By Frances Stebbins, Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
With so much having been written and spoken about the facts and significance of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, those reading this may be thoroughly jaded by it all.
When the daily newspaper invited its readers to contribute their memories, I did so and was disappointed when my recollection did not appear. The compilers are forgiven for the large number of entries probably received.
I’ll take advantage of Mountain Media, the publishing chain of our region’s several weekly papers, to offer one more remembrance, for it was indeed an event never forgotten.
That crisp, clear Tuesday morning I was driving east from Salem on Shenandoah Avenue Northwest en route to cover the monthly meeting of the Roanoke Valley Interfaith Ministers Conference. The gathering scheduled to start with fellowship at 10 a.m. was being held at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church which crowns the hill to the north of downtown Roanoke.
Sadly, the conference, which in the 1950s had a membership of about 100 white, Protestant, Christian clergy, had shrunk to a small fraction of that number as it had gradually become more inclusive in its membership; by 20 years ago it had ceased to be much of a factor in affecting actions in the valley now that it included Roman Catholic priests, rabbis, ordained women and a good number of Black pastors. These groups had been gradually added over the decades.
Paradoxically, as the group became more inclusive – today regarded as essential – it grew less inclined to take stands on such issues as racial acceptance, disapproval of betting, maintaining a quiet Sabbath and discouraging the use of alcohol.
Why this appears so is not to be considered here. The professional clergy group no longer exists today, a loss, some might believe, to our community.
I can’t recall if any controversial matters were on the agenda that Tuesday morning as I drove toward the church. With my radio on, I heard, around the West End N & W Railway Shops, a remark about the World Trade Center.
Recalling that a few years earlier there had been some kind of violence at the site, I first thought it was a reprise, as is often done by news people on an anniversary, as has saturated us in the past week.
Then I picked up on the alarming news that President George Bush had left an engagement in Florida to fly back to Washington because of an attack on the Pentagon.
[As it happened, I watched this week on TV details of Bush’s visit to a public school in Sarasota, Florida, where he was visiting to commend a predominantly Black and Hispanic student body for the academic progress its pupils had made by following the “No Child Left Behind” program to teach basic skills. Several aging staff were interviewed and remembered the shock all experienced when the President was unexpectedly called from his pleasant classroom visit with young children and whisked back to the capital.}
By the time I reached St. Andrew’s, the small group of clergy were gathered in the new Fellowship Hall where several TV sets were revealing the horror of the second plane’s attack. The meeting was quickly suspended, and we entered the worship area of the historic building.
Children of the parish parochial school also were there, and classes had been dismissed for the day.
A brief service of music and prayers was held, and we went home to view more of the terrible happening. Late husband newsman Charlie and I never watched TV in the day; being print writers we relied on traditional paper and ink to keep up with events.
But, as earlier in the Kennedy assassination and the Watergate conspiracy, we departed from our custom. In fact, only in the past two years, living alone, have I become addicted to viewing the nightly news as presented on Blue Ridge Public TV.
` Two further reminders of the 9/11 tragedy touched me. A young man, who narrowly escaped death on his first day on the job as a stockbroker in one of the Twin Towers, addressed a church group in Salem. I caught a telephone interview with the man whose name I don’t remember. It was chilling.
More memorable was the dedication of the flagpole on the Tenth Anniversary of the event, for I was a member of the choir of a church nearby and we performed a suitable selection at Calhoun and Market Streets.
The steel beam holding the flag by Salem Firehouse I came from the trade center as a gift of a city manufacturer. Today, Old Glory waves from it as an eternal remembrance.