9/11 Reflections

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Maricopans share their memories of that fateful day, 20 years ago.  

DREW DIGRAZIA Resident  

At first I couldn’t really understand what I was seeing, because I was still in the mindset that it was an accident. When that other jet went through and there was a huge explosion, what really came to mind for me was “Yeah, we’re under attack.”  

I didn’t feel angry. Quite frankly, I was shocked — dare I say a little scared. As I continued to watch it unfold, I was late for work. Watching the way the country came together in reaction to the situation, to me, it was like a shining moment for my generation.  

TIM WHITMAN Resident, USAF Veteran  

I was in my office in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Pope Air Force Base, and I was on the phone ordering some computers when the attacks happened. Being a history major, I thought of Pearl Harbor right away. Within 10 or 15 minutes, I started getting mad because I knew this was deliberate. As a military guy, I knew that my job was going to change.  

Right away, people started saying, ‘Oh, this is not good,’ and ‘We’re going to be going to war, I guarantee it.’ And it was true. Especially with the Pentagon being attacked, we knew that they were trying to take out our military.  

I had the sense then, just as I do today, that I am so happy that I am in the military and that I do have a role that helps defend the actions of that day. There have been a few times over the last 20 years where I wished I was signed up again.  

AMBER LIERMANN Councilmember  

I felt shocked. I grieved, and I wondered what the future would be like for my child, for our youth, and for America. I have family members in the military and immediately considered what deployment would look like for our family. As the day went on, I felt the strength, bravery and resolve of our country. It wasn’t fear; it was the building of courage I was feeling.  

I was not surprised by the way our country, states, cities, communities, businesses and places of worship came together to support one another.  

The memory of 9/11 motivates me to make every effort to preserve and protect the rights and freedoms of every American.  

RODNEY DATOR Resident  

I was in shock, more so in disbelief. How could an accident like this happen in the busiest city in the U.S.? I was sad when I found out at first. I became angry and wanted the full uncensored wrath of the U.S. to be unleashed on those responsible for these atrocious acts.  

I loved that we came together as a country. For once, we put aside our differences and united together as one nation!  

It’s still sad to reminisce on the event that took place 20 years ago. So many families were affected by 9/11, whether it be the loss of loved ones, others debilitated due to the conditions at Ground Zero or permanently injured during rescue efforts. At the same time, it was a period of unity and pride to be an American, because we put aside our differences and worked together helping one another.  

BRADY LEFFLER Fire/Medical Chief  

I was a battalion chief for the City of Mesa and saw it unfold on TV. First, I was in disbelief. I became angrier as the day went on and felt the need to head to New York and help in any way I could.  

I was really proud of the emergency services response, but also concerned about the intelligence failures. I think we’re more prepared today due to lessons learned. Just wish it never happened!  

LARRY SCHROEDER Resident  

I knew in my heart on that day that we were attacked. I knew from watching the first plane that it wasn’t a fluke. Those buildings were not in the flight path.  

We were, quite honestly, literally asleep. Now, we have become a way more protective society because we are more vulnerable.  

9/11 has taught me to be more aware of what’s going on. If you feel like you need to say something to someone, say something. Don’t be afraid to live, but be aware.  

RICH VITIELLO Councilmember 

That’s where I was born and raised, so it really hit me hard. I started calling all my friends who worked in the Twin Towers, and thank God they all either didn’t go into the office that day or were on vacation.  

All I can say is 9/11 is a very special day for me, and my heart bleeds for the people who lost family and friends that day.  

BRAD PITASSI Fire/Medical Assistant Chief 

The father of one of my close friends growing up was murdered that day, Garnet “Ace” Bailey. Ace was an amazing man and was on United Flight 175 which hit the South Tower. Every time I watch the footage of that day, I watch my close childhood friend’s father killed. It is personal.  

I would not be doing what I love today if it wasn’t for that day. 9/11 changed my trajectory from trying to get into law school to public safety. A lot of people say that being a firefighter is a calling. I agree, but for me, it took 9/11 to see what I was destined to do.  

As I approach the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest days of my life, I’ll do what I always do: make a few phone calls to check in with my friends, take time to reflect on the 343 firefighters murdered that day and the rapidly growing number of ones who have died since from 9/11-related illnesses. I’ll remember the pain and sadness from the day, and then at one point, I think about the positive that has come from it; the relationships I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had, and the positive things in my life that have occurred from that pivotal day.  

JAMES HUGHES Police Chief 

I was a patrol Sergeant in Northern New Jersey (25 miles west of NYC). I had just gotten off my shift when it occurred. I was shocked. My concern was about subsequent attacks in the surrounding NYC area including North Jersey. I called my PD and asked if we were needed to respond.  

Having training in counter-terrorism and 15 years as a police officer, I understood it was an act of terrorism. My bigger fear was what the next location would be after D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

I was confident our country would respond appropriately to ensure the safety of its citizens. I was impressed how everyone came together as a team. I recall in the days following the incident it was the first time in my career ever being thanked for my service to the community. Comments edited for clarity.  

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