By Jack Mayne
“I will never forget that day, Sept. 11, 2001,” SeaTac City Councilmember Joel Wachtel said during the last moments of the Sept. 10 Council meeting. Wachtel was a New Yorker then.
“I was working in my office in Connecticut and one of the staff yelled out, ‘a plane just hit the World Trade Center.’ I was very involved in my job and thought ‘It’s just a small plane, some new pilot trying to fly between the towers.’ Twenty of so minutes later, that same employee yelled, ‘Oh, my God, another plane just hit the Trade Center.’ It was then that I began to fear this was not an accident.”
He said he turned on news and found that two commercial planes had hit the giant towers.
“The damage was catastrophic.”
He said he tried to call his wife in New York but all lines were busy. He called his daughter in San Francisco and learned of the catastrophic crashes. His wife’s employer sent the staff home and his wife went to the usual pickup stop at the George Washington Bridge bus terminal and Wachtel said he got into his car and drove to the bus terminal. Police were closing the bridge in and out of Manhattan.
“The view from the bridge was surreal. Those towers were visible and miles of smoke went north to Westchester and beyond. Without more warning, moments later, both towers collapsed. I will never forget that sight.”
He went past many who were shocked and crying to the apartment of a daughter to spend the night.
The catastrophe started “a process that we did not realize was happening. We distanced ourselves from the city. My wife soon quit her job and we stopped going into the city for entertainment and restaurants over the new few years.
“New York changed tremendously after the attack,” Wachtel told the SeaTac Council. “Security appeared everywhere. The many carefree and wonderful events that happened in the city, the Macy fireworks, on New Year’s eve, watching the crystal ball drop and the Village Halloween parade were now flooded with police and security personnel imposing rules meant to protect in case of another attack.
“New York was no longer the carefree playground for people to come and visit,” said Wachtel. “New York had become a target. During the Sept. 11th attack 2,977 were killed, excluding the 19 hijackers and more than 6,000 others were injured.”
He said that 412 of the killed were emergency workers of New York City who responded to the World Trade Center disaster. Thousands later developed cancer from the toxic fumes produced in the tragedy.
“This incident in American history is undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies to befall this great country” because of the “hatred for these United States. Do not let this memory die or have no meaning. The lesson it teaches is very important,” said Wachtel to the SeaTac Council.
“Our way of life is fragile and we must protect it. God bless the United States of America.”