Alachua County leaders share 9/11 memories

Editor’s note: The following are excerpts of interviews with local local leaders, conducted by Larry Wilson on 106.9 FM I Am Country. These interviews and more will air in their entirety on 106.9’s special 9/11 anniversary program 7-10 a.m. Saturday.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe

It’s a day that has been seared into my memory. I was teaching middle school at the time. And you had a big block of time, at the beginning of the school day that year, and so I was up in the front office, taking care of some business, and one of the administrative assistants said, ‘You know an airplane just flew into the World Trade Center?’ And I immediately think they thought it was probably some small craft and it was a mistake or an error.

But went back and turned on the news in my classroom, and then, you know, watched the events unfold over the next 90 minutes, where we saw footage of the first airplane and then during that time, saw, basically live the second airplane and then right before the bell rang for what was my first class in the day rang, we saw the first tower fall. And I just, I’m getting choked up now, I felt like my soul had just been ripped from my body. It was an otherworldly experience.

Then I just spent the rest of the day with my other classes. I didn’t want to tell them what to think. I asked all of them to take out their daily journals, which we did in class every day anyway, and just to record their thoughts and their emotions, and everything as it came to them because I taught history and I said, ‘This is a generational event. This is something that you will remember forever. And it’ll reshape the country in the world that we live in.’

It was an eerie America to live in for many, many weeks after that. One of the things I remember so clearly is how quiet the skies were, and it’s not something we think about today, we’re just used to airplane and helicopter noise being there in the background, but we all noticed it, I think, like the skies went silent. There are just so many eerie differences that happened overnight because of what happened that day.

Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce President Eric Godet, Sr.

It’s one of the first periods in my life where I can really go back and know exactly what I was doing when that happened. We were at RTI Surgical, and we were Regeneration Technologies at the time, and we’re just having a normal morning, everyone’s getting in, everyone’s doing their thing. Then all of a sudden I heard a scream and they’re like, ‘Hey, get a TV.’ So I’m going to go to the TV. We ran to the television and we’re just confused, like, how can a plane run into one of the towers, because they’re supposed to be much higher?

As we were going through that whole process and watching the smoke, then 15 minutes later, another plane went right into the next tower. So that was sort of the realization that as a nation we were under attack. That’s the first experience, the only one that I really can remember in my lifetime here on soil, us truly being under attack.

I look at that as a critical moment for a change in traveling. So I just traveled this weekend, I was traveling the weekend before, and it’s one of those things that so much has changed in the airline industry because of 9/11. It is a totally different experience. It kind of erased that era of luxury or that, you know, that romantic type thing with air travel.

I truly think that we have to look out for each other, be aware of our surroundings and when something seems out of order, share that with the authorities. I think we’ve created a more vigilant society. And that’s globally, you know, because no one wants something like this to happen again.

Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones

On that particular day, I was a lieutenant, and I was going up to see my supervisor to get my annual evaluation completed. And the area that I was working in, I looked at the television monitors and I saw this plane go into a building. I literally thought at first it was a promo for a movie, but then when everybody started looking, we say, “This is for real. America is under attack right now.”

The rest of that day was extremely tense because if they attack New York and the Pentagon, the question was are there other targets and the United States. Our thing was at that particular time to be vigilant, try to talk with our federal authorities to try to assess what we can do to protect our citizens in this community.

One of the things that was apparent was that we’re not beyond anyone trying to do an attack. One thing that we’ve learned working with Homeland Security is how to harden ourselves in and around our communities for events such as this. What we try to do is minimize the threat. The threat is always there, but what you try to do is take steps that could minimize or mitigate the possibility of this ever occurring.

Newberry Elementary Principal Vicki McAlhaney

Twenty years, so many years later, a range of emotions, and mostly feelings of fear and deep sadness, still overwhelm me for the lives lost and the families and all our country suffered. However, I can’t live in that space, so I honor this date by remembering the helpers and as Americans how we came together and demonstrated bravery and compassion and love and comfort for fellow Americans. All the men and women who risked their lives and those that gave their lives are in my prayers and where my peace lies.

My boys are young, and they know that September 11th was a horrific day in which a tragedy occurred. They know that two different planes crashed into the Twin Towers, which resulted in incredible loss of life.

My focus with them again is to look for the helpers. Their father is an everyday example of that helper. He along with other firefighters and law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to protect and care for others. We talk about their characteristics of the helper and how they can be helpers to their classmates, their teachers, and within the community.

At school, we call this Patriot Day and we remember the victims of 9/11. With age and grade appropriate literature, teachers facilitate classroom discussions and activities using resources from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We display our flag at half staff and conduct a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. to honor those that lost their lives on this tragic day.

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