Blog administrator’s note: The following column is by Keith Throckmorton. He retired from Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department and now calls Perquimans County, North Carolina, his home. Keith offers a unique perspective as to what law enforcement agencies dealt with during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 20th anniversary of the attacks occurs later this month.
Today, I live in a peaceful and beautiful area of North Carolina on the Albemarle Sound. Our county seat, Hertford, is a quaint, turn of the 19th-century small town located in Perquimans County. Hertford also was the home of baseball great Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Historically, the Perquimans County Courthouse was erected in 1825.
My home here is exactly opposite from where I lived in northern Virginia, with all of the problems associated with a Washington, DC, suburb. There came a day that would change America forever, that day being September 11, 2001. On that fateful day, I was supervisor of the Traffic Enforcement Section of the Fairfax County Police Department.
It was our practice to arrive at work early enough to have a cup of coffee together and “solve the world’s problems” before going out to work. One of my officers exclaimed, “Did you see that!? An airliner struck one of the World Trade Center Towers!” We concluded that it must have been a pilot error of some type.
As we watched this live coverage continued and reflected on its tragedy, we observed the second airliner approaching the second World Trade Center Tower to strike it. These were no accidents, and for once, we didn’t have the answers. Instead, we were stunned beyond explanation as to what we had observed. Our office became surreally quiet as the coverage and commentary continued. By this time, the Fairfax County Command Post, located downstairs, had been activated and fully staffed for the work ahead.
Fairfax County is adjacent to Washington, DC, so our area needed to expect the worst. Due to our proximity to Washington, anything that happened there would affect us in a big way. We were in a high state of alert. It was not known what the day would bring, but we were ready. Senior police and other public safety officials, and our county emergency and support staff from other adjacent areas were represented. Also present were representatives from other federal and outside law enforcement agencies. For duties such as providing meals, many call-takers and support personnel packed the command post.
Every aircraft that entered the Washington, DC, area was considered suspicious, and a potential threat until uncertainties were favorably resolved. The number of these was countless, but the hard work of many in the command post coordinating with other agencies validated their presence. The stress levels of everyone were the highest experienced in most lives, excluding those who had served in combat. The day moved on, and then it happened. An airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, had crashed into the Pentagon.
To add to the stress and anxiety in the command post, personnel working there received calls from their spouses, family, and friends who worked in Arlington and were in the path of the doomed hijacked airliner as it descended to hit the Pentagon. Before hitting the Pentagon, some described the doomed plane as it flew slightly above their roofs, just missing them.
Then there was the hijacked airliner that crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field. Most suspected that the hijacked aircraft was targeted to hit the United States Capitol or the White House. Brave Americans on board did not allow their evil captors to succeed with that one. We all were consumed with what would happen next. We stayed glued to the large television in the command post and watched the continued coverage of these attacks on our country and later our bombing retaliation strikes in Afghanistan. There were shouts of jubilation when the coverage of this aired.
A memo circulated that anyone that wished to meet with our chaplain to pray, meditate or talk would be allowed to do so the next day at noon. I point this out because, until that moment, open praying or other religious activities had not been permitted in Fairfax County Government buildings. “A time for God now,” I thought, “It’s about time.”
On September 12, 2001, at noon, some of us met with the chaplain to pray, meditate or talk out fears or other concerns from the previous day. My turn came when we arrived at the “time to talk” session. The chaplain asked for those who wished to speak to do so. I believe that I was first. I contributed that I thought it possible that God may be looking down on us at this time. God may be asking, “Do I know you? You, as a nation, do not talk to Me anymore; you, as a nation, have forsaken your trust and recognition of Me and your scriptural heritage to make room for other beliefs and false gods.” I concluded my remarks that just maybe if we, as a nation, spent more time in prayer as we are doing now, days like the previous day would not have happened. This occasion was the only day that a time of worship was allowed in a Fairfax County building.
The following days and weeks were spent supporting the Pentagon Police and other federal agencies to rescue victims and other recovery efforts. Fairfax County and the state police, and other surrounding law enforcement agencies were involved in this process. This coordinated effort involved finding and removing victims, crime scene security, and traffic control on the main thoroughfares surrounding the Pentagon. This support was a long and tiring team effort for everyone, but it was accomplished with extreme dedication by all involved. We had been attacked, and we wanted to do our part with total energy and professionalism. After our duties for the Pentagon were completed, the law enforcement agencies involved designed a beautiful lapel pin. This pin was authorized to be worn on uniforms and civilian police attire. This pin later became the symbol on Virginia’s Fight Terrorism license plate.
A short time after that, a task force was formed that included federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The purpose was to determine exactly who may be living in our midst that may be members of this culture that had attacked us. The local police were tasked with conducting surveillance on suspicious homes and businesses in their jurisdictions. We could not infringe on personal rights but watch and stake out questionable locations and document times, persons, descriptions, activities, record license plate numbers, etc. This information was then forwarded to the federal agents, who compiled and reviewed it with other intelligence known to them.
We must come back to who we were; we must pray to God as a nation and individuals. We must reinstitute The Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. We must pray that those elected government officials that do not serve Him be voted from power and replaced by Christian people like those in our history that made this nation great.
Change must take place. It is now or never, and only we can make it happen. It begins in our homes; we can no longer allow others to raise our children and not bother to vote for our public servants and hold them accountable. We, as citizens, must step up to the plate and take control. I am a “Baby Boomer,” and I fear for my children and their children in the years to come. What lies ahead for them if the current dangerous trends of the United States continue to grow from the seeds that are planted today?
God Bless America, and God bless all of you.