The tragedy of the terror attacks of 9/11 were felt by people around the country. Community leaders in Glynn and Camden counties recall what the day was like.
Larry Bruce was a lieutenant in the detective’s division of the Brunswick Police Department the day of the 9/11 attacks.
Bruce, now the spokesman for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, said he turned on the TV after a detective told him a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York. Moments after he turned on the TV, the second tower was struck by an airliner, and Bruce knew the nation was under attack.
“We thought about the security of the city of Brunswick,” he said.
While larger cities like New York were considered the most likely targets for a terrorist attack, Bruce said the local concerns were for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
He said watching the events unfold upset officers, who jumped into action to ensure public safety.
“It was such a shock to everyone that the United States could be attacked that quickly within minutes,” Bruce said.
On a personal note, Bruce said he ate breakfast on the top floor of one of the Twin Towers in 2000. He remembers the young waitress who served his table and thought of her as he watched the towers collapse.
“I’ve always wondered if she was up there and lost her life,” he said. “She was just an 18-year-old girl preparing breakfast.”
Scott Bassett was a Navy public affairs officer serving in Puerto Rico at Roosevelt Roads Naval Base the day of the attacks.
The base was immediately locked down like all other American military facilities across the world.
“We pretty much went into threat condition Delta,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘We are going to war.’”
Bassett, who today serves as a civilian public affairs officer at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, said as he and his fellow sailors learned more about the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, their mood changed from shock to anger.
One immediate challenge the day of the attacks was getting children enrolled in schools on base safely home to their parents.
Bassett said his immediate thoughts went to the sailors he knew who were already at sea who were probably going to be sent to a potential war zone in response to the attacks.
“I was thinking about my friends and shipmates at sea,” he said.
Herb Rowland was an economics teacher at Camden County High School the day the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground.
He and his students learned about the attacks when the principal walked into his class and emphatically told Rowland to turn on the TV “now.”
His students watched in stunned silence as the second plane struck the tower. The TV remained on throughout the day, with no lesson plan other than for students to watch history unfold.
“When the second tower came down, there was a reaction,” he said. “It was something you don’t forget.”
Security at nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, home port for a fleet of ballistic nuclear missile submarines, was immediately enhanced, including scans with mirrors on the undercarriage of school buses picking up or dropping off students living on base to check for bombs.
“It was whatever we were told to do,” he said of requests by Kings Bay. “What was going to happen next, nobody knew. The students were very subdued the next day.”
St. Marys City Manager Robert Horton was the city’s fire chief the day of the 9/11 attacks.
He had just returned to the station in downtown St. Marys after attending a staff meeting at City Hall to see firefighters crowded around the TV.
“The minute we saw the second plane hit, we knew there was more to this than a plane hitting a building,” he said.
Parents were frantically pulling their children out of schools, causing traffic jams, so Horton and his firefighters stepped in to help guide children safely to their parents.
The collapse of the two towers was the most sobering moment of the day for Horton and his staff.
“We watched firefighters on TV running into the burning buildings to escort people safely out,” he said. “We watched the buildings collapse with firefighters still inside. We knew the sacrifices they made.”
Horton said firefighters are part of a family, regardless of where they serve.
“It’s a brotherhood, very, very strong,” he said. “This was a day of infamy for this generation.”
Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey had just retired from the Air Force a year before the 9/11 attacks.
He was working at Jekyll Island as the human resources director when he was told about the attacks.
Harvey said he realized the nation was under attack, and he might have to play a role in the response.
“I thought, ‘I guess I’m getting ready to go to war,’” he said.
The images of people jumping to their deaths from the burning towers are still vivid, Harvey said.
The quick response to shutting down all air traffic in the nation was also a surprise, he said.
“What really affected me was all the planes were grounded in the United States,” he said. “Our fighter jets would have taken out anything that was a threat.”
JO BETH BIRD
Jo Beth Bird was principal at St. Marys Elementary School on 9/11.
Students at the high school watched events unfold on TV, but that wasn’t the case in elementary schools.
“I went door to door to make sure all the TVs were off so the kids wouldn’t get upset,” Bird said.
The teachers knew about the attacks and were given instructions on how to answer the inevitable questions the children would ask.
Bird said more than 300 pupils were picked up by their parents that day. Parents were told to stay in their vehicles, where they were allowed to sign their children out of school.
“They had a lot of police officers along the sidewalk,” she said. “All of the schools had to deal with the same thing.”
The students who remained were simply told something was going on in Washington and they were safe in the schools.
The teachers remained in the school until they were certain every child was safely home.
“We didn’t lie to them at all,” Bird said. “It was a crazy day. Absolutely berserk.”