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Remembering 9/11 Featured

Written by  Tuesday, 11 September 2018 10:23
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By James Lockhart

 

The September 11, 2001 attacks was the first time a major city in the mainland United States was attacked since the War of 1812. Almost 200 years since the east coast had experienced war.

 

That day, September 11, 2001 I was working for the US Dept of Agriculture. We were using a small plane to control livestock depredation on a ranch in northeast Oklahoma. I will never forget landing the plane in the pasture and listening to the events unfold on a radio in the truck. I will also never forget the air traffic control tower was searching for our plane when we took off back to the airport for lunch. They were worried we might have been terrorists.

 

A few weeks later my supervisor asked for volunteers to go help with the recovery efforts in New York. I didn’t have a credit card, so I had to take out a small loan at the bank in order to go. I had never flew in an large airplane either. I worried about my bad ear giving me trouble.

 

We didn’t know if more attacks were coming, so my dad gave me his railroad engineer operator card in case there were more attacks and a train was the only way to get back home. Like I said, we didn’t know what to expect.

 

A few days before I left for New York I was visiting with my father in law, he’s retired OKC fire Cheif. I will never forget what he said, “somewhere there’s a fire Cheif up there feeling really guilty about sending those men into those buildings, but i guess I’d have done the same thing.” The New York fire department lost over 300 firefighters on 9-11.

 

I helped at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. That’s where the debris from ground zero was taken. The sea gulls and rats were scavenging on the remains of the victims. It was my job to prevent them from doing so, we worked from before sunup until after dark each day. The landfill produced so much methane gas the mud puddles in the road bubbled, and it smelled like rotten eggs. I would get the dry heaves each morning when I arrived to work, the smell took a little getting used to each day.

I flew into Newark, New Jersey. That evening several of my coworkers went to dinner, there was one couple from Alaska, a husband and wife. Years later I learned that it was Sarah Palin’s parents.

 

I didn’t have a cell phone back then and there was one in the Jeep with instructions as to how to use it. I couldn’t ever figure it out. Finally, one day it rang and I happened to push the right button. The New York state director Richard Chipman was fairly upset that I hadn’t been calling and checking in each day. It has always meant a lot to me that his primary concern was how my spirits were and if I was handling this awful situation ok. I told Richard about a mean old dude down on the docks that talked awful to me, the next day that guy was kissing my butt. I’ve always remembered Mr Chipman’s leadership in the years since and I’ve tried to copy his style.

 

The debris for each building was transported from ground zero so that when it got to the landfill we knew which building each load of debris came from. The CIA had offices in building 7, they were very stand offish. I worked closely with the NYPD and the FBI each day.

 

There was a lady that held a sign where the workers got on the highway outside the landfill. I think her sign basically said thank you. I’ve always wished I would have stopped and talked to her. Did she lose loved ones in the attacks, or was she just a good hearted person who wanted to say thanks.

 

One evening after work we went to a steakhouse. They figured out we were from the landfill and we ate for free. It was the first time I’d ever had prime rib. I was worried how I’d be treated by all those Yankees in New York, everywhere I went they treated me great and I fell in love with New York City, It’s a whole nother planet is the best way to describe it.

 

Several of us took the Staten Island ferry over to Manhattan one evening after work. We walked all the way around ground zero. I will never forget the Red Cross worker at the police memorial who got so upset by all the letters from loved ones we had to help her walk back to the ferry. Too be honest I think we all cried a little.

 

The ferry took us by the Statue of Liberty at night and the disposable cameras I had didn’t take a single good photo of it. Somewhere there is a roll of film that’s never been developed, maybe one day I’ll find it.

 

In the weeks and months after the attacks there was a lot of worry. There were rumors of more attacks, especially on our water supply. We were afraid of our drinking water being poisoned. My agency was tasked with monitoring wildlife diseases after 9-11. This was in case of biological weapons attacks we could watch and help determine if there were biological attacks.

 

I will always remember those days in New York. Although it’s been 17 years I can still smell the landfill and see the debris, it wasn’t that long ago for me.

 

The challenges our nation faces today seem trivial to me, compared to what we experienced on September 11, 2001 and the days and months after. Our nation came together and we proved that our common bonds are much greater than our differences.

 

I will never forget 9-11-01.

 

God Bless the USA

 

Respectfully submitted,

James Lockhart

 

David Deaton

Digital Editor at Oklahoma Welcome

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