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9/11: a personal memoir

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(Author’s note: this commentary was written on Sept. 11 and 12, 2001, as events transpired. Today, September 11, 2020, Royal Examiner reprints an edited version to commemorate the 19th anniversary of that horrific day in memory of those who died and those they left behind.)

 

The World Trade Center twin towers presented a surreal backdrop to lower and even near mid-town Manhattan – Photo/Roger Bianchini

The faint ring of a telephone stirred me from a restless sleep. I grudgingly opened my eyes and realized that it was fairly early in the morning on Tuesday, a weekend for me in my current employment cycle … I stumbled into my adjacent office and without my glasses tried to make out the caller ID through a sleep-encrusted blur. I lift the receiver.

“Turn on your television!” my friend Dewey’s voice commanded excitedly. “We were watching one of the World Trade Center buildings burning after a plane ran into it about 15 minutes ago and another one just flew into the other building!”


“When,” reality and dreams seemed to be mixing though I thought I was awake.

“Now!!! A second ago,” Dewey said & I knew this was not a “Jerky Boys” prank phone call. I hung up the phone without responding. I understood as my mind snapped to, that the information was presented not for discussion but for action. I was at my complex of three televisions at the far end of my third-floor loft apartment over the Main Street Mill that was so reminiscent to me of the fifth-floor walkup loft I had sublet for a year 11 blocks north of the World Trade Center some 20 years earlier. I hit the on button on the smallest of the three, the old 13-inch that I had gotten from my mom. It sat several feet from my living area couch and was my preferred home-alone viewing screen. Perhaps its size helped me maintain the illusion that I wasn’t really addicted to it.

The crystal-sharp satellite picture quickly focused and I picked up the remote and, punched in channel 970, the satellite channel for the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. As a child, it would, as likely as not, have been the morning news station I would be watching as I got ready for school and my parents prepared for their respective federal government jobs in D.C. and Rosslyn, Virginia.

There they were, the twin towers gleaming in a bright September morning against a cloudless, bright, blue sky; except for the huge plumes of black smoke pouring from the top 20 or so floors of both buildings. I flashed on the old ‘70s movie “Towering Inferno”. How did that movie I’d never seen more than about 10 minutes of at a time end?!? How many were saved? How long did it take to finally – just burn out?

Bryant Gumble’s calm TV voice hypnotically recited the facts as known at – I flicked the info button to see the time, 9:07 a.m.

“Two planes … believed to be a 737 and a 767 … 18 minutes apart … North Tower first, then the South Tower … Not known if intent or accidents … Here it is. Watch to the right of your screen and you’ll see the second plane as it approaches and plows into the South Tower.”

Oh man, that wasn’t an accident! There was malevolent intent apparent the first time I saw it. That building was a target. But can’t alarm the public with unsubstantiated theories – public, I have public there!!!

I raced back to my office for the phone. Stuart and Annie Lee, my friends since college days in Richmond, Virginia, at old VCU, the urban university; Stuart and Annie, whom I sublet that Lower Manhattan loft from in 1979-80, when I had my New York state of mind experience, still lived in that five-story walkup, 11 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Two-one-two, two-zero-two, NYC/DC, I always transpose those area codes in my head. I dial two-one-two … The line picks up on the second ring. It is Annie’s voice, “Hello” – she seems breathless.

“Annie, what the hell is going on up there,” I blurt out not letting on how relieved I am to hear her voice.

“I don’t know but it’s pretty bizarre,” she replied.

We used to joke about whether the North Tower, the closest one to their loft, would fall on their building if it tipped over on its side northbound. It seemed that close, those big rectangles looming out of their back windows and over the rooftop deck Stuart had built. That was after their 1977 wedding in Charleston, South Carolina, Annie’s home turf. I glanced at the time on the caller ID. It was 9:11 a.m. – REALLY?!? I thought without verbalizing it.

“I just saw a tape of the second plane hitting the second building,” I said.

Annie hesitated, then said, “Roger, I was down there when they exploded.”

I was stunned. She had been closer than her home, at 9 in the morning. Was she nuts? What was Annie, an artist, a sculptor doing in the financial district at 8:45 in the morning? I must have verbalized the question as well as thought it.

“I was at the fish market they have in the parking lot on the east side of the Trade Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays (that’s an acceptable reason, I thought). We heard a plane and we all ducked. We knew it didn’t belong there so low over the city. Then the building exploded and we had to run under this building overhang to get away from all the burning debris that was coming down after the explosion. After the second explosion I thought I better get out of there and I went to look for my bike, which was on the Trade Center side. Luckily it was OK and I just came in the door when you called.

