Home Our Diocese 9/11 recollections in Diocese of Wilmington: ‘Silence was deafening,’ people appeared numb;...

9/11 recollections in Diocese of Wilmington: ‘Silence was deafening,’ people appeared numb; ‘Let’s sing’ and that’s what we did

A message to a loved one is seen near the reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City Sept. 11, 2010. (CNS photo/John Angelillo, Pool via Reuters)

As we approached the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11/01, The Dialog asked its readers: Where were you on that horrible day? What were you doing? What will you remember most? Below are responses.

I arrived to see about a dozen people crowded around the TV

As a former LaGuardia Airport air traffic controller who directed aircraft over the World Trade Center, I was familiar with the towers and the airspace.

I was on Route 1 that morning heading south to business in Rehoboth when a friend called asking if I’d heard about an aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. I assured him it must have been a small aircraft that had lost its way but pulled into the first Wawa on the right, knowing they had a small TV inside. I arrived to see about a dozen people crowded around the small black-and-white TV about the time the second tower was struck.

As a member of the Delaware Army National Guard at that time, I called our Wilmington headquarters, wondering if we might be at war. I was assured as things unfolded, I’d be called. There was no call up for us.
Dave Skocik

‘The silence was
deafening’ after news shared in church

I was assistant to the pastor, Msgr. George Brubaker, at St. John the Apostle in Milford on 9/11/01.

I was attending the 9 a.m. Mass when the secretary stepped into the hallway that leads to the church. I was in the front pew and could see she was holding a piece of paper in her hand indicating I should get it. I got up, got it from her and read it. It said “a plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

I immediately took the note and laid it on the altar for Msgr. Brubaker to see.  He announced to those present that the World Trade Center had been bombed. The silence was deafening. Immediately following Mass a call came from Washington telling monsignor to report for duty at Washington immediately. At the time he was chaplain in the National Guard. That memory will never go away.
Bonnie De Mar
St. John the Apostle Parish, Milford

‘Stay away from lower
Manhattan’ was good advice

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as a member of the Wilmington Fire Department, I reported for work at 7:30 a.m. to assume my duties as the battalion chief assigned to district 2. Finishing out the night tour was Battalion Chief Al Huelsenbeck. We discussed the night activities, and Al proceeded to leave and go home.

“Guardians of the Defenders” memorial at Holy Rosary parish in Claymont.

As I was preparing my daily activities, the television immediately caught my attention that a plane had struck one of the towers in New York. As I further watched, the second plane crashed into the south tower.

My department phone rang and upon answering a frantic voice was on the other end. It was Chief Huelsenbeck’s daughter calling from New York that her fiancé worked in one of the towers that was on fire. I replied to her that her father just left and was on his way home and I would attempt to contact him. I also advised her to stay away from lower Manhattan as things were going to get busy with responding emergency personnel. Luckily her fiancé had not reported for work and was found to be safe.

For the past 19 years I, along with several individuals, attend a ceremony the Sunday before 9/11 called the Walk of Remembrance. Mass is celebrated and attended by hundreds followed by a procession finishing at Ground Zero. Along the route stops are made at several fire and police stations where the names are read of those who worked at the stations who were killed. The final stop is at St. Peter’s Church in lower Manhattan.
Joseph Kalinowski
deputy chief, retired
Wilmington Fire Dept.

Many appeared numb as they seemed to wonder why …

On the morning of Sept.11, 2001, we were preparing for the Sept. 15 dedication of our new gymnasium/classroom facility known as the St. E Center. I was walking through the construction site with our chief of maintenance.

First responders join the 9/11 service at St. Hedwig in September 2019. Dialog photo/Joseph Owens

As we exited the elevator from the basement and arrived at ground level, he received a phone call. I saw the blood drain from his face as the retired Navy officer heard that an airplane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46. I assumed that it was a tragic accident like the one in July of 1945 when dense fog caused a U.S. military plane to crash into the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in the Empire State Building. But our chief seemed to have other suspicions.

We concluded our meeting with a contractor and returned to the main school building. My desk phone began to ring with teacher requests for technical assistance so they could watch the unfolding news on their classroom TVs.

At 9:03 I was adjusting the head end of our cable distribution system when I saw a plane approaching the South Tower. The camera cut away to a shot from a different angle and I saw a fireball from where I imagined the plane had just made impact. Later, I saw the South Tower collapse at 9:59 and the North Tower collapse at 10:28.
Sometime after 9:37 we began to hear reports of an explosion at the Pentagon, where a relative of one of our staff members worked. And after 10:03, we heard of a crash in Shanksville, Pa.

