By JOHN HOWELL Twenty years ago, when American Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Gregory Charette was sitting in a dentist chair. Former Mayor Scott Avedisian was attending a Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns board meeting.
Twenty years ago, when American Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Gregory Charette was sitting in a dentist chair. Former Mayor Scott Avedisian was attending a Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns board meeting. Judy Cobden was working on Wall Street. And Kendra Anderson was filling a temp job as a receptionist in the Hemming Building in Providence.
All four, and an estimated 350 more people, were in attendance Saturday morning at the 9/11 memorial in Oakland Beach. Like so many who were alive on 9/11, all four shared recollection of the day as if it was yesterday. Cobden and Avedisian were on the program organized by Rep. Camille Vella Wilkinson. Charette and Anderson offered their stories in conversations before and after the ceremony.
The striking similarities between last Saturday and the weather on that Tuesday two decades ago was uncanny. Anderson remembers the sky as being the same brilliant blue and the feel of fall in the air as she reported to her desk in a windowless room by herself.
As the sequence of the terror attacks unfolded, Charette received a call from his mother, Donnalee. She was concerned for her older son, Greg’s brother Mark, who worked for the giant insurance firm Marsh McLennan with offices in the North Tower. Greg told his mother not to worry, since Mark was headquartered in an office in Morristown, New Jersey. It wasn’t long before they learned from Mark’s wife, Cheryl, he was attending a meeting in the New York office that morning.
The news was devastating, but the Charettes clung to hope and to prayer that somehow Mark had escaped and would be found. As time passed, Charette said, “we knew what the rest of the world knew.”
Charette, who was accompanied by his family, was heartened by the large turnout Saturday. Reflecting, he thought in addition to being the 20th anniversary, people turned out because of the events in Afghanistan and how people friendly to the United States had been left behind – a cry for leadership.
Like those who were part of the program, Charette spoke of the unity and trust that followed in the wake of the attacks. “There was no road rage, people opened their doors,” he said.
Avedisian found it ironic he was attending a league board meeting, “as we would soon see communities across the city, state, country and world band together like never before.” When he returned to City Hall, he found a somber environment, laced with fear as to what might happen next. People were at a loss, looking for answers.
“We didn’t know what was coming, but now, more than ever, our services and presence were needed,” he said.
As Avedisian focused on how to address city concerns, Cobden was trying to get to her home in Brooklyn. A sales practice investigator at the American Stock Exchange, as Cobden stepped from the subway station at Ground Zero, she was confronted with a scene of chaos. People were yelling the World Trade Center was on fire. Initially, it was thought to have been an accident and Cobden continued to her office. When the second plane hit, she and her fellow workers knew otherwise. A friend called and told her to get out of there.
“As we tried to leave and escape we entered into a war zone. The horror … the sounds, sights and smells will never be forgotten,” she said.
Cobden told of her seven-mile trek that took her across the Brooklyn Bridge and a visit to have glass removed from her head. She credits her survival to her sneakers, which a podiatrist had prescribed following a medical procedure. She wears them on 9/11.
The service was balanced between personal recollections, an uplifting message on the commitment of today’s youth to community by Adjunct Gen. Christopher Callahan, musical selections sung by the Bishop Hendricken Young Men’s Chorus, and a recognition of those who raised the funds to erect the memorial.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis said if it wasn’t for Thomas Isacco and the late Larry Andrews, there wouldn’t be a Warwick Memorial. The two men were friends of Carol Bouchard and Renee Tetreaut Newell. The girls were close friends and had planned a get away weekend to Las Vegas. They were passengers on American Flight 11 out of Boston, the plane that hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Isacco acknowledged the recognition, waving to the assembly.
The assembly also recognized Peter Maniscalco, a member of the New York Fire Department who married Laura McKeever Holsman of Warwick. Maniscalco is a regular Warwick visitor and loves the Ocean State.
From her desk, Anderson said she sensed something dramatic was unfolding, “that something was drastically wrong,” but not until she was given a break did she learn the details. That day she felt compelled to display her patriotism and turned to magazines to cut out strips of colors to create an American flag.
She recalled how the attacks “blew apart our feeling of safety.” She, too, talked of the unification in the wake of 9/11and how she wishes for that today.