9/11 | Five Years Later
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    Exclamation 9/11 | Five Years Later

    - Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Some people are surprised that five years have gone by. For others, it all seems like a long time ago.

    On the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America is at war, suicide bombers appear in video games, Osama bin Laden is still at large, and bottles of shampoo have replaced box cutters as potential weapons of mass destruction.

    Americans feel vulnerable, their complacency erased by the realization that a lot of people don't like us.

    Not unlike Pearl Harbor more than six decades ago, Sept. 11 has become a frame of reference, almost impossible to avoid. Even today, a glimpse of the New York skyline in a film or photograph can prompt a search for the twin towers. It's chilling when they're there -- and also when they're not.

    Sept. 11 changed people's lives, and its impact continues to be felt. A San Francisco firefighter acquired a tattoo to commemorate the disaster. A San Jose flight attendant thinks about it every time she flies. A young Muslim woman, born and raised in Los Angeles, has embraced her religion and now wears a head scarf. A Fremont emergency responder who extracted body parts from ground zero no longer rides BART -- too risky, he says.

    They are among nine Bay Area residents whose worlds have been reshaped by what happened five years ago. Their stories begin on Page A6.


    The Mill Valley woman says what she remembers most are the deep human connections she made in New York City.

    "We saw the second plane hit. ... I remember one man screaming, and I can feel in my body even now this stillness that was the majority of my experience. Just really deep stillness. I don't remember feeling fear.

    "... It seemed like a long time we were watching this burning building. ... I realized that the things I thought were debris were people jumping out of the windows. ... I think that's when I started crying. ... It just imploded. It fell right inside of itself. And I remember holding onto my boss in a way I never would have. He was no longer my boss. That was no longer part of the reality."

    Deborah Bry paused. Even though it was 2006 and she was speaking from the quiet of her house in Mill Valley, she felt numb and dizzy, as she did on the day of the terrorist attacks.

    On Sept. 11, 2001, Bry was working in New York's SoHo district, about a dozen blocks north of the World Trade Center. As she emerged from the subway, she saw a co-worker looking at the sky. The first plane had just hit the North Tower.

    Bry witnessed the second plane strike the South Tower, and the North Tower's eventual collapse, from the roof of her 13-story office building. She was working for a program aimed at preventing violence in public schools and living in a Brooklyn apartment that featured a view of the World Trade Center.

    A native of northern New Jersey, Bry left New York a year later. In June 2004, she moved to the Bay Area, where she is teaching yoga and earning a master's degree in counseling psychology.

    A week before being interviewed in July, she had one dream in which the twin towers were intact and another in which people, including herself, were under attack by a military air force.

    "It continues to be a process that unfolds for me," said Bry, 28. "I keep being affected in different ways. I thought that book was closed."

    She visited New York eight times in 2005 and four, so far, this year. She said she is oddly grateful that she experienced the terrorist attacks and their aftermath because she loves the city in the way you love a child or a spouse -- you want to be there for them if something bad happens.

    On the first anniversary of Sept. 11, she focused her daily meditation on the tragedy.

    "But I'm not usually one for particular anniversaries," Bry said. "I even remember writing the date one year and being surprised that I hadn't seen it coming. Those numbers -- they just hold so much now. Whether I want them to or not."

    What stays with her is the memory of the deep human connections that were made then and the need for them now.

    "For many days, riding in the subway felt like a very different experience. There was a lot of silence and just these powerful eye gazes," Bry said. "There was no social awkwardness in looking into someone's eyes."

    Sometimes she also felt alone, and out of sync with other people, because her reactions were less emotional and fear-filled than the norm.

    "But I understand the pull to hold onto the feelings around it so that it stays alive," Bry said. "If we let go of them, somehow it's going to be less real, and I'm not being a good survivor if I'm not feeling. I'm not paying tribute to those who died."

    Five years later, the "raw humanity" of that period is still what she remembers most -- seeing what was left in people after their egos and social structures were gone.

    "There's something very special about it," Bry said. "I'm surprised at how sacred it feels to have been there."


    The Fremont firefighter and his search-and-rescue partner, Zack, helped out after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

    It was around 6 a.m. Jeffrey Place was drinking coffee and watching the news as the terrorist attacks unfolded.