The news was horrific and terrifying. TV viewers were overwhelmed by what they saw. Many appeared numb as they seemed to wonder why this was happening. America soon entered a period of mourning.

With the encouragement of Bishop Saltarelli, the dedication of the St. E Center took place as scheduled just 4 days after 9/11. I remember him saying that the dedication was important as a symbol of “building up” at a time when some were “tearing down”.
Kevin Scott
Former development
director at St. Elizabeth School

How easily we have
forgotten patriotism, unity we had

In September 2001, my sister and I went to Yosemite National Park for vacation. We stayed in San Francisco the weekend before and after and went to Yosemite from Monday through Friday for the week. We woke up Tuesday morning to a beautiful sunny day and looking forward to our first full day in one of the most beautiful places God has created. I had a small radio and could only get one station.

I turned it on to hear the radio announcer say  “the World Trade Center tower has collapsed” and then it went to music. My sister and I were stunned. At first we thought it was a cruel joke. After all, how could the towers collapse? We were horrified to find out what was happening. We went to the main lodge to hear the tragic news. Of course there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t even leave to return to New Jersey, where we lived at the time. We contacted family to make sure our loved ones were safe and then decided that all we could do was pray for all those lives and first responders knowing and believing God and his angels were with them all. We then tried to make the best of the situation and enjoy the best we could, under the circumstances, all that God had created.

It was a very surreal vacation to know the tragic events and be surrounded by nature and all its beauty. When we left on Friday to return to San Francisco, we were struck by the patriotism we witnessed along the way. All the American flags were out the whole way back to San Francisco. People were unifying, lining up to donate blood to try and help. We arrived to a very different San Francisco from the weekend before — like night and day.  Even out on the west coast, one could feel the shock and despair hanging over everyone and everything. We were able to fly back home to New Jersey on Sunday since the airports opened again on Friday. You could literally sense the sadness hanging over the metropolitan area. People were asking us if we were afraid to fly again after all that had happened. Our answer: “If we live our lives in fear, then they have won!” I have to trust in Jesus. God bless us all! God bless America!  How easily many have forgotten recently the patriotism and unity we all had at that time.
Thank you for allowing me to share these memories and thoughts. Have a blessed day!
Barbara M. Johnson

The beautiful blue sky of that morning quickly dissipated

I was in the checkout line at the Pathmark Supermarket on Kirkwood Highway. My darling little 5-month-old granddaughter, Alex, was in the seat of the shopping cart totally unaware of the devastating news the woman behind me was telling me.

An airplane had just crashed into one of the twin towers in New York; most likely a terrorist attack. As shocking as that statement was, little did we know that the worst was yet to come.

The beautiful clear blue sky of that morning quickly dissipated in New York due to all the acrid smoke, devastation and loss of precious lives that took place in the destruction of those two twin towers,

That day will forever be etched in my memory.
Rosemarie Pullella
St. John the Beloved Parish

I replied ‘Let’s sing … ’
and that’s what we did

On 9/11, my Mother was in the nursing wing of a senior living facility. After the towers fell, I paid her a visit and found her glued to the TV. Thinking that she’d enjoy a change of scenery, I wheeled her down to the landing just outside the building’s main entrance. We were soon joined by a young waitress who found candles and several members of the dietary staff.

Once we lit the candles, someone asked, “Now what do we do?” I replied, “Let’s sing” and everyone joined me in a heartfelt rendition of “America the Beautiful.” When we finished, the woman with the candles said it was so great that generations came together to do such a nice thing. I was reminded that, when I was in a choir long ago, that to sing is to pray twice. And that’s what we did, on that dreadful day in the most unlikely place, when we shared that poignant  experience I’m sure no one in the group will ever forget.
Pat Jautz
St. Ann, Wilmington

My husband was OK, but his brother was gone

Our family suffered tremendous loss on 9/11. My husband Christopher Whitford (retired NYPD) was looking for his brother Mark (FDNY) down by the Twin Towers to no avail. We lost Mark Whitford on 9/11.

My husband Christopher and I had moved upstate New York to the Hudson Valley, 60 miles north of NYC. We lived in New Windsor, close to the Stewart International Airport. I dropped off our son, Marc, at the Little Britain Elementary School that day. I went home and Mark’s wife (back then) called me and told me to turn on the TV. That’s when I saw the unthinkable happening in front of my eyes. We all went to pick up our kids from school.

Since my husband was at ground zero for the next weeks, I didn’t hear from him at all, and didn’t know if my husband was OK.

At last my husband contacted me and I was relieved that he was OK. But his brother was gone.

Hope something like this will never happen again.

God Bless,

Gloria Whitford
St. Michael, the Archangel, Georgetown