Ache of Sept. 11 hasn't faded for Islanders
|||Lessons of Sept. 11 should not be lost|
|||Honolulu remembers in quiet walk|
|||9 with Hawai'i ties remembered|
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
In the pre-dawn darkness of an otherwise unremarkable September morning, Gordon Tamarra stared at the television with growing disbelief.
Like the 10 people huddled with him that day, Tamarra was a Honolulu firefighter assigned to the Kapolei Fire Station. An emergency alert from the department communications center had awakened them, but they were having trouble comprehending what they were seeing on the station TV.
Thick, black smoke poured from the north tower of the World Trade Center. It seemed surreal.
He had no idea that terrorists had hijacked commercial airliners and aimed them at buildings in three U.S. cities. But their deadly purpose quickly revealed itself and those that saw it still cannot forget the events.
"Within a few minutes of us getting up, we saw the second plane hit," Tamarra recalled. "That was when it struck home. That's when I kind of woke up. I started doing the arithmetic in my head."
The arithmetic on that now infamous chapter in U.S. history — the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — included the painful addition of several hundred New York firefighters. Tamarra watched the first tower collapse, and then the second, and tried to do the math.
How long had the fire raged? How many firefighters and other emergency response teams would have had time to charge into the burning buildings? How many of them were dead?
"It was mind-numbing," he said. "I felt a tremendous sense of loss, especially when the second building went down. You do the calculations. An hour in, there would be a lot of guys responding when everyone else is running away."
Like many Americans who watched the world change that day, Tamarra's life is different on this, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
"I don't think we are scarred in any way, emotionally or psychologically, but we are definitely affected by that day," said Tamarra, now a captain at the Wai'anae Fire Station. "It really opened our eyes as first responders. Instead of just fighting fires, we are on the front lines of this stuff happening around the world."
Sanford Sasaki, a 45-year-old Moanalua Gardens resident, said he is still in shock, five years after watching the attack on live television. One of his most vivid memories is the panicked voice of an off-camera New York television reporter watching the second airliner approach the World Trade Center.
"He said 'Oh my God, there is another plane approaching the twin towers' and on the screen I could see it enter the picture and hit the tower," Sasaki said. "Then it was like, oh man, what am I watching?"
'IT WAS TOO MUCH GRIEF'
Across the island, in Kane'ohe, Lilia Kane and her husband watched the second airliner find its target. For a few minutes, she wondered the same thing. Then the veil of confusion lifted and the couple began to pray.
"That is when we realized it was a terrorist attack," she said.
Kane and her husband were glued to their television for hours. They watched both towers fall and felt an emotional reverberation in their hearts.
"It was too much grief because we could not do anything about it, watching all the people terrified," Kane said. "We heard there were people jumping from the building. You could see them falling. Everyone terrified. There was just so much grief."
Kane, a 45-year-old mother of two, said the attacks have left lasting changes on Americans.
"We go to work and we don't know if that place is going to be targeted or there is going to be some radical Islamic person protesting at the mall or a shop or the bus stop or a government building," Kane said. "It is just like a time bomb to me. It's not if it happens. It is when is it going to happen?"
The families of nine victims with Hawai'i ties were directly affected and remain wounded to this day by the painful memories. Many do not want to discuss it publicly anymore.
One of the victims was Patricia Pitchford Colodner, a 39-year-old executive secretary at Marsh & McLennan who was at her desk on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when it collapsed.
Colodner, who was born in Hawai'i, attended Star of the Sea School, graduated from Our Redeemer Lutheran High School in 1979 and moved to New York shortly after that. She married in 1990 and had two children.
Her 87-year-old mother, Marie Pitchford, will pray for her daughter today at a church near her home outside Santa Cruz, Calif.
"I think of her every day ... I pray for her every day," she said. "This is not something you forget."
It is also something that remains as painful today as it was in 2001.
"The ache is still the same," she said. "It doesn't fade away."
Reach Mike Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.