    "My thoughts started," he recalled. " 'Are my bags packed? Am I ready to go?' "

    Place, 48, is a Fremont firefighter, paramedic and canine handler who volunteers with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. He and his partner, a chocolate Labrador named Zack, had been trained for search-and-rescue operations. Although they were part of Oakland Task Force 4, they went to New York City nine days after the attacks with a task force from Menlo Park.

    He spent most of his time removing twisted steel, debris and body parts from ground zero. He found the size and scope of the disaster "unimaginable."

    Place was in New York for 14 days. Four years later, he and Zack responded to Hurricane Katrina. The three-week mission took them to Biloxi, Miss.

    "After New York, I never thought I would see anything like that," Place said. "But Katrina was much more spread out. You could drive and drive and drive, and the catastrophe was right there."

    He found both disasters wrenching -- but New York was worse. "That's because of what we did the first few days," he said. "We'd get emotionally attached to the people."

    Sitting in Fremont Fire Station No. 9, he could still envision some of them.

    "People were running up to us with pictures. 'Look for my husband, look for my wife.' Twelve hours later, they were still there," said Place, a firefighter for 27 years.

    He said he can't believe that five years have gone by. Zack, who would get his exercise in New York running around the graveyard of nearby Trinity Church with all the other search dogs, now hangs out with his human partner's 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son in their San Ramon home. Place spends more time with his wife and children and is "taking those vacations." He no longer rides BART because he sees public transit as "vulnerable." And he's leery of high-rises.

    He described the tall buildings he was familiar with while growing up near Boston. "I thought they were rocks, that they'd never fall," he said. "I think very differently about that now."

    Place keeps a piece of granite from ground zero at the firehouse. He suspects that the stone, which he insists resembles the shape of California, came from a sculpture in the plaza between the twin towers.

    He took it from his locker. It is now engraved in gold: "WTC, September 11, 2001."


    The veteran American Airlines flight attendant from San Jose spends as much time as she can with her husband and 2-year-old daughter since 9/11.

    The phone woke her up and a friend said hysterically, "Turn on your TV." As soon as American Airlines flight attendant Ramona Arellano-Snyder saw planes crashing into buildings, she went to her computer to look at crew lists, to see where her doomed colleagues were based. That information already had been removed.

    Arellano-Snyder was off on Sept. 11 because she had flown the day before. Two weeks later, she flew again.

    "When you see those images, you can't help but have some post-traumatic stress about it -- especially when you could have been one of those people," she said.

    She described her first post-disaster flight as extremely eerie.

    "Everyone was so quiet, totally compliant with whatever we told them to do," said Arellano-Snyder, 36. "Like children in a classroom."

    Thousands of American Airlines flight attendants were furloughed, and she barely held on to her job. She took a huge pay cut, lost vacation and sick-time accrual benefits, is now "junior girl on the totem pole" as far as seniority, and has seen the number of American Airlines flights out of San Jose plunge.

    "My quality of life has changed dramatically," Arellano-Snyder said one August afternoon in the San Jose home she shares with her husband and 2-year-old daughter.

    Flying is also a radically different experience for her as a result of Sept. 11. "It is always in the back of my mind now when I work on a plane," said the 13-year flight attendant, on maternity leave awaiting the birth of her second child in October.

    She is extra careful about the most ordinary tasks and engages her passengers in a way she never did before.

    "You want to pay attention to who you have on the plane," she said. "I look at their faces, I look in their eyes, I look at what they wear. Before, they were just like a blur. ... I dialogue with passengers as they walk on the plane. Before, I'd say 'Hi' and that was the extent of my interaction with them."

    Every Sept. 11, she pulls out her union magazine's memorial issues and reads them again. The red ribbon on her bag tag says "I will never forget," and the circular pin on her uniform bears the flight numbers of the four downed jets.

    And the list of goals she started at age 20, "when I decided to see the world," has been whittled from 50 to 12. She still wants to go to Antarctica, a Super Bowl and an Olympics.

    "I'm trying to live in the moment," Arellano-Snyder said. "And I don't know how many moments I have."


