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La Grange residents remember reactions to Sept. 11 attacks

Lynn Petrak

Lynn Petrak

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Updated: November 7, 2011 12:16AM

It’s the flags I remember. They appeared the morning afterward, and over the next several days, on front porches, car antennas, posters in front windows and on people’s shirts, hats and lapels.

The American flag has always stood as a symbol for strength and unity, and the Stars and Stripes were a true rallying point after Sept. 11, 2001. If we felt helpless in other ways, we could at least fly it, wear it and put our hand on our heart as we looked at it, no longer with game-day, national-anthem-type of pride, but with reflection, resolve and resilience.

Ten years later, you’ll see that our flag is still there. Many of us did not fly the American flag from our homes before 9/11 but have not taken it down since.

As the 9/11 anniversary approaches this weekend, we are saturated with poignant remembrances in the media. Like my parents did on the dates of Pearl Harbor and JFK’s assassination, I find myself thinking back to that day and recall the ocean-blue sky, the flurry of phone calls, the way I just sat in the corner of the basement, six months pregnant and keeping a wary eye on my toddler sons, wondering if I should pack a bag and leave for nowhere in particular.

Certainly, we all have our memories, a decade old but still searing. Here are some of them.

Denny Fry, La Grange: I worked downtown, across the street from the Sears Tower, and the company I worked for at the time had offices on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. My recollections are strong: there were 69 employees in that New York office and none of them made it out. I can remember hearing about people trying to contact folks on the floor there and not getting responses. Someone sent an e-mail, asking, “Are you all right?” and the reply was, “No. Smoke everywhere.” I knew probably 15 or 20 people who died and some of them I knew really well. It was hard to go to work over the next several days, and I worked there for another year after that. I still keep a card on my desk at this job with a list of people I knew who died.

Ann Werner, La Grange: I stayed home from work sick that day. I worked in the tower, formerly known as Sears. My husband’s mom called in hysterics — she wanted to know where (my husband) Tom and I were. I figured she was just overreacting. Turns out, she wasn’t. Seeing those towers in flames and people jumping from them was surreal. I am still left with emptiness when I think about it. What I remember most is the silence that followed: the quiet on the airwaves, on the streets and in the sky.

Jeanne Kelly, La Grange: I was at work downtown, seeing patients. Some of the patients were telling us about what had happened and we pulled up images on the computer. There was an underlying sense of the possibility of mass chaos and concern that we were in a big city. The head of our foundation where I work asked that we all stay at the hospital in case the need would arise for us to treat mass casualties. We were released to go home at the end of our day. I couldn’t wait to hold my children — two kids at the time, one on the way — thinking, “What kind of world am I bringing these children into?”

Pam Rohrbacher, La Grange: I remember sitting at my kitchen table, doing bills, watching the news. (My son) didn’t have preschool that day, so it was a lazy morning. After the first plane hit, I just thought that it was a horrible accident but as soon as the second plane hit, I knew it was something much worse. I was captivated by the news for days but was careful to watch while the kids were around. How do you explain something like that to little ones whose biggest concerns are Thomas the Train and snacks? I felt better at the time, them not knowing. We have talked about it as they got older and they just wonder why someone would do that, a question that all of us adults have, too.

Laurie Severino, La Grange: The trip of a lifetime: New York City with my mom, aunt and sister-in-law. On Sept. 11, 2001, my daughter and I were watching “Arthur” and my son was sleeping when my sister-in-law called and said, “Oh my goodness, do you think we should still go?” After a flurry of phone calls, we decided to go ahead with our trip. Upon arrival, there was an uncanny quiet to NYC. We got settled at hotel and were off to our first show, “The Producers.” At the beginning of the show, the lights dimmed and (actors) Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick appeared on the stage. They thanked the audience for coming to New York, that New York needed us and we needed each other during this unspeakable tragedy. Every show we attended, the cast members thanked us. Police and firefighters thanked us, cab drivers thanked us. It was a subdued, introspective New York City like I had never seen before.

My sister-in-law and I visited and spoke to firefighters, including one station close to where we were staying that lost 11 men in the tragedy. They had candles burning at night and the purple bunting hanging from the entrance; firefighters were outside and wanted to talk. Such powerful stories — we hung on every word. On our way out of the NBC building at Rockefeller Square, we saw a funeral procession of a fallen firefighter. There were thousands of people lined on the streets but no one said a word. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, taps, the procession - it was all very overwhelming. On our last day in New York, we rode the subway to Ground Zero. We hopped off the subway and began walking; actually following the silent crowds. It was a cloudy day but I had to put my sunglasses on because of all the debris still flying around. The posters; the vigils; the stories — tragic, sad and powerful. We arrived at Ground Zero and it was massive. Television just didn’t do it justice. The damage to the surrounding buildings, the debris, the masses of people still trying to find loved ones. Eerily quiet.

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