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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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WATCH: Christmas Parade 2021

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If you missed the Christmas Parade or want to see it again, sit back and enjoy!

This year the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade was hosted by Mike McCool, Publisher of the Royal Examiner. Thanks to Connor Clark for operating the video camera and the parade sponsor Lindsay Chevrolet.

Winners in this year’s parade are:

Best in Show – Edward Jones


Walking Group – Warren County High School Band

Best Large Float – White Horse Car Wash

Best Small Float – Samuels Public Library

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Explore Art & Clay opens on Main Street Front Royal

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Explore Art & Clay has opened a gallery at 501 East Main Street in Front Royal. The Gallery features locally handmade pottery, ornaments, mugs, glasswork, plates, paintings, cards, ink work and so much more. Local potters, artists, photographers, and makers work added every day.  Love Front Royal? Love Virginia? This is the shop for you!

Visit their website for more information or Facebook page.

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Student at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School EarlyAct Club collecting canned goods for Salvation Army

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For the month of December, the EarlyAct students at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School (EWM) are collecting canned foods (soups, canned meats, etc) for the Salvation Army.


If you have canned foods you would like to donate, please stop by our main office at EWM, and drop off your donations. For any questions, ask for Student Support Coach, and Early Act Faculty Advisor, Michael Williams.

The Early Act Club at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School is sponsored by The Rotary Club of Warren County. For more information on Rotary and/or InterAct/EarlyAct programs, please e-mail Michael at mdub0308@gmail.com or visit www.rotary.org

Town Talk: A conversation with Michael Williams – RYLA, EarlyAct/InterAct Club

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Update: ‘Tis the Season for Kindness

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(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with photos taken during Shae’s trip to Ecko Studio in Memphis, TN.)


A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.

“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”

Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.


Inside Ecko Studio; below, Recording Engineer Till Palmer behind the glass with drum reflection

“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.

Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.

“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.

Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.

“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”

Shae recording with Till’s grandfather’s 1956 Gibson.

While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.

The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.

Mural on outside of Ecko Studios

Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.

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Get your tickets for the Winchester SPCA Paws & Claws Holiday Raffle

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Spoil the people and pets in your life with some magical holiday gifts that benefit the Winchester SPCA.

Tickets are $5 each, $10 for 3, or $20 for 8! You choose which item you’d like to win!

Purchase tickets online at winchesterspca.org or at the adoption center (111 Featherbed Lane, Winchester, VA 22601) from Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 5pm.

Drawing to be held December 21st. Winners do not need to be present to win. 100% of proceeds benefit the animals at your local no-kill shelter.



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School Board approves new Logan Maiatico scholarship, meeting participation policy

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The Warren County School Board unanimously approved several action agenda items during its Wednesday, December 1 meeting, including a meeting participation policy update, the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) long-range plan, WCPS higher adult meal prices, and the establishment of the new Live Like Logan Maiatico Memorial Scholarship.

The scholarship is named for Logan Cole Maiatico, 19, of Strasburg, Va., a 2021 Skyline High School (SHS) graduate and star athlete who died in a car accident on October 4.

“Logan was a shining star, not only in athletics but in our community,” WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Alan Fox said in introducing the scholarship item to the School Board members. “Logan was a selfless person who always put others first. Logan was a genuine kind person that wouldn’t think twice about lending a hand to a teammate, offering part of his pay to help local organizations, or helping to deliver hot meals to those in need.”

“What a wonderful life he was going to have helping other people,” Fox added.


Established by the Logan Maiatico Foundation, the scholarship will award $1,000 each annually to two SHS graduates, said Fox. Any male or female who participates in athletics in any sport or are in classes at the Blue Ridge Technical Center and have plans to continue education in college or vocational school are eligible for the scholarship, he added.

Each student will have to have maintained at least a 3.0 GPA; will need to be recommended in writing by a coach or teacher; must participate in charitable community events; and will have to submit an essay on why they should receive the scholarship award, explained Fox, who said that the Logan Maiatico Foundation will choose the award recipients and present their awards during a presentation banquet.