    The Afghan native who attended college in Lebanon is neither unfamiliar with nor surprised by profiling he experiences today.

    Like most people living in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Mohammad "Mo" Qayoumi was horrified by what terrorists had done. Unlike so many others, he didn't experience a sudden sense of vulnerability. That's been with him as long as he can remember.

    "I did not have that kind of safety cocoon that many people had all their lives," he said. "I had other frames of reference."

    Qayoumi, 54, became president of Cal State East Bay in July. He grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and lived in Lebanon from September 1968 to December 1975, acquiring an electrical engineering degree from the American University of Beirut while witnessing the start of a protracted civil war that eventually devastated the country and its capital -- once a lively and cosmopolitan city.

    "A lot of (what) I had seen over there had a very deep impact on me in how a very nice, comfortable, calm and serene area can, in a very instant or so, turn into a major site of carnage," recalled Qayoumi, sitting in his office with its spectacular view of the Bay Area high above the Hayward campus.

    During the summer of 1975, he'd check the newspaper to find out which places in Beirut had been blown up the night before so that he could go look at them. It was a "pastime" of sorts. He'd see acquaintances leave home in the morning and never return. And he would listen to the radio to hear which roads to avoid because of sniper attacks -- much like Sig-Alerts during traffic reports in California, he said.

    "That shaped the way that I looked at the attacks because so quickly things can change in one's life," Qayoumi said.

    He worked in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before moving to Ohio in 1978. A year later, the Soviets invaded his homeland, forcing his family to flee from Kabul to Pakistan as refugees.

    Qayoumi was driving on the freeway from Northridge to Long Beach for a meeting at the office of the California State University chancellor when he heard about the Sept. 11 attacks on the radio.

    "I wondered who might have done it and to what particular end. You hope it's not any Muslim terrorists," said Qayoumi, a practicing Muslim.

    The attacks prompted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and led to the fall of the Taliban regime. In February 2002, Qayoumi went back to his native land for the first time in 26 years.

    "It was quite emotional," he said. "The devastation was far worse than I could have imagined."

    He's returned since then almost 20 times, serving as senior adviser to the minister of finance for three years and on several boards of directors, including that of the Central Bank of Afghanistan.

    As for other ripple effects of Sept. 11, Qayoumi wishes people's newfound interest in his religion had not been so ephemeral. He said he's sad to see money going to worldwide security that could have addressed such problems as AIDS, hunger and illiteracy. But the profiling that has plagued so many Muslims since the attacks bothers Qayoumi's Afghan-born wife more than it does him -- because that, too, is nothing new.

    During a European vacation in September 1972, he was on a train about to cross from Austria into Germany the day after the deadly terrorist assault on the Summer Olympics in Munich.

    "German soldiers came on the train and looked at my passport," Qayoumi said. "The first question was, 'Where are you from?' I said, 'Afghanistan.' And the second: 'Where have you come from?' 'Lebanon.' Their comment was, 'Why don't you take your stuff and get off the train for further questioning.' "

    MARGOT SIMPSON The events of Sept. 11 made her return home to the Bay Area rather than stay in Washington, where she was a graduate student.

    As she walked down the hallway of her dormitory at Gallaudet University in Washington,

    Margot Simpson could see smoke pouring from one side of the Pentagon, which had been struck by American Airlines Flight 77 at 9:37 a.m.

    "When it collapsed, we could feel it," said Simpson, 43, who grew up in Berkeley and lives in Fremont, where she teaches at a school for the deaf. "You could tell -- from that moment it was different."

    She had moved to the nation's capital in June 2000 to get a master's degree in education from Gallaudet, and had figured there was every chance she would stay.

    On Sept. 11, as assistant supervisor of a dorm where half the residents were deaf and some were blind as well, Simpson had to tend to almost 200 students. Even the deaf-blind students could feel the tension around them.

    "A bird flew by, and I ducked," recalled Simpson, sitting in a Berkeley cafe a few blocks from her parents' house. "I did that for a while."

    In the days and weeks that followed, the city changed. Helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead, "anthrax" became a household word, and soldiers with M-16s patrolled the Metro subway system.

