Sept. 11, 2001, began like any other day, I suppose. My wife and I were up, getting ourselves ready for work, getting our sons ready for school and day care, and then going to work.
That changed when I arrived at the Havre Daily News.
The newsroom was busy, as it always was that time of day, but I found the reason was a little different than normal. Terrorists had attacked the United States, crashing airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Harvey Brock, the publisher of the Havre Daily at the time, said he also was starting his day as usual, with he and his wife, Cindy, getting their children ready for school. He was upstairs when he heard his wife call.
“Hey, you’ve got to see this, ” Brock said he heard his wife say. “I walked downstairs just about the time the second plane hit the tower. ”
Brock said he hurried to work, where the newsroom was busy working on getting the paper ready to hit the street by 1 p. m., the publishing time in 2001. He asked if they had anything going on the attacks, and they didn’t.
“I said, ‘Turn on the TV and throw away everything you’ve done so far, ’” Brock said.
The television was on when I got to work. I listened in shock as my editor, Karen Datko, told me what had happened. Then we got to work trying to find out what local people had to say, what it meant to our community.
I watched the first of the Twin Towers collapse on the televised coverage as we starting looking for local content.
Shock and action
Brock said the newsroom was a mixture of action, and of horror. Even Datko was unfocused.
“Even Karen, a career journalist who had seen just about everything, was in shock, ” he said.
Datko said this morning in a separate interview that that was the case.
“The thing that I remember most, we watched on TV, it was devastating to watch, ” she said. “I remember that, despite all my years as a hard-news reporter, having seen so much, it took a gentle nudge from Harvey to get me to the task. ”
Brock said he immediately started pushing to get the newsroom to find the local impact.
“We quickly tried to get a local angle: What does this mean to Havre, Montana? ” he said.
Local comments, local connections
It seemed impossible to me that we could find a local connection. The attacks had happened on the other side of the continent. I soon found I was wrong.
I and my fellow reporter at the time, Tim Eberly, started making calls, going out to find what people thought and had to say. There was plenty.
People around town were stunned as they watched television coverage of the attacks.
“I’m just shocked. I guess we all knew that it could happen, ” Perry Ahern told us that morning. “It’s just that magnitude, it’s just a shame. It’s just an eerie feeling. ”
We found that local officials had gone into action immediately, ranging from the local National Guard unit going up one step in alert and starting to prepare its armory, increasing security there, to local law enforcement increasing the number of on-duty or on-alert officers and firefighters and checking local public vehicles, water supplies and generators to make sure all was in order and ready for anything, to local churches immediately scheduling special services.
Kirk Miller, then the superintendent of Havre Public Schools, also went into action immediately. Miller called or went to all of the school campuses that morning, making sure all school administrators knew what had happened. He then called a meeting before classes started to plan and prepare.
The schools in Havre worked to make sure that they operated with business as usual, while also providing a safe environment for the students, accurate information about the incident, and a place for students with concerns and questions about the attacks to turn.
Datko said she was not surprised.
“That was an event that deeply involved everyone. Everyone in the United States was involved in that story …, ” she said. “That story had raging impacts even in Havre, Montana. ”
More connections, more actions
The local coverage continued. In the days and weeks following, the Havre Daily News continued to cover people who had been directly involved — Havre High School graduate Kari McLaughlin was working for L’Oreal across the street from the Twin Towers and watched them collapse; Havreite K’Lynn Sloan was working for Sen. Max Baucus and would have been at the Capital when the Pentagon was struck if she hadn’t been ill that day; Daryl “Buck” Wright was at a meeting in a Senate building on business for the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation when the attack occurred; Farmers Union representatives Daryl Sather, Ryan Joy and Jenny Miller were in Sen. Conrad Burns’ office when the Pentagon was struck.
As the days and weeks progressed, people continued to give recognition to the attack and the victims slain in it and to take action to help.
Flags flew at half-mast, the victims and the survivors of the attacks were recognized during the 2001 Havre Festival Days that weekend, special church services continued and counseling was offered to K-12 and college students.
Fundraising and aid efforts grew. The Montana State University-Northern Students in Free Enterprise began taking free-will offerings for red, white and blue ribbons to give to the Red Cross for help in the disaster.
Jennifer Kinsella of Holland & Bonine Funeral Home offered her services to the Disaster Mortuary Response Teams; Havre High School’s homecoming included recognition of the victims and survivors; Havreite Carol Gabrielson started making red-white-and-blue pins for sale, with the proceeds going to benefit the victims; and people throughout the area turned out to the next Red Cross blood drive, while asking if there were other ways they could help.
The Havre Daily covered those and other 9/11 stories, while continuing its job of covering local news.
Story grows, continues.
The story of Sept. 11, 2001, continues to this day with wide-ranging impacts and actions, from overseas wars to more than quadrupling the number of Border Patrol agents on the Hi-Line, from passage of the U. S. Patriot Act to now needing a genuine U. S. passport to cross into Canada and back, having full body scanners at airports and seeing the impact on the U. S. federal budget and the American economy. The story has touched everyone.
And everyone seems to remember where they were when they first heard the news.
I know I never will forget.