Memories of the lost
September 8, 2016
This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of what is, arguably, the most significant single date in US history since a brisk late Nov. morning when America’s 35th President was murdered. It is a day of infamy listed among the pantheon of ignominious dates many of us might prefer to forget; but for those who lost friends and family on 9/11, like part-time Granby resident Sue Held, it is an inescapable part of their lives, as essential to who they now are as the people they lost.
September 11 is seared into the minds of Americans. Like Pearl Harbor and Black Tuesday it is one of only a few events in American history that needs neither preface nor prologue. Now we are 15-years removed from the tragic events of that day but the scars still linger.
“The anniversaries are always tough,” said Sue Held. “People remember and say things to you. You see it on the news, particularly when you see the crashes over and over again. I sort of brace myself for what is coming.”
The images are ones Sue has seen replayed thousands of times since that fateful day; the second plane crashing into the south tower, flames and smoke already billowing from the north tower. “It got to where every time I saw it on the TV I sort of always said, ‘goodbye Chuck’. That was sort of how I dealt with it,” Sue said.
Mercifully for Sue footage of the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, crashing into the north tower is less common as there were few cameras pointed at the sky when the horror began unfolding. Sue’s brother, Charles “Chuck” Jones, was riding on Flight 11. He was one of 81 passengers on the flight and was among the first people killed that day.
As Sue looks back on the years since her world was turned upside she remembers he brother fondly. The two siblings were years apart in age but were the closest pair out of a set of five kids. Chuck was the family baby and something of a prankster, as Sue recalls. He once hid inflated balloons throughout Sue’s house and even sent a friend to pose as a reporter to ask Sue questions about her brother’s involvement in the Space Shuttle program. After Sue became exasperated Chuck emerged from some nearby bushes laughing.
Along with Sue’s fond memories of her prankster brother she also remembers him as an intelligent, fun and caring man. “He was a hunter,” Sue said. “But he would tell stories at times of not shooting.” She also remembers Chuck as an incredible achiever.
Chuck was a former military man who worked in the intelligence field for the US Air Force. He was the third youngest person to achieve the rank of Colonel in Air Force history according to Sue. He was also a part of NASA and was slated to go to space on a shuttle flight before the Challenger disaster scrapped the mission.
“I miss him (Chuck). I really do,” Sue said. “But it is not the pain of what I went through anymore so much as I just miss how fun he was to be around. He died at 48. What a waste of a brilliant mind.”
Because Chuck was riding on Flight 11 no remains from his body were ever recovered. “He needed a grave,” Sue said. “So I did a memorial.” Sue had a memorial bench built in Chuck’s honor in Dayton Metro Park in Dayton Ohio, where she and her husband Dan live most of the year. The bench serves as his grave marker.
“I chose a place down a path with a little wooden bridge over a creek,” said Sue. “It is somewhere he could be with the woods. I just thought he needed to be out there in wide open spaces.” Sue and Dan visit the bench regularly.
Along with the bench in Ohio a tree was planted in Chuck’s honor at Hanscom Air Force Base in Ma. and there is a memorial plaque to the man in the 9/11 Museum.
A SINGLE CALL
Among the various plaques on display at the 9/11 Museum in New York is a single plaque explaining that someone on Flight 11 called an Air Force General the morning of Sept. 11 shortly before the plane crashed into the north tower informing the military of the situation. The plaque does not say who made the call but Sue believes it was Chuck.
“This is just my judgment. It is not a fact I know for sure,” Sue said. “But when I was in Boston a General came up to me and said, ‘your brother was a hero.’ Someone on the first plane was smart enough to know who to call. Could say what needed to be said and would be believed and listened to. In my mind I imagine what was going through his mind. He would have known the plane was going too low and going into New York.”
15 YEARS LATER
This year, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the attack and the loss of her beloved brother, Sue will be attending church services at the YMCA of the Rockies Whispering Pines Chapel with her husband Dan. As part of the services on Sunday Sue will be interviewed by the Chapel’s pastor about the trials and tribulations she has gone through since 9/11 and how she has maintained her faith throughout the ordeal.
She and Dan typically spend the autumn in Grand County, enjoying the cool weather and the beautiful fall foliage. She deeply appreciates local actions to commemorate 9/11. “Last year I was so happy,” Sue explained. “I had gone down to Ace Hardware and when I came back the firemen were putting up a humungous flag between two fire trucks. That is a wonderful thing.” She continued, “I feel like how my parents generation must have felt with Pearl Harbor I guess. But I feel honored when I see things that show me he is remembered.”
The importance of remembering the date and the lives lost is central in Sue’s mind. But she doesn’t want people to simply remember the date for its statistics. “He (Chuck) wasn’t just one of 3,000,” Sue said. “There was a paper that gave little blurbs about them (victims of 9/11) afterwards. I liked that because he became a person and not just a number.”
While Sue has developed a level of acceptance regarding the attack and outlets for her pain questions still linger in her mind. “I’m not asking, ‘why me?’ It’s just, ‘why at all?” she said. “Three-thousand people. Do you know how many family members that makes? When I hear of something awful happening I start praying for the families.”