    "It was too loud," said Simpson, who began losing her hearing 10 years ago and wears hearing aids in both ears. "Sirens were going all the time. That's a city that's always going to be a target."

    She realized that Washington would never be home.

    "I decided that without a doubt, I didn't want to stay," Simpson said. "I finished my degree and came home to California."

    She returned to the Bay Area in summer 2003. One friend was incredulous that she preferred earthquake country.

    "I can't predict an earthquake, but I can prepare," Simpson said. "You can't do that with Sept. 11."

    She trained with Fremont's Community Emergency Response Team and has taught others how to be prepared. Her 72-hour earthquake kit has turned into a seven-day kit. And she has become politically active.

    "Before, I didn't feel I had a burning need to go to every anti-war protest. Now I rarely miss one," said Simpson, clad in a "Peace Please" baseball cap and a T-shirt that said "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History."

    She has saved copies of various publications that covered the disaster -- including Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post -- to show to grade-schoolers she'll be teaching when Sept. 11 is just another date in history.

    "I don't want them to get to high school and say 'the twin towers,' as if that's all there was."


    The ex-Marine served two tours of duty in Iraq as a machine gunner. Now he has enlisted in the Army to train as a combat medic.

    When Michael Montemayor came back from the gym on Sept. 11, the friend he was living with in San Jose had a blank, dumbfounded look on her face. She was simply staring at the television screen.

    "I thought it was a movie or TV show," Montemayor said. "I asked, 'What's on?' She was totally speechless."

    His own reaction was much different: "I walked into the (Marine Corps) recruiter's office. 'Hey, sign me up, let's go,' " recalled Montemayor, 31, who was born in the Philippines, grew up in Salinas and now lives in San Jose.

    "We were struck on American soil, and it wasn't military targets -- it was civilian targets," he said. "I never thought I'd be a patriot for this country."

    One of five siblings, he had been the family troublemaker. He would run away from home, get in fights in school, be kicked out of the house and be "pretty much a bad kid."

    "I was one of those misguided, lost teens," Montemayor said. "I didn't have any focus or any thoughts of what I wanted to do."

    When the terrorist attacks occurred, he was working security at nightclubs.

    "I honestly wasn't doing very much," Montemayor said during a mid-August interview in his parents' San Jose home.

    He learned to be a machine gunner in the Marines and went to Iraq when the war started in March 2003. In his first week on the job, he earned a Bronze Star in Nasiriya for rescuing, while under enemy fire, a private trapped in a sewage canal.

    In January, he became a poster boy on Bay Area billboards for the Marines' "Hometown Heroes" campaign.

    His four-year enlistment included two tours of duty in Iraq and ended in November 2005. It made him a "totally different person," he said.

    "I lived, I breathed, I ate and bled the Marine Corps," Montemayor said. "I didn't want to leave."

    He brought back ballots from the first election in Iraq and currency with and without Saddam Hussein's likeness on it. Other souvenirs included lots of sleepless nights.

    Construction noises sound like mortar fire, abandoned autos alarm him, and cars that stay right beside him and don't pass are still unsettling.

    Was the war a good idea? Are Iraqis better off now? Those are really tough questions, Montemayor said.

    "Ours is not to question," he concluded. "Our job is to go there and bring everyone home."

    Joking that he wants to roll around in the sand one more time, Montemayor said he signed a six-year contract with the Army and will leave for San Antonio in October to learn how to be a combat medic.

    "It's easy to hurt -- it's harder to heal," he said.

    He hates the thought of wearing a non-Marine uniform, but the Army can help him get certified as an emergency medical technician. That's important because Montemayor finally has a career goal, one that combines his risk-taking, thrill-seeking tendencies with a desire to put other people's lives ahead of his own.

    He wants to be a firefighter -- an idea that began to take shape as he followed the work of the New York Fire Department in the aftermath of the attacks.

    "It really hit home," he said. "And it helped me a lot in making that decision."


    Rather than being immobilized by the Sept. 11 attacks, the Los Angeles native became more involved in Islam. She said after she started covering her hair, people treated her differently.

    "Before I wore a scarf, people thought I was Mexican," said 25-year-old Lina Akkad. "I didn't have anything about me that stood out as Arab, and I didn't identify so much as a Muslim."

