St. Augustine Vice-Mayor Errol Jones spent time with a cup of coffee and Historic City News editor Michael Gold this morning talking about his memories of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.
Jones addressed a small gathering of people assembled in front of the gazebo in the Plaza de la Constitucion to participate in the annual September 11th Ceremony of Remembrance at 8:30 a.m.
The solemn observance, at the exact time terrorists attacked America, was marked by silent prayer and concluded with the ringing of bells from the Cathedral, Trinity Church and Flagler College.
Part of the nature of the human condition is the ability to recall, often with great clarity, the most disastrous moments in our lives. If you are old enough, for example, there is a better than likely chance you will remember where you were the day that President Kennedy was shot.
Vice-Mayor Jones was no exception. Jones, who worked for the St. Johns County School District, recounted his feelings nine years ago with great precision. “I was on a visit to St. Augustine High School that Tuesday morning,” Jones told Historic City News. “I must have been walking in one of the halls — I remember being called into a classroom where they were watching the news on television.” At 8:46 a.m., the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
Jones used to live and work in New York; at one time he was working in Tower II. He said that he knew people who were living there in 2001 and can only imagine their grief.
Jones also remembers where he was on the days when both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy were shot, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jones said he will also remember where he was January 28, 1986 as he watched the Space Shuttle Challenger break apart — 73 seconds into its flight. Jones was in Daytona Beach and saw the splintered fireballs as the rocket disintegrated before his eyes. All seven crew members were killed in the horrifying aerospace accident.
We asked several others around the plaza and, later in the morning, at a Patriot Day event being held by the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine at the St. Augustine Board of Realtors meeting room.
Paul Williamson, Director of the City’s Department of Public Affairs, recalls being at his desk in City Hall — watching the news as it unfolded on his television. St. Augustine Police Chief Loran Lueders said that he was also at work, watching the towers fall on TV. Former City Manager Bill Harriss was in his office at City Hall and says he was in “disbelief”.
Former St. Augustine City Commissioner Bill Lennon told Historic City News that he remembers all too well. “I was on the phone, trying to reach my wife.” Judy Lennon was visiting New York and Bill said she must have been in a taxi on her way to her parent’s house where she was staying.
“All telephone service was out,” Lennon said. “You couldn’t get in a call on the cell phone or the landline phones. My son and I were frantic.” Once things calmed down, Judy Lennon was waiting a week before she could get a flight out to come back to St. Augustine.
Vicki Warren, who is usually in the Plaza de la Constitucion under happier circumstances, going about her job as part of the Public Works Department, was in the Plaza to pay her respects and reflect on her memories of the 9-11 attack. Warren told us she was at home that day, watching her television and remembers hearing the news when it broke in.
Mayor – Commissioner Candidate Don Heine was living in Fairfax County, working on a resource management plan for the Fairfax County Park Authority that day. “It took me four hours to get home because all the bridges and tunnels were shut down,” said Heine.
Salvation Army Chairman Gary Bruce said that he heard about the terrorist attacks on the radio. Bruce recalled, “I was driving down SR-16 in St. Augustine, returning a rental car, when the news came over the air.”
Local Realtor Linda DeGrande received a telephone call from her late husband, Tommy DeGrande, while she was at work on San Marco Avenue. “I was getting ready to start an office meeting at Merritt Realty when Tommy called and told me to turn on the TV set.”
Roy Alaimo, president of the St. Johns County Young Republicans, said he was in a biology class at St. Johns River Community College in St. Augustine. “I’ll never forget my professor coming into the classroom, crying,” Alaimo said. “Classes were canceled and we were sent home. I spent the rest of the day with my family watching the news.”
St. Johns County Commission Chairman Ron Sanchez said that he will never forget hearing the information on the radio in his truck. “I was building a house for a couple in the Sea Oats Subdivision and was unloading construction materials with one of my workers.”
“I was preparing for a grand jury presentation,” said R. J. Larizza, State Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit. “Deputy Sheriff Scott Beaver and I were out getting statements from witnesses; when the news came over the radio, we stopped what we were doing and headed back to the State Attorney’s office.”
County Commissioner Ray Quinn recalled, “I was at Florida National Guard headquarters here in St. Augustine and heard the news over the television at work.”
Dr. William Proctor said, “I was in the car on I-95 south of Jacksonville on my way to Tallahassee. About the time the news came over the radio, my wife called my cell phone to tell me what had happened. I stayed tuned in all the way to Tallahassee.”