“You said the plane HIT the building?” she trailed off, apparently just making the connection between the low-flying plane that had caused those at the fish market to duck reflexively and the first explosion. “I didn’t, we didn’t – Listen Roger, I don’t mean to cut you off but I want to clear the line for my mom. I know she’s going to try and call or I should call her before the lines get clogged up.”

“OK, sure. Where’s Stuart,” I wanted to make sure the calm in her voice included knowledge of Stuart’s whereabouts before we disconnected.

“He’s here.”

“Good. You all take care and stay in touch.” I hung up.

They were OK.

That she was down there in physical jeopardy had jolted me …

I was back at the TV. I plopped on the couch. It was 9:15. It was like I was hypnotized, the emotional trauma of world-changing events perceived at an almost subconscious level. In a weird way it was like 1963 and 1968. But no, it was 2001 – the real first year of not only a new century but a new millennium; 2001, much bigger deal than 1901; none like it since 1001 – a thousand-year bookmark on the pages of history. So, I channel surf throughout the morning of September 11, 2001.

The World Trade Center, the Pentagon are in flames! All air traffic to the U.S. being diverted and all planes in the states being brought down. How?

“A plane down in the woods of western Pennsylvania – Camp David may have been the target” is theorized on the air.

BUT THEN – a huge plume of smoke in lower Manhattan. What the … ?!?!

Is there only one building there?

It’s gone.

In a panic I look for competent reporting and a familiar voice. CNBC broadcasts from lower Manhattan, competent, who knows; familiar and boots on the ground, yes.

“One of the two World Trade Center towers has collapsed,” a camera shot from across the Hudson River – lower Manhattan looks like it is on fire – back to NWI (News World International) – they had the live feed from a New York City ABC affiliate earlier with a poor guy trapped on the 85th floor because the fire doors locked up, which building was he in? Is he dead? He said things were under control and stabilizing and he was giving directions to where he and one other person were trapped with windows blown out – the firemen must have been going up …

Watching NWI with their main Canadian affiliate as … the … second tower … collapses from the top down – “Oh my God. Oh my God,” the on-air voice repeats calm but distraught – how is that even possible? – as off camera, yelling and screaming with no pretense of calm maintained as the North Tower joins its sibling on the ground … where am I?!!? Two 110-story buildings … gone …

I watch lower Manhattan from across the Hudson River again. It is totally enshrouded in smoke. Are people suffocating in that? Could you breathe in there?

Again try Stuart and Annie. Nothing …

Then tears came and I sobbed with worry for my friends and for my old neighborhood; for 50,000 or 5,000 people, I didn’t know; for two buildings that had stood like a magical, surrealistic backdrop to an already magical skyline for a quarter of a century or more; for the firemen and the cops who went in there trying to get trapped people out … It’s just enormously, monumentally tragic and screwed up and I don’t feel bad about crying …

That it has come to this is tragic in more than the obvious ways. Things will never be the same. A dark thought flashes into my consciousness – is that what it is really all about?

As the day progresses I follow the pending collapse of adjacent buildings, watch ghost-like, dust-covered people stumble, walk calmly with their briefcases or run from the rubble and spreading, spewing cloud that covers lower Manhattan.

As the skies over America clear of all air traffic for the first time in the age of air travel, an age that has existed all of my life, I wonder how the next attack will come, who will bring it and why …

As the day progressed into night, lower Manhattan took on an eerie look as powerful spotlights bracketed debris and the continually rising cloud of smoke from fires burning deep within the rubble of 220 stories, estimated at 1.2 million tons of debris that will take a year to clear …

Who knows how long it will take my mind – or anyone’s – to assimilate what has happened.

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Warren Heritage Society host tour of Bel Air Mansion

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The Bel Air Mansion in Front Royal, Virginia. Bel Air is the historic home of Civil War diarist Lucy Buck.

On September 24, 2022, the Warren Heritage Society hosted a tour of the Bel Air Mansion in Front Royal, Virginia. In this exclusive Royal Examiner video, you will hear Maral Kalbian, Architectural Historian, provide some historical remarks on Bel Air and how it has changed over the years. Also, excepts from Luck Buck’s Diary and letters, read by Hallie Groves, President of the WHS Board of Directors. WHS Archivist Tony Carter welcomed the guest and introduced the speakers.

Richard Hoover, a WHS Board member, gives the history of the Warren Heritage Society along with welcoming remarks from Jeff LeHew, the current owner of Bel Air. The Warren Heritage Society wants to thank Lorraine Hulquist, Suzanne Silek, Tom Lockhart, and Hallie Groves for their generosity in helping sponsor this event.

Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.


In a previous story in the Royal Examiner, you can see many pictures of the interior of Bel Air.

 

 

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School Board again delays action on VSBA items; approves lease for Elements Program

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A new lease to house the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Elements Program received unanimous approval from the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, September 21 meeting, and the board received updates on several WCPS items during its coinciding work session.

At the same time, members present to vote during the meeting — School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins — again delayed action on three items related to the board’s potential 2022-2023 membership in the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).

The VSBA-related items were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting “in order to receive additional information and will be added to the October 5 meeting,” according to the School Board’s revised agenda.

Removal of the three VSBA items — to approve renewal of the board’s VSBA membership; to renew the VSBA Policy Services Agreement; and to select a delegate and alternate delegate to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Convention — again delays board action initially requested months ago and which continues to lag mainly due to concerns expressed largely by Salins, who objects to the School Board’s membership in the association.


The board members voted 5-0 to approve each of the three other action items on the agenda — including improvements for handicapped accessibility at Skyline High School and a one-year contract for the Schoology learning management system.

WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch

Following a motion by Funk and a second by Salins, the School Board first approved a WCPS lease agreement for the Raymond Santmyers Youth Center for the WCPS Elements Program, which WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch (above) said is a transition program to bridge the gap between high school and adulthood for qualified students with disabilities.

Specifically, Elements is a community-based program for students ages 18 to 22 that focuses on pre-employment, supported employment, and employment strategies, said Hirsch.
“Some students with disabilities don’t have the option to go to college, particularly those with significant cognitive impairments,” Hirsch explained, “so we decided to work with Lord Fairfax Community College and create our own program named Elements.”

Lord Fairfax Community College is now known as Laurel Ridge Community College. Hirsch said the Elements Program was located at the college for years until March 2020 when WCPS had to stop holding its class there. Hirsch said the plan now is to go back to the college with an expanded program that will allow WCPS to serve more students than the nine it currently serves this school year.

“We want to give students who don’t graduate with a standard or advanced diploma the option to stay [in WCPS] until their 22nd birthday,” Hirsch said. “We don’t like to see students sitting in Warren County High School or Skyline High School for eight years in a restrictive setting, so we’re creating options in the community and at the college.”

Until WCPS can hold its Elements class at the college again, Hirsch said the division wanted the community-based program for students with disabilities to continue operations. Warren County stepped up and offered free space at the Santmayer Youth Center to home base the Elements Program. This year’s nine students in the program will go into the community to work in positions with the Town of Front Royal and for all types of local business partners as they “learn how to work competitively,” said Hirsch.

WCPS plans to have two program bases when the college reopens its doors in the spring, Hirsch said. From the college site, students will be able to work a variety of positions, such as in the mail room, in food service, or in the student union, he said, while from the youth center they will be able to work in Front Royal-located positions.

“We love it and we’re very thankful to the County for stepping up and providing this resource to us,” said Hirsch.

With the School Board’s approval of the action item, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger is now authorized to execute either a lease or a memorandum of agreement with Warren County for the occupancy of a portion of the youth center, which is on East 8th Street in Front Royal.

In other action, the board approved WCPS purchasing the 2022-2023 Schoology learning management system totaling $16,147.17 for use this school year in the elementary schools. WCPS has used the system for the last two years during the pandemic and upon completion of a survey this year decided to continue using it, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg. The system is used by teachers to communicate with students and parents, among other tasks.

The last action item approved by the School Board regarded a request to install additional curb cuts at the bus loop/parking lot entrance at Skyline High School where a painted pedestrian crosswalk currently exists to increase student and staff safety and to improve handicapped accessibility.

The board approved a contract totaling $19,235.83 that will be awarded to the Gordian Group, which will install the handicapped-accessible curb cuts that will be compliant with federal laws.

Work Session
Among several items discussed during the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith outlined information related to the planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith

The Warren County School Board Building Committee — which also met on Wednesday prior to the School Board’s meeting — worked through value engineering items and looked at identifying additional funding sources for the LFK project.

For example, roughly $245,800 would be available for the LFK project from the WCPS cafeteria fund to use for new appliances and their installation, said Smith, who added that tens of thousands of dollars in project savings also could be derived from modified renovations that would cost less and not detract from the overall project’s scope.

Smith told School Board members that the building committee will have a contract that has been reviewed by the division attorney ready, as well as a presentation for the School Board so that it can possibly take action on it during the board’s October 5 meeting.

Watch the exclusive Royal Examiner video of the entire Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting below.

In another work session item, Superintendent Ballenger reported that there are 5,042 students currently attending WCPS, not including the roughly 173 to 175 students in pre-kindergarten.