    The change in her attire can be traced to Sept. 11. Akkad, born and raised in Los Angeles by an Egyptian mother and a Syrian father, was living at her uncle's house in the city's Brentwood district. She was jolted upright in bed that morning after her cousins told her, "We're at war."

    Her friends and relatives watched TV and worried: Three of the hijacked planes had been bound for Los Angeles.

    "We were just kind of zombie-ing around the whole day," Akkad said during an interview in a San Francisco cafe. "We were in shock, especially when we found out it was people who called themselves Muslims. ... I was disgusted and ashamed. I never once thought they were justified."

    As those observing the "real Islam" became more of a community, Akkad grew interested in a religion she had never practiced. As she changed, people's perceptions of her changed as well.

    She relocated to San Francisco in January 2003, enrolled at San Francisco State University and got involved with the Muslim Student Association. Even before donning a head scarf, Akkad encountered more bias than she ever had in Los Angeles.

    During a phone conversation, a potential roommate was warm until she discovered that Akkad's parents were from the Middle East. She lied and told Akkad that the managers of her apartment building advised residents to avoid co-habiting with Middle Easterners.

    "It was the first thing that made me more active," Akkad said. "What did I ever do to this woman to be treated this way?"

    In June 2002, her scarf made its first appearance. A symbol of Islam in the eyes of many, it is one of the types of head coverings worn by large numbers of Muslim women to comply with the modesty their religion requires.

    "It just felt like the right thing to do," she said. "It completed me."

    Her parents were worried -- "My mother said, 'People are rushing to take it off, why do you rush to put it on?' " -- and her relatives in the Middle East were surprised. They soon accepted her metamorphosis. The reaction of strangers, however, reminds her how radically different she seems.

    When Akkad was working at Macy's and telling co-workers that a mailman was stunned she could speak English, a shopper overheard her.

    "She said, 'Are you surprised? You're in this country and wearing that?' " Akkad recalled.

    One day, a bag was left on the bus she was riding and people were ordered to evacuate. "Everyone on the bus turned and looked at me," Akkad said.

    At the headset retailer where she offers tech support by phone five days a week, Akkad sees the shift in people's demeanor when she gets on a Webcam to help particularly baffled customers. She tries to predict, based on where they live, whether they'll modify their behavior when they see her.

    "I'll think, 'He's from Texas -- he's going to change,' " Akkad said. "But I shouldn't generalize, because that's what people do to me."

    Last November, her cousin and her Brentwood uncle, a filmmaker, were killed when the wedding they were attending in Jordan was bombed by al Qaeda.

    "He was making a movie about Islam," Akkad said. "Trying to show the positives."


    The San Francisco firefighter has a tattoo in memory of the 343 firefighters who died in New York.

    Al Douglas, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, was attending St. Cecilia School when his hero, President Ronald Reagan, was shot in 1981. He was in a car on the Central Freeway during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. He recalls the assassination of his city's mayor, George Moscone, in 1978, and the Challenger explosion in 1986.

    For Douglas, it is important to remember. That is why a Sept. 11 tattoo covers his right forearm. "I don't want people to forget," said the 36-year-old San Francisco firefighter.

    When the events of Sept. 11 began, he was asleep and on vacation. His birthday was two days away, and a trip to Disneyland was in the offing. A friend called to tell him the news, and Douglas watched TV all day.

    "I didn't really feel like talking to anybody," said Douglas, sitting in the house where he lives with his pregnant wife and their 3-year-old son, across the street from Sutro Tower.

    Two months later, he went to New York with nine colleagues to attend the funerals of their East Coast counterparts.

    "We were there for three days," Douglas said. "We were just going to go to two funerals, and we had an open day. We were in a bar and we ran into a bunch of New York firemen, and we spent the night having quite a few drinks and telling stories with them. They had just found one of their co-workers. 'Would you mind coming to the memorial service tomorrow?' they asked. No problem. Even though that was going to be our day off to see New York."

    The first funeral was the most emotional -- "we were all bawling" -- and everyone was drained by the third. The San Francisco contingent still managed to visit ground zero.

