president and the cabinet correctly, the United States is about to embark on what could be a lengthy search for the remaining terrorists, their leaders and accomplices. Early speculation and some evidence points to Osama bin Laden as the ringleader. I wonder whether we will stop when we locate the perpetrators of these specific crimes against humanity or will we pursue the fight against terrorism to all of those who engage in or condone such despicable acts?

“What if our intelligence and investigation services determine bin Laden was not a party to these specific acts of terrorism? I assume we’ll continue hunting him because of past acts against the United States. And what about Iraqi President Saddam? Just the other day he said, ‘America is reaping thorns sown by its rulers in the world,’ implying we deserved to be attacked.

“Do we as Americans have the will power to eradicate all who pose a threat to our security, our lives, our happiness and our freedoms? And what will we do when we locate those who authorities believe were complicit in these crimes? Do we try to apprehend them peaceably or go in with guns blazing?

“On the home front, will we tighten security so much that we become a police state? Will the freedoms we love be lost in the process? Many questions linger as we move ahead to combat terrorism. It will not be like World War II where the identity of our enemies was clear and our men went off to the Pacific and Europe, while our women went to the factories to build the ships, planes, and munitions. This will be a battle or war where our patience, our will, our resolve, our morals and our humanity will be severely tested, but it is a war we must win if we are ever to feel safe and secure in our homes, at work or at any public gathering.”

As I transcribed these words from the Enterprise archives, I couldn’t help but feel that I was living it again, seeing it this time through adult eyes (I was 6 years old when 9/11 happened). And I felt an overwhelming sadness, not only for the horrors of that day, but also for the past 20 years rippling out from immeasurable tragedy. I heard echoes of more recent words, repeated now, of mass shootings, catastrophic fires and a deadly virus. The fear and confusion are the same, but the rage is frightening.

In a recent Enterprise web poll, 63% of readers said it was time for U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan, but it should have been done differently; 28% said it was done correctly, and 9% said we should have stayed.

In retrospect, it’s easy to say what was right or wrong. We live during a time when most decisions seem wrong with only a month’s perspective; but looking back at the days following Sept. 11, 2001, in this community, there is so much that seems so right. Perhaps in remembrance this time around, we can gift ourselves that togetherness once more.

From the Sept. 18, 2001, issue of the Calaveras Enterprise:

Calaveras County reacts in many ways to the attack on America

By Mike Taylor

Calaveras County residents have been expressing their grief and surprise at the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.

As school began Friday morning, the Calaveras High School student council asked Principal Mark Campbell if they could gather in the gymnasium for a service. He said he was uncomfortable with crowding 1,000 students into the gym “and telling them how to feel,” so he decided to have a voluntary ceremony outdoors at the flagpole.

“At least 80 percent of the students showed up,” Campbell said, adding he thought some might drift away as the service got into more prayers, but they didn’t.

“They didn’t even leave as they sang ‘God Bless America’ or ‘My Country ‘tis of Thee,’” he said. “They confirmed my belief in the students at this school.”

On Friday night, residents and many off-duty firefighters converged on Mark Twain Hall at the fairgrounds as Jay Donnelly, the California Department of Forestry chaplain, led a memorial service for the fallen rescuers in New York.

The pathway to the hall was tastefully lit with small green glow-sticks, each attached to a small American flag, and uniformed personnel guided community members to the building. Once at the door, an orange glow-stick was given to everyone in attendance, to represent a candle.

Officials from the City of Angels, county government, the state parks and the U.S. Forest Service attended a fairly somber ceremony. Calaveras/Tuolumne Ranger Unit Chief Del Albright welcomed the public.

“It’s important to us that you’re here,” Albright told the guests, saying he was proud to serve the residents of both counties.

Darby Fire Incident Commander Tim Sappok told the crowd that firefighters have dedicated their efforts on the Darby Fire to their fallen brethren in New York.

“We’re Americans,” Sappok said, “and we’re proud. We’ll fight whatever enemy comes our way.”

Donnelly said firefighters are in a strange position, “When everyone else is leaving, we’re going in. And at times, we make the ultimate sacrifice.”

He told the assembly that families of victims in New York and Washington, D.C., area have asked for one thing, prayers.

Saturday morning, members from the West Point community met at the cemetery to remember those fallen in the attacks. The service began with the singing of “America the Beautiful” and many local ministers spoke to comfort the crowd.

West Point Community Covenant Church Pastor John Rush told the group he recently had an eerie conversation with his 16-year-old son regarding the Middle East. He said he had told his son it might take another Pearl Harbor to “really bring this to closure.”

When his son called him last Tuesday morning, Rush said, “My knees went weak.”

District 2 Supervisor Paul Stein said he was hard-pressed to describe his feelings about the attacks, and read an e-mail to the crowd that has been widely circulated since Sept. 11. The editorial was prepared by Canadian television commentator Gordon Sinclair and speaks of the U.S. rapidly assembling teams to assist other nations in all manner of disasters, but no one comes to help America.

On Monday morning, Stein said the most moving portion of the ceremony, for him, was the ringing of the church bell near the cemetery, then the ringing of the Covenant Church’s bell off in the distance.

Also Saturday, symbolism and heroism were celebrated after Murphys volunteer firefighter Paul Schuller awakened to what he thought would be another day of “…sitting in front of the computer reading the updates on fallen brother and sister firefighters.”

He said he and his 10-year-old son, Joe, grabbed a pair of turnouts—the special boots firefighting personnel wear to emergencies—and stuck American flags into them and proceeded to the sidewalk in front of their house. Schuller also took a picture of his friend, Andrew A. Fredericks, who was killed during the made at the first World Trade Center tower.

Schuller said the response to the quickly put together memorial was tremendous. “No matter the age, gender or ethnic culture, these Americans were quick to lend a helpful hand, console one another and shed a tear all at the same time.

After counting contributions made to them, Schuller said more than $2,300 was gathered, and will be sent to the New York Firefighters 911 Disaster Relief Fund.

Wondering if there was something they could do for the country Sunday afternoon, Jamie Wilson, 14, and Dena Herd, 11, decided to paint a sign. The two close friends from San Andreas worded it simply, but their message struck a lot of drivers as they passed the corner of Main Street and Highway 49, “Honk if you love America.”

“We just wanted to do something to show our support,” Wilson said. As each car honked its horn, the young ladies cheered their responses.

“More than 507 people honked their horns,” Herd said, “in only an hour and a half. But it was so hard to keep track, there had to be more.”


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