9/11 hits home
GRANBY-Sue Held isn’t sure how she’ll spend the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11.
She and her husband Dan, a retired United Methodist pastor, will be in Grand County – not in New York with other families for an exclusive dedication of the National September 11 Memorial.
Instead, they will likely attend church services at the Whispering Pines Chapel at the YMCA of the Rockies that day, but then what? Sit in front of the television and watch repeat footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers?
“You know how often they play that on T.V.,” she said last week. “Every time, I’m like, ‘bye Chuck.'”
Held’s brother Charles “Chuck” Jones, 48, was one of 81 passengers on American Airlines Flight 11, on that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001.
Sue, now a part-time resident of SilverCreek near Granby, was working as a human resources director at Nelson Financial Group in Dayton, Ohio, at the time.
She had a small television turned on at her work space that morning. She was the first in her office to see it on the news.
“I went to a friend and said, ‘you won’t believe this, but a plane just crashed into a building.”
But when the second plane crashed, she called her husband and asked him to call all the phone numbers they had for her brother.
Chuck, of Bedford, Mass., was an astronautical engineer employed with BAE Space Systems out of Los Angeles and Boston. For work, Chuck would often travel to L.A.
He and Sue were the closest among five in their family, Sue said, and every Sunday at 9 p.m. they would meet up through online instant messaging.
“That Sunday evening, he had told me he wasn’t going to have to fly as much anymore.”
Sue heard the news from her brother-in-law by phone. Chuck was on that first plane.
“At that moment, my head ‘exploded’ down my neck, and I had horrendous pain,” she said. “I could not even hold my head up.”
Co-workers rushed her to a health care center. She spent 44 hours unconscious. Doctors said it was a severe muscular reaction in response to severe anxiety, likely a stroke.
“Later, I figured Chuck just reached down and grabbed me,” Sue said. “It’s just because Chuck and I were so close.”
There were various sides to her brother Chuck: the retired Air Force colonel and astronaut (if it hadn’t been for the Challenger failure, he would have flown in the next shuttle as a payload specialist), and the “prankster.”
“He and I looked alike, but he was younger than me. We were the fun ones of the family. After he was gone, my whole family got together and I didn’t have anybody to play off of, no longer had another jokester around,” Sue said.
For example, Chuck once visited Sue in Ohio, and before he left while Sue was at work, he had blown up balloons and placed each one inside available spaces such as the clothes washer, the toilet, the microwave – everywhere in her house.
But professionally, Chuck was a respected military man. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California State University, he worked in the intelligence division, and for a period, had weekly briefings with Secretary of State Colin Powell, according to Sue.
At a Hanscom Airforce Base memorial service two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, “a lot of people told me Chuck was a hero. They couldn’t tell me why … just ‘know your brother was a hero,'” Sue said.
She remains curious about this eight years later. Chuck had in his possession one cell phone on the plane that day, she said. He usually sat towards the back of the plane where there were few passengers so he could nap with the comfort of more than one seat, she said.
She wonders if Chuck may have been the first one to notify U.S. officials about the terrorist attacks.
“I know one time he said (long before Sept. 11), if a plane was hijacked, the last thing he would do is believe that (terrorists) were cooperating,” Sue said. “He was smart enough to know. He would know enough as an Airforce guy to know they were flying too low, flying right up the Hudson. He would have been able to see New York City skyscrapers. What would he have done?”
“What am I going to do on Sunday? … It’s coming up. I’ve got to decide,” Sue said.
After Sue’s recovery post-Sept. 11, she never “got involved in the mess,” she said. “I tried to stay out of the mess of the mosque being built too. There were so many conflicting emotions.”
The horrific act of terrorism created new challenges in her faith. “I went through a lot of, ‘how could God do this?” she said. “When I go to heaven, that’s the first question – Why?”
It angered her that the hunt for Osama bin Laden took so long. “And when he died, I was surprised that I wasn’t jumping up and down,” she said. “What I was, was very, very grateful they were able to find records of his future plans. We were able to stop the kinds of things that might have happened had he been able to continue. That’s what I was grateful for, not that he was actually dead, but that he was stopped.”
It took Sue four years before she could visit New York City.
“I wanted to see, but I didn’t want to see,” she said. “I finally went. And it didn’t strike me at that time as a place where that all happened. It struck me as a construction site. That’s what it looked like.”
There are many memorials that bear Chuck’s name, from Washington and beyond, including The Rolling Memorial, an 18-wheeler carrying the name of every person who died on Sept. 11. Back in Ohio, Sue visits a memorial bench and plaque she had erected in her brother’s name at Dayton Metro Parks, along a path where a small bridge spans a creek. “That’s where I go for a walk when I need to get away from the stresses and whatever is driving me nuts,” she said.
She and Chuck, who both invested in property in Colorado, had found inspiration in Colorado’s landscape. “Up in the mountains, I look out, whatever the scenery is, and that’s when I feel closest to God,” she said.
Finally, it occurred to her.
“You know what, that’s what we should do, doggone’it. We should just go for a big long hike on Sunday afternoon. We absolutely should.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603.
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