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Published Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Remembering Sept. 11

As the helicopter that carried Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne and Ponte Vedra Beach resident Cmdr. Doug Cochrane left the White House on Sept. 11, it flew over the blazing Pentagon.

West Beaches resident Sean Reilly marks the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks at ground zero in New York. He went with the wife of his cousin, New York City Fire Department Capt. Patrick J. Waters, who died at the World Trade Center. -- Special

From his seat, Cochrane, who was Cheney's naval aide at the time, saw the vice president and his wife look out their windows and firefighters trying to extinguish the flames caused by American Airlines Flight 77, which had crashed into the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m.

"There were crews out there battling heroically," Cochrane said.

Commemorative events

Here is a listing of events to commemorate the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

The Freebird Cafe, 200 First St. N., will hold its third annual Musicians Against Terrorism benefit concert Friday through Sunday.The concert will benefit firefighters. For more information, call 246-2473.

St. Paul's by the Sea Episcopal Church, 11th Avenue North and Fifth Street North, will hold a special memorial service tomorrowat 7 p.m. The service, 9/11 Remembrance: A Memorial Eucharist, will be celebrated by interim rector Sudduth Cummings.

The Atlantic Beach Laughter Club will hold an event tomorrow at 7 p.m.at the Adele Grage Community Center on Ocean Boulevard. Kathleen Smith Beaudreau will teach people about the healing power of laughter and how the immune system is stimulated through a series of breathing exercises and "finding the laughter within." The one-hour program is suitable for families and highly interactive. For more information, call 210-5436.

Jacksonville Beach will hold a September 11th Remembrance tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the SeaWalk Pavilion. The Navy Band Southeast's Ceremonial Band and the Jacksonville Harmony Chorus will perform patriotic and symbolic music as part of the evening's remembrance.

The remembrance will also include the Jacksonville Beach Police Color Guard and the Beaches Honor Guard.

For more information, call 247-6100 and press 6.

An observance titled In Honor of Community Heroes in Memory of 9-11 will be held from 6 to 8 tonightat M.K. Rawlings Elementary School on Florida A1A. Boy Scout troops, a SWAT team, deputies from the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and Ponte Vedra Beach firefighters will participate.

Cochrane had a friend at the Pentagon who, although injured in the attack, helped in the rescue efforts. His friend told Cochrane that around 10:30 a.m. he looked over to nearby Arlington National Cemetery and saw a man holding a large American flag. The man stood there the entire day.

Cochrane is one of several Beaches residents who shared their stories about the tragic events of Sept. 11 in Washington and New York. These Beaches residents experienced or had relatives who were part of the events that unfolded that day.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Cochrane received a call from the White House situation room informing him that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center's north tower at 8:45 a.m.

He ran to the situation room to verify the information, but by then it was already appearing on CNN. Cochrane went to the vice president's office in the White House's West Wing to alert him of the situation. By the time he reached the office, Cheney was meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The office phone rang and Cochrane heard Cheney say "Yes, Mr. President." He closed the door and returned to the situation room.

West Beaches resident Sean Reilly's cousin was a New York City firefighter. Capt. Patrick J. Waters, whose pictures are on Reilly's refrigerator, died after going into the World Trade Center's south tower. -- Diane Uhley/Staff

About 15 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower at the World Trade Center.

"I watched in real time as the second plane hit," he said. "They then evacuated the vice president and Dr. Rice."

Both the White House and nearby Executive Office Building were evacuated.

"It was pretty orderly under the circumstances," Cochrane said. "People were frightened but not panicked. The Secret Service also stepped up security."

Since President Bush was in Sarasota at the time of the attacks, Cheney took a leadership role during the day.

"I would really wish the American public could have seen the national command authority and the way it worked," Cochrane said. "Cheney was the absolute definition of wartime leader; he was executing the duties of the office of vice president in textbook fashion."

About an hour after first the New York attack, the third hijacked airplane crashed into the Pentagon, which lies west of the White House.

The Pentagon attack increased the level of concern, he said.

"I think everybody realized there was potentially hundreds of targets across the United States," he said. "People were definitely thinking along those lines. This was a full-scale attack by a determined enemy. I think people expanded their potential target list."

