During the hour when terrorist attacks were unfolding on U.S. soil a decade earlier, Catawba County citizens gathered in Conover on Sunday to remember Sept. 11, 2001.
“Today marks the 10th anniversary of when our world was made different in an instant,” said Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. “Whatever we call 9/11 - the beginning of the war on terror - or America’s wake-up call, one fact is beyond belief: it changed us, and it changed our world.”
A memorial service in Conover Downtown Park also included the dedication of a World Trade center artifact - a steel and concrete “shear head” which attached the WTC North Tower’s steel girders to its concrete foundation. Identified by Conover City Council member Done Beal as archive F-0003j, the 5,000-pound piece of history will be displayed in a place where citizens can, “see, touch and feel” it.
“While we are saddened by the events that brought this piece of our heritage to a final rest here, it is important to be reminded this is not a tombstone. Rather, it is a symbol of a nation born of freedom; forged on the backs of heroes who literally protect our democratic way of life,” Beal said. “We are reminded that our nation’s foundation has survived this senseless attack, thus we shall honor the men and women who protect and serve us day after day.”
The artifact, Moritz said, should “remind us that despite differences, we are all Americans.” It represents the memory of all who perished; veterans who have served and those “defending post 9/11 freedom;” and first responders who “risk their lives” to protect citizens, he said.
Beginning promptly at 8:45 a.m. Sunday, the Conover memorial coincided with the moment when five terrorist hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the WTC North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001. At 9:03 a.m. five other hijackers crashed U.S. Air Flight 175 into the WTC South Tower.
“We remember today, the citizens who perished inside the World Trade Center and aboard the planes that felled the twin towers,” Moritz said. “These people were not trained warriors taking an oath to fight and defend. They were just hard-working citizens.”
Among those victims, Moritz said, were 403 first-responders, including 343 firefighter, 23 police officers and 47 port authority officers.
“The firefighters and first-responders, without hesitation, ran toward these burning buildings in an attempt to rescue lives without any regard for their own safety,” Moritz said.
Moritz also reminded the assembled crowd area residents, community leaders and first-responders about two other airplanes commandeered by terrorists ten years ago. One crashed into the Pentagon, which Moritz said is more than a war department, but a place where the U.S. military’s peace-keeping and relief missions have been hatched for decades. The other plan crashed in a pasture in Shanksville, Penn.
“We remember Flight 93, where by all accounts, our war on terror began,” Conover’s mayor said of the plan that crashed in Pennsylvania, killing 40 people on board. “These brave Americans mounted heroic efforts to regain control of the aircraft. ... If not for these Americans fighting back, Flight 93 would have targeted our nation’s capitol or the White House.”
After Sept. 11, 2001 began as what Moritz called a “picture perfect weather day,” it quickly turned into nightmare.”
“We all saw images we never dreamed we would see,” said Conover Police Department Chaplain Brian Correll. “We still can’t believe them, but they are burned into our memories.”
Alongside those bitter recollections, Correll encouraged people to also hold fast to other memories.
“May we never forget the human sacrifice that day,” he said. “Never, never, never forget those that, in the face of danger, ran to and not from the destruction that horrified us and many others.”
Correll also encouraged citizens to remember “hometown heroes” - the men and women who serve as first responders in Catawba County. Many of those police, fire and rescue workers were present for Sunday’s ceremony. As ladder trucks from Newton and Conover fire departments hoisted a U.S. flag above the park, uniformed men and women from Conover, Newton, Hickory, Oxford and throughout Catawba County formed a processional of police, fire and rescue “hometown heroes.” The Catawba County Firefighter’s Association Honor Guard solemnly offered the sounding of a fire bell to honor those first responders who died on 9/11.
“Just as those that go racing to the buildings, to the fires, to the destruction and the horrific acts they see day in and day out, they are our hometown heroes,” Correll said. “They work in the face of fear of danger and of fear of things that the normal person would collapse under. They are truly our heroes.”
Those heroes, too, along with victims and their families were also commemorated in a proclamation passed by Conover City Council this month. “Always Remember 9-11 Day” is a day “ to mourn, reflect and rededicate ourselves to ending terrorism in commemoration of the anniversary of the terrorists attacks.”
“We encourage all of our citizens to honor the victims of Sept. 11 by reaffirming their commitment to sustaining our newfound patriotism through volunteerism, community involvement and service,” Conover Council member Jan Herman read from the proclamation. “Let us honor the memory of all those who died by being of service to one another and by building the ‘stronger, more perfect union’ our founding fathers called for.”
The Conover memorial was among ceremonies slated throughout Catawba County on Sunday. Churches throughout the community dedicated service time to remembrance of 9/11, while Hickory planned a memorial service on Union Square on Sunday.