Ceremony commemorates 20th anniversary of 9/11

Yadkinville Police Chief Dawn Pardue sings the National Anthem during a 9/11 ceremony held in Yadkinville on Saturday.

It was a somber but hopeful morning in Yadkinville on Saturday as community members, many of whom were firefighters and first responders, gathered together to remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. The message of the day was to “never forget” the events of 9/11 and to continue teaching the younger generations about the terrorist attacks that devastated the nation.

The event was organized by county officials along with local pilot Danny Smith and held in the Yadkin Arts Council’s Willingham Theater.

After a welcome and introductions by County Chairman Kevin Austin and County Manager Lisa Hughes, Smith gave a recounting of the timeline of the attacks.

Community leaders, including Yadkin Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Martin, Yadkin EMS Director Keith Vestal, Sheriff Ricky Oliver and Fire Marshal Ricky Leonard each spoke, recalling where they were when they heard of planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

Martin recalled that President George W. Bush was visiting an elementary school at the time of the attacks and he recalled his own thoughts as he went throughout the school day on 9/11 watching the events unfolding. While the horrors of the day were foremost in his thoughts, Martin also recalled the inspiring moments.

“Another thing I remember about that evening, despite the tremendous tragedy of it all, was how it brought America together. We truly were the United States of America. There was a sense that we had to work together,” said Martin.

“Our students in our schools today were not alive on 9/11, however, I believe it’s critically important that we continue to teach them about this event, about the adroit nature of Americans in the face of terror and how the citizens of the United States were truly united in the face of a common enemy. It’s a lesson I take forward from that day that we have to work together, we must not allow disagreement to truly divide us,” Martin added.

The bravery of all the emergency personnel and ordinary citizens who rushed to help during and in the aftermath of the attacks was heralded by speakers during the ceremony as well as the memory honored of all those who lost their lives.

First Officer Steve Scheibner was the special guest speaker for Saturday’s event. Scheibner, an American Airlines pilot, was slated to be on Flight 11 that day.

Despite the serious nature of the day’s ceremony Scheibner, a charismatic speaker, gave those in attendance plenty to chuckle about. When a video presentation failed to work at the start of his speech he stepped to the microphone, dressed in his pilot’s uniform and calmly announced, “Ladies and gentleman this is your Captain speaking. We’re having some technical difficulties right now and that loud noise you just heard, please ignore that.”

The short film gave audiences a glimpse into Scheibner’s thoughts and a message of faith about the circumstances that meant he stayed home while another pilot took that deadly flight.

Scheibner reflected on the feelings many had that day in the wake of the tragedy.

“On that day everything came into sharp focus in terms of our priorities, nothing was more important than our family and our friends and our loved ones,” he said. “We just wanted to go home and hug someone.”

In the film, Scheibner described the process in which pilots would log in to sign up for flights they would be taking. He described having logged in and selecting to take the trip for Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. Despite bidding on the trip he ended up being bumped from the flight by another pilot.

After learning of the crashes Scheibner logged back into to see the same screen he had previously used to select the flight only instead of his name being listed for the trip it said “sequence failed continuity.”

“That’s code for the trip never made it to its destination, what an understatement,” Scheibner said. “When I got that visual look at the screen I was overwhelmed. I had packed my bag to go on that trip. Words can’t describe that moment…”

Scheibner said no matter how many times he has seen the film he still has trouble hearing the voice recording from flight attendant Betty Ong who called to alert the airline that hijackers had taken over the cockpit.

“I still get choked up…it’s hard for me to hear Betty’s voice after all these years. Betty is not just a person in a film, she was a friend of mine. Betty was a courageous lady,” he said.

Scheibner said as the years pass he has begun to feel something like a historical figure, especially when speaking to younger audiences about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He said it is still important, however, to remember the attacks.

“This thing is going to get farther and farther in our rearview mirror and there’s nothing you can do about that. Eventually it will become something in the history books like Dec. 7, 1941 but it’s important at times like this we put a marker down; we set a memorial and we talk about it,” he said.

Scheibner said he is often asked two questions, why does he think God spared his life and what does he like about being a pilot. The first question, he said, is harder to answer though his faith is important to him and a message he shared with people through the film and a book “In My Seat” written by his wife. What he likes about flying is much easier to answer he said.

“I love flying airplanes,” he said. “I love what I do for a living. I can’t believe I get paid to stare out the window of an airplane, but I do.”

He shared a comical story about his fourth-grade teacher whom he described as “not a nice lady” and “mean to the core” who once struck him with her hand-made weapon of three rulers taped together with masking tape as he was gazing distractedly out of the classroom window one day looking longingly at the first snow flakes of the season.

“Stevie Scheibner you’ll never make a living staring out the window,” she told him.

“She was wrong,” Scheibner said, to laughter from the audience.

Saturday’s ceremony concluded outdoors with a 21-gun salute and airplane flyover.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.