    "It was devastating to see," said Douglas, who'd previously marched in two St. Patrick's Day parades on Fifth Avenue and partied afterward with New York firefighters. "I thought, 'Did any of those guys I was talking to die?' "

    Just before leaving New York after the funerals, Douglas stopped by a deli he'd patronized several times. The owner disparaged the terrorists and what they had done.

    "He said, 'I'm Muslim, and these people do not speak for me.' It was nice to talk to that guy," Douglas recalled.

    After he returned to San Francisco, Douglas got his red, white and blue tattoo: the fire department's Maltese cross, with "9/11" and "FDNY" on it. "In memory of" is above it, "God bless" is below. A month later, the number "343" was added to mark how many New York firefighters were killed in the disaster.

    "It needed to be there," Douglas said. "Pretty much every fireman knows that number."

    A year later, he visited Paris with his wife and wore long-sleeved shirts the whole time.

    "When you're in a foreign land, you don't need to be a target," Douglas said.

    On the first anniversary of the attacks, he went to ceremonies at his firehouse and in Union Square, followed by drinks at Lefty O'Doul's.

    "That day I kind of let go of stuff," Douglas said.

    What remains is the sense of brotherhood that binds firefighters everywhere -- and the memorial on his body.

    "Sooner or later, my kids are going to ask me about this tattoo," Douglas said. "How do I tell them? It's just pictures on my arm. It'll be history for these kids. They won't know. Maybe that's good.

    "They don't have to know."


    Helping to counsel traumatized New Yorkers reaffirmed her career decision.

    Cornelia Busse, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Santa Rosa, was getting her two daughters ready for school and preparing to leave for work when the news on the radio made her run upstairs and turn on the TV.

    "I was terrified and confused and sick," recalled the 50-year-old Busse, curled up on a chair in her house on the outskirts of Sonoma.

    She saw her patients anyway.

    "Some people had tremendous anxiety as a result, and that was the focus of the day," she said. "For others, their particular issues were crucial."

    The next day, the Red Cross called Busse, a volunteer who'd started doing trauma work for the organization a few years earlier, providing mental health services for disasters big and small. Two weeks later she was on the East Coast, dealing with people who'd survived the collapse of the twin towers, families of victims and others who needed help.

    For her first task, she was plopped down at a bank of telephones and handed a list with hundreds of names of the missing. Most of the time she got an answering machine.

    "I knew I was perhaps calling someone who had died when the towers collapsed," Busse said. "And so it was a very kind of chilling experience to hear their voices."

    She was based in northern New Jersey, home to many victims of Sept. 11. "When you're there, you're working very long hours and you're in crisis mode. When I got home, there was a kind of huge exhale for me."

    There was also a 90-minute session, arranged by her husband, with a massage therapist.

    "There was something about her touch, like a floodgate opened," Busse recalled. "I just cried and cried. She just kept working on me, and she bent down and gave me a little kiss on the forehead. 'Thank you for going there,' she said. That was a common response. People felt very united."

    She said the twin towers gave focus to the collective, unspoken dread that she sees in many Americans.

    "We can all project that dread onto the twin towers," Busse said. "The people dying in there -- that became us. We know about the genocide in Darfur and what's happening in Lebanon. But these people are us, and that makes a huge difference. It's not far away; it's immediate."

    What Busse saw in New York convinced her to put her affairs in order when she returned. She and her husband made wills, her cupboard has food in it, and she knows how to turn off the gas.

    "Doing this kind of work makes you realize it really all can change in a minute," she said. "It's a very real possibility. You can become incredibly fatalistic or seize the day and try to squeeze as much meaning as you can out of life."

    The disaster also made Busse feel good about what she does for a living.

    "I'm glad I didn't have to reinvent myself afterward," she said. "It would have been difficult. It reaffirmed my chosen profession."

    In addition to her private practice and Red Cross work, Busse now counsels soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Her most lasting impression of Sept. 11 is how people dealt with it.

    "I'm awestruck by the resilience of people in a crisis," Busse said. "People help each other, they rescue each other, they talk to each other. ... What I saw was compassion and determination and people connecting.

    "I think that really speaks well of us."