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Cmdr. Doug Cochrane was Vice President Dick Cheney's naval aide at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was in the White House that day, and left with Cheney on a helicopter. -- Special

"At that time, there wasn't just three reports. In [Washington] D.C., what is happening now is fighters are launching from Langley and Andrews [Air Force bases]. There was a lot of calls about explosions, but they were the sonic booms of the interceptors. There was a lot of information that was not correct. It was challenging to sift through all of that."

By this time, Cheney and Cochrane were moved to the president's Emergency Operations Center with a small staff that included Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.

Mineta had an open communication line with the Federal Aviation Administration's command center at Dulles International Airport. The command center was responsible for landing all planes and identifying other possible hijacked planes, Cochrane said.

A fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field in America's County, Pa., shortly after 10 a.m.

Cochrane said the mood at the operations center was a reflection of its leadership.

"It was very calm and extraordinarily focused," he said. "[Cheney] kept his people focused. His No. 1 priority is he wanted accurate, brief and credible information that he could pass to the president to enable the president to make good decisions. He never wavered from that."

Cochrane said at one point in the morning everybody felt just extraordinary anger at the terrorists' actions.

New York nightmare

In Garrison, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Katrinka Walter was working public relations for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. The events shut down all communications through phones, faxes or computers.

"We were really isolated," she said. "It was very frightening."

But the biggest fear was that Indian Point Nuclear Facility about five miles south would be the next target.

"It was a real nightmare," Walter said. "We did expect other planes to hit but we didn't know where it was going next."

The monastery decided to hold a memorial service that evening and Walter scrambled to get the notice to the local radio station. About 75 people attended the service.

"I don't have words to describe the horror and the fear," she said. "I finally let down and cried that night."

The whole day, Walter tried to get in touch with her son and daughter, who worked near New York City.

"Not being able to talk to either of them and wondering where they were was a nightmare," she said. "Until you make contact with children, you don't feel safe."

She later talked to them and learned they were home safe, but that day shattered any feeling Walter had of security.

"I don't live in fear, but that feeling of security will never come back," she said. "We continued to feel that we were living under a threat."

In the days following the terrorist attacks, helicopters would patrol the nuclear plant and continued doing so for several months, Walter said.

Walter and her family devised an exit plan in case the attacks were repeated. They would all meet in Katonah, N.Y., and drive north. They also purchased Iosat, a medication used for radiation protection.

"There is something missing now that I took for granted all my life," she said: "That we couldn't be attacked."

Fearing for family

West Beaches resident Sean Reilly was watching the events unfold on television, as did much of the world.

"Just like everyone else I was watching the news," he said. "I'm from New York and got caught up like everyone else did."

Reilly's cousin, New York City Fire Department Capt. Patrick J. Waters, was one of the many firefighters who responded to the distress call to the World Trade Center.

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Katrinka Walter, who was working north of New York City in September 2001, says the attacks have shattered her sense of security. -- Diane Uhley/Staff

Reilly tried calling his family in New York to find information about his cousin but the phone lines were down.

He saw on television firefighters being brought out from the rubble and at one point thought his cousin's body had been found.

"The hopes were getting slimmer," he said.

It wasn't until Oct. 2, 2001, that he received the call that they found Waters' body. Waters had died from head trauma at Tower Two. Waters' firehouse lost 23 of its 26 firefighters on Sept. 11, Reilly said. Reilly said the last image he has seen of his cousin was in a documentary shown on television.

"He was in the building and ready to ascend the tower," Reilly said. "He was filmed getting his men together and putting his gear on. There was confusion going on.

"He was barking out orders. A bunch of them went up as a group. No one knows how far they made it, but they know they saved a lot of lives."

Reilly went back to the World Trade Center for the one-year anniversary of the attacks. He didn't know if he should have gone but managed the courage to go. His cousin's widow went with him.

"I got in just before the president got in," Reilly said. "It was chaos. We walked down the site to the ring of honor. I put a picture of Ricky there and a photo of another firefighter. It was an unbelievable feeling. It was pretty impressive."

Reilly, who retired from the Navy and served in the first Gulf War, said after the attacks that he wished he could have gone back into the service.

"We could have done more," he said. "We should have done more to prevent that. I felt guilty that we didn't do our job right."

As the second anniversary of the attacks are commemorated throughout the Beaches, those who have a connection to the events said, people must not forget the events of that fateful September day.

"We must not forget those people; we must not forget that day," Walter said.

Staff writer Christopher F. Aguilar can be reached at (904) 249-4947, extension 19, or via e-mail at chris.aguilarjacksonville.com.

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