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  • 'We were all struck dumb'

  • Shirley Patton was on the treadmill in Gold's Gym in Ashland when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center that day in September 2001. The TV set was on as usual, and people watched in stunned disbelief.
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  • Shirley Patton was on the treadmill in Gold's Gym in Ashland when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center that day in September 2001. The TV set was on as usual, and people watched in stunned disbelief.
    "I thought it was some horrible accident," says Patton, Ashland resident and longtime actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
    "I remember thinking maybe the pilot had a stroke or something like that.
    "It was devastating. So out of one's area of experience. We were all struck dumb trying to make sense of something that made no sense."
    Like Dec. 7, 1941, or Nov. 22, 1963, that morning on Sept. 11, 2001, is burned into the nation's collective memory. News of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came first on the radio sets of the day. As the news broke of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, millions of Americans gathered around TV sets, most of them black and white and small. We had no global satellite feeds and no Internet.
    But the 9/11 attacks seemed to be everywhere all at once. The plane flew into the tower over and over, in stop action, in living color on our TV sets and our computers. Debris and chaos rained and people died and there was a sense of something big changing forever. We didn't know how, but we knew things would be different.
    Patton spent the day glued to the TV. Looking back, she says she couldn't have imagined the far-reaching effects of that day.
    "The act of terror was hideous, horribly wrong and shameful, and it stays with us," she says. "But it happened to us. The war is something we did. That's what is so painful to me. We had a choice. It weighs on me heavily."
    Medford airport manager Bern Case was in the shower that morning when his wife took the call telling her to turn on the TV. At first he thought it was a terrible mistake.
    "It was a very intense day," he says. "We had aircraft that didn't belong here and a lot of people that didn't belong. All the car rentals ran out pretty quickly, and people were sharing cars. I remember one guy saying, 'Anybody here need to go to L.A.?' "
    All air traffic was grounded. There was no Homeland Security Department then, but the faxes and emails came hot and heavy from the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport began getting calls from people in the community offering to take in and put people up who couldn't get hotel rooms.
    By Friday, three days after the events in New York City, Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, flights had resumed, although not in the usual numbers. Case remembers having a strong sense that things had changed.
    "And they sure did," he says.
    At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival there was debate, sometimes heated, on whether the show indeed had to go on.
    "Paul (Nicholson, the OSF's executive director) came into the green room (where actors wait to go on stage), and we went round and round," actor Michael Elich remembers.
    He was against performing, and the day became fractious at OSF, he recalls. The OSF had three different plays scheduled that day, and he assumed performances would be canceled. One of the shows was "Enter the Guardsman," and he remembers thinking: "How can we do a musical, of all things?"
    Elich is a native New Yorker and had family there.
    "Americans have died today," he kept thinking.
    Also scheduled that day was Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in the outdoor Elizabethan Stage at night. Although he was against having the show go on, Elich says what happened is seared into his memory.
    "I've never experienced that kind of connection with an audience," he says. "The play asks such deep questions, and it was more profound than ever."
    He says a part of him still cringes at the memory of going on with the shows, which he believed at least in part was a business decision. Others at the festival pointed out that many hundreds of people had come to town for the plays, and it wasn't possible to re-schedule. In the end the shows went on, and the OSF gave the day's proceeds to the Red Cross.
    Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County, had a big day planned on Sept. 11 10 years ago. It was the United Way campaign kick-off. Everson didn't even have time to turn on the morning news as usual. She was in line at a Fred Meyer store when she heard.
    "I couldn't believe it," she says. "I knew I couldn't cancel our kickoff. I wanted to go home. But we had 65 people for a daylong training to help people in our community. Everybody was scared and angry and sad and lost. But nobody left.
    "They said they couldn't think of a better place to be. We knew if we could come together around community, that was the best we could do."
    Ron Kramer, executive director of Jefferson Public Radio, drove to the Medford airport early that morning to catch a plane to Baltimore, Md., for a national conference of public radio program directors. He had JPR on the car radio when the story came on about the first plane hitting the tower. At the airport he watched coverage of the events on TV with other travelers. He was actually on his way out the door to the plane when word came that all air traffic was grounded.
    "I don't know what I was thinking, that we'd still be flying," he says. "Or that you'd want to fly with all the terror and death that was going on. It took a while to process it."
    Kramer drove to Ashland for a 90-minute breakfast at the Wild Goose during which he tried to organize his thoughts and notify others, including his mother, that he wasn't in the air. Then he went to JPR's offices where the news feeds were rolling in from National Public Radio.
    Ten years later, with New York City on high alert to new terrorist threats, he's again planning to attend the programmers' conference. It's in Baltimore.
    Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to rogueviewpoint@gmail.com.
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