    E-mail Patricia Yollin at pyollin@sfchronicle.com.


  2. #2
    A loving look back as life marches on
    Published September 10, 2006

    SPRING HILL - The pain is still there.

    And it doesn't have to be Sept. 11 for the Holland family to feel lost without son and older brother Joey around.

    Five years ago Monday, Joey, 32, was killed while attending a meeting of commodities brokers on the 92nd floor of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. It was the second of the twin towers to collapse that morning. A week later, rescue workers found his wedding band and his wallet in the rubble.

    The Hollands had driven to their old hometown of New York, hoping to find their son wandering the streets in a daze.

    What they did find a year later, while in the city for the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was Joey's small picture - one of many put together to make up a larger poster of the twin towers. Their daughter, 21-year-old Michele, immediately spotted her brother's tiny face among other Sept. 11 victims when she saw the poster in an art shop window.

    Now framed, it hangs on a wall in the family's Spring Hill home.

    The Hollands are one of at least three Spring Hill families who will remember loved ones on Monday's fifth anniversary of the attacks.

    They talked last week about how life has been as they prepared for another trip to the city. A street was to be named this weekend after Joey - Joe Holland Way - in their old Upper Manhattan neighborhood.

    Like the Hollands, the lives of the Mojicas and Rudzianis continue to be altered.

    Manny Mojica Sr. still dearly misses his son, Manny Mojica Jr., a New York City firefighter. Steve and Mary Rudzianis will never forget their son-in-law, Martin De Meo, a firefighter with a hazardous materials unit.

    "I can still see his face," Mojica said of his son.

    * * *

    Mojica has been to the grave of his only son once.

    He went to New York to pay respects a year after Manny died at age 37. That was all he could bear.

    During that visit, the former New York police officer went to ground zero. He also stopped by the firehouse of his son's unit - Squad 18 - which was among the first to respond on the scene.

    Manny was a well-built, motorcycle-loving Marine who tried to follow in the footsteps of his father by becoming a police officer. But not long after joining, he realized what his true calling was.

    "He loved being a firefighter," Mojica said.

    The elder Mojica makes sure to keep in touch with his grandchildren - Stephanie, 13, and Manny, 10 - through his son's wife, Anna, who has more or less devoted most of her time to the children.

    "I call them up and see how they're doing," he said. "She's got her hands full with them, but they're good. This time of year brings back memories, and they do their thing up there while I do mine down here."

    Today and Monday, Mojica plans to attend services in Hernando County recognizing his son. Two days after that will mark the second anniversary of the sudden death of his wife, Gladys.

    Mojica said the two family tragedies have caused him to be more reflective and question what is going on in the world.

    He has opinions on the war in Iraq and the U.S. government's efforts to stamp out the threat of al-Qaida.

    "I hate to get involved in politics, but why do we see all these videos of Osama bin Laden here and there, and they still can't find him?" Mojica asked. "Does this make sense?"

    To keep sane, Mojica tries to stay away from the TV, where the footage of the Sept. 11 disaster really bothers him. But he did go to see the movie World Trade Center, which he said he got through without too much emotion because it focused on New York Port Authority police officers - not firefighters.

    Someday he plans on going back to Manny's grave.

    "The first place I'll go when I go back to New York is the cemetery," he said. "But I don't give myself dates. I don't know when that visit will happen."

    * * *

    Steve Rudzianis saw World Trade Center and United 93. His wife, Mary, stays away from things like that.

    Both movies disappointed him - neither showed much about the New York firefighters involved in the rescue efforts. That's something he would have appreciated.

    The youngest of their two daughters, Joan De Meo, lost her husband of more than 20 years on 9/11. Like Manny Mojica Jr., 47-year-old Martin De Meo entered Tower 1 and walked up the stairs as workers came down. He served with a hazardous team unit in Queens.

    "They went up there to save people even though they were ordered to come back out," Steve Rudzianis said. "That's why they lost their lives."

    On Monday, the couple will attend a service in Spring Hill honoring their son-in-law.

    A picture of Joan and Martin on their wedding day sits on a table near the Rudzianis' front door. The beaming couple embrace tightly. Joan holds a bouquet of red roses.