Maiatico, an aspiring firefighter who was a member of the Linden Volunteer Fire Department, also has been honored at SHS with the placement of Logan’s Bell, erected in his memory on the football field sideline within the SHS stadium.

School Board members Vice Chair Catherine Bower, Kristen Pence, Ralph Rinaldi, and Melanie Salins voted “to accept the scholarship with gratitude.” School Board member James Wells was absent during last night’s meeting.

In other action, the School Board unanimously approved increasing the WCPS adult breakfast rate to $2.30 and adult lunch rate to $3.85 effective January 3, 2022. The action is required for WCPS to meet the 2021-2022 Virginia Department of Education minimum Adult Price requirement. Adult meal prices are currently $1.75 for breakfast and $3.00 for lunch.

Following the third reading of Policy BDDH/KD Participation at School Board Meeting by WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, the School Board also unanimously approved additions to the policy.

Specifically, the section in the WCPS Policy Manual now will read: “Warren County residents, WCPS students, and School Board employees are invited and encouraged to attend meetings of the Warren County School Board to observe its deliberations. Any Warren County resident, WCPS student, parents of WCPS students, or School Board employee may address the Board on matters related to Warren County Public Schools at the regular monthly meeting, which is Identified as the first meeting of the month. Any Warren County resident, WCPS student, parents of WCPS students, or School Board employee may also address the board on matters related to any action Item, at the work session meeting, which is Identified as the second meeting of the month.”

An additional change in this section of the policy manual now states: “The Warren County School Board will allot a portion of the regular meeting for the public to address the Board. Citizens addressing the School Board, whether as individuals or as a member of a group, shall limit their remarks to three (3) minutes. This time limit and/or the total time available for public comment may be modified by the Chairperson with the approval of the majority of the School Board.”

The chairperson also can modify time, with the approval of a majority of the School Board, per individual to stay within the time allotted or seek approval from the other members present to add time at the end of the meeting, according to the policy updates.

The chair also will ask for each person speaking to state their name and address for the record, whether they are a Warren County resident, parent of a WCPS student, or employee of the school division, the updates state.

In another action item, Ballenger also gave the board the third and final reading of the Warren County Public Schools Comprehensive Long-Range Plan 2021-2026, which the School Board unanimously approved as presented.

The 2021-2026 Comprehensive Long-Range Plan, which Ballenger said was developed by teachers, administrators, School Board members, and input from the community, includes the mission statement: “We will empower everyone to achieve excellence by sparking inspiration and learning through innovation.”

The goals for 2021-2026 are:

  • Students will graduate from WCPS able to think critically; think creatively; communicate effectively; collaborate with others; and be prepared to enter the workforce with marketable skills and/or ready for the rigor of higher education.
  • All schools will be accredited on an annual basis as defined by the Virginia SOLs.
  • WCPS will employ properly credentialed teachers, administrators, and staff. The School Board will strive to provide competitive compensation for all personnel.
  • Staff development will be tailored to the needs of each staff member for the purpose of continually improving the entire school division.
  • All students and staff will be afforded a safe and engaging learning environment that promotes healthy behaviors and positive relationships for everyone every day.
  • A safe, reliable, and equitable transportation system will be provided for all students.
  • Technology will be integrated into all facets of the school division’s operating system as well as the delivery of instruction. All students will exit WCPS with appropriate 21st-century technology skills, which will enable them to compete in a global society.
  • The School Board and all schools will engage and communicate effectively and openly with students, families, and the community.
  • Develop community partnerships for the benefit of the entire school community.
  • Provide an all-inclusive school experience.

At the end of the board’s roughly 45-minute regular meeting, the members went into a closed session to discuss student discipline and to consult with legal counsel regarding actual or probable litigation. No report was provided following the closed session.

Click here to watch the Warren County School Board’s December 1 meeting in its entirety.

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