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Residents recall the horror of 9/11

Larry Brooks senior therapist Lake County Department Public Health talks about his experiences as Red Cross Volunteer counseling families New

Larry Brooks, senior therapist at the Lake County Department of Public Health, talks about his experiences as a Red Cross Volunteer counseling families in New York after 9/11. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media

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Events planned to
commemorate 9/11

Communities are planning a number of events to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mundelein will hold a formal dedication ceremony for a new 9/11 memorial at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11 at Mundelein Fire Station 1 on Midlothian Road.

The new memorial will include a five-foot column of twisted steel that Mundelein received from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was salvaged from the World Trade Center after Sept. 11.

Fire Chief Tim Sashko said the fire department had requested an artifact from the World Trade Center to include in as part of a memorial to honor fallen police officers and firefighters and other victims of 9/11.

Sashko said the 9/11 artifact will be displayed on a marble stand in the lobby of the fire station, along with a Sept. 11 mural that’s been painted by firefighter Mike Dippel.

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-8th), along with Mundelein Mayor Ken Kessler and fire department officials, will be speaking at the dedication ceremony.

Other local Sept. 11 events that are planned include:

• A 9/11 tribute will be held at the Mundelein Fine Arts Festival from 1:15 to 1:45 p.m. Sunday in Kracklauer Park, with music by Grace Duvall and the Brace Duo.

• The Vernon Hills Police Department, in conjunction with Countryside and Lincolnshire-Riverwoods fire protection districts, will host a short Sept. 11 ceremony at noon on Sunday in the parking lot of the Westfield Hawthorn Mall, in front of Mario Tricoci. The fire districts will have ladder trucks displaying the U.S. flag.

• Hawthorn elementary school students, in conjunction with the Vernon Hills Park District, will be planting hundreds of flower bulbs to commemorate Sept. 11.

• The village of Libertyville has no formal Sept. 11 ceremony planned.

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Updated: November 4, 2011 7:19PM



Libertyville resident Donna Johnson was talking on the phone with a colleague who worked at the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 when the phone line suddenly went dead.

It must be a bad connection, Johnson thought at first. But within a few minutes, she received a call from her husband telling her that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Johnson, an attorney for Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, couldn’t believe what she was hearing. A short time later, some of her co-workers told her they thought the employees who worked in New York had died in the terrorist attacks.

Incredulous, Johnson tried to reach the colleague that she had been talked to on the phone earlier that morning but there was no response. Soon she realized that the man she had been talking to and many other colleagues in New York had not survived.

“It was awful, it really was,” she said. “These are people I talked to on a daily basis. It was very unsettling.”

The 10th anniversary of the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people -- which included a plane crashing into the Pentagon and one that exploded in a field in Pennsylvania -- brings back many memories, particularly for local residents who had a personal connection with the tragic events that day.

Vernon Hills resident Craig Warner, a Continental Airlines pilot, was laid over in New York between flights the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He had stopped in a computer store in New York that morning just after the first plane hit the first tower.

“I looked up at a TV screen and the World Trade Center was on fire,” he said. “At first, I thought it was a video game or something like that.”

But Warner soon learned it was real. He and his co-pilot decided to walk from their hotel toward the Trade Center. He remembered hearing car radios blaring out the news as the tragic events of that morning unfolded. He could also hear and see F-15 fighter jets flying overhead.

Finally, they got within sight of the Trade Center and could see the second tower had just collapsed.

“That plume of dust you’ll never forgot. If you’re a Chicagoan and you could imagine the Sears Tower being there and then a second later it’s not,” he said.

Warner remained stranded in New York for the next five days as all flights were grounded after 9/11. He recalls seeing pictures of people posted all over the city by family members of victims hoping that somehow their loved ones had survived. He remembers a makeshift memorial set up outside the fire station across from his hotel, with flowers, candles and pictures of fallen firefighters from the station that were killed in the Trade Center.

“You couldn’t walk by it without crying,” he said. “It didn’t matter who you were. It was just so sad.”

Larry Brooks of Vernon Hills, a New York native, also felt the personal impact of 9/11. Brooks was working at the Lake County Health Department in Waukegan on that day but had many family members living in New York, including his mother who lived within a couple miles of the Trade Center and witnessed the planes crash and buildings fall.

‘All of those memories’

“She was very upset having witnessed the planes and the flames to the point where she can’t watch movies with flames in them anymore because it brings back all of those memories,” she said.

A few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Brooks, a senior counselor for the health department, volunteered to go to New York on behalf of the health department and American Red Cross to provide counseling for family members of victims, first responders and other New Yorkers who were struggling with psychological issues.

Upon arriving at his work station in New York, Brooks remembers lines of people at least two or three city blocks long waiting for help. He heard stories from first responders and family members who lost loved ones in the towers. He even walked with family members down to Ground Zero, carrying urns of sterilized earth.

Although a seasoned psychotherapist, Brooks admits nothing could totally prepare him for the stories he heard.

“We as therapists are prepared to deal with intense situations, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect us,” he said.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 may seem like a distant memory for some but for Brooks the memories of his experiences in New York remain incredibly vivid 10 years later.

Brooks said events of 9/11 have changed him forever and have given him a greater appreciation of the fragile nature of life.

“On a day-to-day basis, the things we take for granted we should not,” he said. “Every day is a gift and it’s by giving to others that we grow.”

Warner’s family still has a postcard that he sent his daughter, Sarah, from New York on Sept. 11. The postcard depicts the Statue of Liberty with the twin towers in the background. On the card, he wrote, “They can destroy our buildings but not our freedoms.”

An ex-military officer, Warner hopes people will not forgot the 3,000 people who died that day and the many others who have died since fighting in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect their country.

“I would hope the younger generations would realize how valuable our freedoms and liberties are, how fragile they are, and that many people have sacrificed their lives for those freedoms,” he said.

Johnson will never forget what happened that day or the friends she lost, As the 10th anniversary of the day approaches, she hopes people will take time to reflect on the tragic events of that day.

“I think it’s sad something like that is forgotten so quickly by people that were not touched by it personally,” she said. “I don’t think it’s talked about enough.”



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