    She has since met a new, retired firefighter. They've been dating for a few years. He tapped her on the shoulder in a Costco store when he noticed her wearing a Sept. 11 T-shirt.

    "On the back, it said she had lost her husband," Steve Rudzianis explained. "The irony of that is that his brother was the battalion chief of Martin's fire department."

    The Rudzianis' grandchildren, Kristin and Nicholas, are both now in college. Though she didn't show much emotion over the death of her father at first, Kristin seems to be healing. She's almost done with her degree in criminal justice, and has a serious boyfriend.

    Nicholas has continued to follow his love of baseball - a love cultivated by his father from a young age. He is a pitcher on his college team in New Jersey.

    "His father always had him out there like Tiger Woods, practicing all the time," Steve Rudzianis said. "He's great."

    A longtime Republican, Rudzianis said that he's disgusted with "idiots" in the Democratic and Republican parties. He believes the United States should have never invaded Iraq, especially when Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

    "I hate Bush's guts, to tell you the truth," he said. "And with this stuff coming out about Clinton, I'm peeved with him, too. Clinton had the chance to get bin Laden, and Bush, he missed the warning that there was going to be an attack."

    * * *

    The timing of the five-year anniversary has been especially hard for the Hollands. A family friend died suddenly this past week at the age of 46. Three more children in the world without a father, they said.

    "Most days we're okay," Terry Holland said, sitting on a sofa in her living room next to her son Brian. Husband Joe Jr. sat across from them on another couch.

    "But then something will happen," Terry said. "You'll see a picture or something that will stop you in your tracks."

    Ten days before the attacks, Joey and his wife, Kathy, had a son. Joseph Francis Holland IV just turned 5 this month.

    Kathy also remarried last year. The family thinks that's been good for her and their grandson.

    "He looks just like his dad," the elder Holland said, smiling.

    "I think they all look alike, my dad, Joey and little Joe," said Brian.

    The youngest Holland child, now 15, misses talking about the Yankees with his big brother. Joey was a big fan, and so is he.

    Since Joey died, Brian has grown up feeling like there's something he has to do to help.

    "I'd probably join the Marines or something, but I don't think my mom would let me," he said, looking over at his mother.

    "No she would not," Terry said.

    Michele, Joey's sister, has kept busy with her studies at the University of Central Florida. She wants to be a doctor.

    "She's doing all right," Terry said. "She gets emotional ... ."

    She paused to rub her eyes to try and stop the tears.

    "It's like it happened yesterday," Joe said.

    Watching the news on TV that night, full of scenes of the airplanes crashing into buildings, he said that the American people forget too easily.

    Last year, instead of going to New York, the family stayed home and went to a sparsely attended service sponsored by Spring Hill Fire Rescue. They appreciated it, but they wish more in the community would have, too.

    Joe Holland firmly believes that if then-President Clinton had reacted to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, his son would be alive today.

    The nation needs to never underestimate the threat of terrorism, he said.

    "People have to wake up. It's going to happen again, no matter if we're Democrats or Republicans," he said. "People just don't realize this."

    Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.


  3. #3

    more than just an American Annerversary

    Just as a reminder to those who wish to tribute to the legions of Liberals and anti-semitic military haters....9/11 is Afghanistan and Iraq is relived by the terrorist as well. Every year on 11 Sept attacks increase in number and effects. Meanly that thier are thousands of Military Men and Women living through hell to survive these direct and indirect celebrations of the attacks on the WTC. Example...FOB Kalsu 11 Sept 2004 was hit more times that day with more mortars and rockets than any three days combined. Five times during the daylight hours and three times that night before 2359. It was no differnet the year before that. Also it brings out the slaughter of hundreds by suicide bombers that free willingly walk the streets in search of patrols to kill.

    11 Sept has become a day of dread and mourning for the United States Of America but at the same time become a day of glory for the terrorists groups throughout the world. It proved that America was not invernable to attacks from the outside world and that we can be hurt in a demeaning way. So please in rememberence of 11 Sept while mourning for those flights and the WTC deaths do not forget that somewhere else in this world our Military is reliving that dramatic event over again by those responcible for it in the first place....Terroristic Orginizations that wish to do America harm.

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