Ballenger also pointed out that class sizes are growing at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which is expected to need five teachers per grade level within the next two years. E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School also may need additional teaching supports, he said.

After discussing some options for providing such additional support — which is needed now to come back from pandemic-related deficits in reading and math in Ressie classrooms — Ballenger said he will present an item for board action on how to do so at its next meeting.

“We are pushing the limits of the number of students per class,” Ballenger told board members, “and we still are having to do a lot of remediation. We want to make sure we’re giving students the best services possible.”

Another work session item that will come up later for School Board action included removing the gender specifications from both the Warren County Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Thompson Scholarship, which are awarded at each WCPS high school to the male and female student with the highest academic GPA who also meet the criteria for the scholarships. The scholarships are usually in the amount of $3,000 each but may be adjusted depending on the amount of money available for distribution.

WCPS would like the School Board to consider making that change to the scholarships’ criteria in order to recognize the two students at each high school with the highest academic GPA, regardless of their gender, said Bragg.

Also, due to increased demands on the WCPS Finance Department, Ballenger said there is a need to add a new position to the department. This work session item also will come up at a future board meeting for consideration.

Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting of September 21, 2022

 

Warren County School Board Meeting/Work Session of September 21, 2022

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for September 26 – 30, 2022

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The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.

INTERSTATE 66
*NEW* Exit 1, westbound – Shoulder closures along off-ramp to I-81 for sign work, Tuesday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

INTERSTATE 81
*NEW* Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work, Tuesday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.


PRIMARY ROADS
*NEW* Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, September 26 – October 7 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Mobile work zone between Route 616 (Messick Road/Richardson Road) and Route 664 (Whipporwill Road) for utility work, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.

SECONDARY ROADS
*NEW* Route 604 (Harmony Hollow Road) – Road closed near Route 600 (Hickerson Hollow Road) for pipe installation, Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. No detour due to dead-end road.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Luray couple perish in five-car crash on Rt. 340

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Two Page County residents died at the scene of a five-car crash that occurred Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 21) just south of the Warren County-Page County line.

Virginia State Police spokesman Sergeant Brent Coffey stated in a Friday evening email that the investigation continues into the 3:11 p.m. crash of five vehicles in Page County, at the intersection of U.S. 340 and Route 662 (Compton Hollow Rd).

Coffey stated that a 2006 Honda Pilot was traveling south on U.S. 340 when it swerved to avoid a 2020 Chevrolet van and a 2016 Ford F-150, which slowed to make a left turn. The Honda sideswiped the Chevrolet then the Ford crossed the centerline, striking a northbound 2021 Ford E-350. The impact caused the Ford E-350 to cross the centerline and collided with a southbound 2004 Ford F-150, which subsequently caught fire.

The driver of the Honda, Tina B. Wofford, 43, of Howell, NJ, suffered minor injuries in the crash and was treated on the scene. She was wearing a seatbelt.



The driver of the Ford E-350, a 61-year-old male of Harpers Ferry, WV, suffered serious, but non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment. He was wearing a seatbelt.

The occupants of the 2004 Ford F-150, driver Larry A. Forbus, 64, of Luray, Va., and passenger Connie E. Clark, 61, died at the crash scene due to injuries sustained in the crash.  Neither was wearing a seatbelt.

None of the other drivers were injured in the crash.

A GoFundMe account to cover the burial expenses of Mr. Forbus and Ms. Clark has been established by a friend of the couple.  https://gofund.me/1ecd3e1b

Donations can also be directly made to Maddox Funeral Home in Front Royal, Va.

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Shenandoah Valley Axe Throwing Co moves to a new home in Front Royal

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Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, Board Members, and friends welcomed Holly and Perry Leach, owners of the Shenandoah Valley Axe Throwing Co at 20 South Street, to their new home.

Holly said, “No matter your age, you will enjoy the experience. We will teach you everything you need to know. We have many axe-throwing games to play or throw for fun. We offer a safe, kid-friendly environment, and we have a full menu for when you work up an appetite throwing axes.”

Axe Throwing has become a popular recreational adventure worldwide.

Find out more information on their website or Facebook page.


 

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Chamber welcomes Shenandoah Shores Management Group to Front Royal

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Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with Board of Supervisor Walt Mabe and friends, welcomed Dederick Brooks and his Shenandoah Shores Management Group to the Front Royal community.

SSMG is a Veteran Owned, Small Business that brings the convenience factor of a full-service concierge to travelers wanting to visit the DC/Maryland/Virginia (DMV), Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Mountains while servicing the community.

Learn more about them here: ssmanagementgroup.biz

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