ASHLAND — No one tweeted the news on Sept. 11, 2001 — 20 years ago today.
No one hopped on Facebook to opine about the craziness of it all. No one posted photos of the destruction that day on various social media sites from their smart phones.
Just us, together with our sadness, fear, shock.
Ashland residents, officials and emergency personnel gathered Saturday morning much like the nation huddled together to seek comfort in the moments following that dreadful day.
The hour-long ceremony moved some to tears as residents shared memories and led the crowd in patriotic songs.
Ashland Mayor Matt Miller’s voice shook as he reminded a crowd of around 100 in downtown’s Foundation Plaza that nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
“People’s lives changed forever. In the weeks, months and years following, things were different,” he said.
Following Miller’s remarks, area residents shared their perspectives of that day.
Dennis Ragle, a retired operations manager at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, said he was sitting in the center’s cafeteria on a coffee break around 9 a.m. when the news showed images of the attack in New York City.
“I was informed and briefed that those aircraft had been hijacked and we didn’t know how many more airplanes in the national system had been hijacked,” Ragel said.
He said the air center began began following the 400 planes still in Cleveland’s air space that morning. One of those discovered was Flight 93, which ultimately crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
He remembered receiving a “very strange” message from the flight. He said the message came from someone with broken English that said, essentially, the plane was in their control and that they had a bomb.
Ragle said he was glad to see so many young people gathered Saturday as he admonished everyone to remember the realities of Sept. 11.
Dick Miller, a retired lieutenant with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said he remembers law enforcement all around the state working tirelessly in the days following the attacks.
Miller said there was increased security at important buildings all around Ohio. The OSHP also put patrol units on 12-hour shifts to cover the roads, thinking that would deter further attacks.
“We had to look at everything, and we didn’t know what to look at,” Miller said. “And we must stay vigilant today. It is as much an issue today as it was 20 years ago.”
Ashland Historical Society Director Jenny Marquette worked as vice president of human resources at Archway Cookies before the company closed in 2008. She described the day as ordinary — until she saw the news on television in the office’s break room.
“A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers,” she said. “It was surreal and it was strange. It was no longer an ordinary day.”
As the company’s human resources manager, she grew concerned for her employees and family. She remembers the questions: “can I go home? I want to see my children.” “Will we work tomorrow?” “Are we at war?”
“People just wanted to be with their loved ones. I wanted to be with my loved ones. I wanted to be home, in the security of my home with my husband and my children,” Marquette said.
John Bouquet, pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Savannah, encouraged the crowd to lean on God the way many people did in the months following the attacks. And he said the country is in much of the same spiritual state as it was 20 years ago.
“The soul of America is in need of a turning back to the Lord Jesus … I don’t want you to go to church because there’s a crisis in the land. I don’t want you to take your Bible out because you’re afraid somebody’s going to steal some of your freedoms,” Bouquet said.
He said some people who died went to Heaven and some went to hell. And the fact that some people went to hell “should move us.”
Ashland’s ceremony was just one of countless around the nation Saturday. Mansfield held a ceremony Friday.
President Biden visited each of the three sites, a rarity for U.S. presidents. The president was not scheduled to speak at each visit. Instead, he issued a recorded statement on Friday, where he said the anniversary is hard.
“It’s so hard. Whether it’s the first year or the 20th, children have grown up without parents and parents have suffered without children,” Biden said.
The president noted the heroism seen in the days following the attacks.
“We also saw something all too rare: a true sense of national unity,” he said.
The anniversary comes shortly after the end of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that Bush launched some 20 years ago to root out al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks.
The last plane carrying U.S. forces left Afghanistan Aug. 31, marking the end of a 20-year conflict that left nearly 2,500 American troops dead and spanned four presidencies.
Many families of 9/11 victims asked Biden to skip memorial events that took place Saturday unless he declassified documents they say show Saudi Arabian leaders supported the attacks.
Biden ordered the Department of Justice to review documents from the FBI investigation into the attacks for declassification and release.