By Mary O’KEEFE
“If tears had audible language, a shriek would go up from these States which would startle the world from its propriety.”
~ The Richmond Whig newspaper from the Library of Virginia days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
As a country, we have faced many dark days. They are days that have broken our hearts and yet have brought us together when we are reminded what it is to be an American. And as a nation we become a united community that often asks one question: “Where were you when…?”
Sept. 11, 2001 is one of those days Americans remember. Terrorists hijacked four planes. The first two were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the third into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. and the fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to take control of the plane to prevent the terrorists from attacking another landmark. Thousands of people died in the planes and on the ground. Some were emergency responders. In December 2001, President George W. Bush signed a resolution declaring September 11 as Patriot Day.
Crescenta Valley will be recognizing this day with two events sponsored by the CV Chamber of Commerce and the Early Rodders Car Club. The first begins at 9:11 a.m. today. Classic car owners from the Early Rodders will drive dignitaries and invited community members along a path that will pass schools, fire departments and the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station. The cars will be decorated with American flags. Students will stand along the sidewalks in front of their local schools waving flags. The community is invited to also stand along the path when the cars parade by in recognition of Patriot Day and in remembrance of 9/11. Then at 7 p.m. there will be a special ceremony to honor local first responders. The event will be held at Bob Smith Toyota, 3333 Foothill Blvd. in La Crescenta.
For many in Crescenta Valley, the memory of 9/11 is distant, the devastation watched on television, then donations sent to aid those affected by the attack. But for one man who will take part in today’s events, the memory is very personal.
Joshua Sneed was in Rancho Palos Verdes at the Salvation Army College for officer training. He went to New York about 10 days after the attack to help with the Salvation Army support team.
“I did direct service response [in New York]. I volunteered for the night shift,” Sneed said.
Sneed, and the crew he was with, were in a tent at ground zero of the Twin Towers. They were right at the edge of a “pit” near the second tower.
“It was [also] near where the pedestrian bridge had collapsed,” he added.
It was his job to just listen to those who were cleaning the aftermath of the terrorist attack, listening to firefighters, police, medical personnel and ironworkers.
Sneed described those working at ground zero as a community, like a small village. He didn’t push those who came into the tent to talk. He would give them coffee and if at some point they needed to share what they had seen they would.
“After the first three days, I had talked to so many people,” he said. “Most of them wanted to talk about other things, not about what they were doing there.”
The ironworkers seemed to want to talk the most. Emergency responders were affected by what they had seen but they had a different background. For the ironworkers, it was different; there were victims beneath the twisted metal.
“[The ironworkers] were the most self-revealing and vulnerable to what they were going through,” Sneed said. “Some of those relationships [I made] meant a great deal.”
At one point, an ironworker had been injured by a piece of metal that had ripped through his protective gear and into his arm. Sneed, who had dressed in layers that night, took sweatshirts off and gave them to the ironworker.
The community feeling was never more evident than when a victim’s body was found.
“Every time they found the remains of someone … everything would come to a halt. Even the machines would be turned off and across several acres of landscape a church service would be held for five or 10 minutes. During that time nothing else happened,” he said. “There were some very surreal moments.”
Sneed has known great loss and great tragedy in his life. He was well equipped to listen and to understand those who came into the tent. He knew familiarity and sense of community was important.
“One of my favorite memories were little moments when we would find ways to build the community,” he said. “I took a banner and hung up a sign that read ‘Hard Hat Cafe.’” That is where the ironworkers would come for that overall sense of community. It really was a city within a city.”
All workers and volunteers wore masks to protect themselves from the toxic debris that was in the air. All who volunteered at ground zero are part of the health registry and are emailed on a regular basis about symptoms to be aware of.
For Sneed, the memory of 9/11 is not something that just recurs on one day but something he carries with him.
“I have some memories, a poster that was sent to me and a pin that an ironworker made,” he said.
To honor the first responders, the community is invited to the reception at Bob Smith Toyota tonight at 7 p.m.