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Wellsville Helped Tell The Stories For The Families of Victims of 9/11

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A Column by John Anderson, 9/11/21

It’s difficult to write a “where were you on Sept. 11” column and I was asked to write one. Heck, there are posts all over social media asking people where they were.

The term became popular when people were asked “where we you when JFK was shot.”

However, that was one person. We lost thousands of citizens in three states on 9/11, and the biggest visual is the attack on the World Trade Center.

I ask you to continue to read and watch stories on those who died during the attack or as a result of the clean-up process and other injuries. To me, hearing those stories and consoling those families, even 20 years later is more important than my column.

The piece by Dr. Tom Hyslip on this site was fascinating to me. What a unique perspective. I do enjoy hearing where people were and how they reacted. I think even 20 years later, we need to talk about it, as it was an emotional toll on everyone, no matter where you live in the country or the world.

I was working out of my house on Stevens Street on that morning as I covered the county for the Olean Times Herald. The TV reception in the office was awful in Olean so the TV was off. My neighbor called me so I had trusty Adelphia Cable and clicked it on to see what looked like a small plane hitting the building.

Man, this was my building. Our building. My mother grew up in NYC, my family was there. No matter how many times we visited, no matter the age, we loved going on the roof. Taking photos. Seeing the skyline from Jersey or the bridges.

But I had to think like a journalist.

As it unfolded, I called my editor in Olean to say “I know you guys know this but in case you don’t … ” They did not. The front page was torn apart and a version was sent out to the outlying counties, then a second front page with more detail for the city of Olean subscribers was put together.

My brother had a meeting right near the trade centers and my uncle had a meeting there. My uncle did not make the meeting and some friends and co-workers died. He didn’t want to talk about it then and I have never brought it up.

I was getting “all circuits busy” from my brother until he finally reached me from a pay phone. He described the chaos and that was one of the stories in the paper that day as even the wire services at the scene were having a hard time getting news and quotes out to the world.

I remember sitting at my desk and looking at my turnout gear from the Duke Hose Fire Company and thinking if I got permission, maybe I could drive to Ground Zero and help the fire department capture the clean up and rescue efforts with photos and video as well as take accident reconstruction photos. During the 90’s, that happened once a week at an accident or fire. I would take photos for DA Jim Euken or Terry Parker or for the state police. Loading film was not something they did five times a day like me. Their shots are really more about the wide shots, where a car started to lose control or other markings.

I decided to sit in stunned silence watching TV or listening to the radio the next few days. One story I did have to write was about a volunteer ambulance EMT in the Fillmore area who took an ambulance to Ground Zero without asking for permission. He claimed it was a second ambulance when I interviewed him, but the emergency services center in Belmont said it was needed for two calls at once and for mutual aid. The volunteer was arrested.

But the biggest thing happened for Wellsville a few days later. Allegany Arc had the state contract for the rape DNA kits and they were put together at the PWI buildings. There were actual times Arc employees were called to testify all over the state about the kits and their validity. How someone else’s DNA did not get caught up in the kit and how accurate the process was to put the kits together. They won each time.

Those kits were needed to identify the remains of many killed in the attacks. On a day not one plane in the world was allowed to fly, the New York State Governor’s plane flew into the Wellsville airport to pick up the kits. The plane was met by the proudest group of volunteer firefighters, EMT’s, fire police as well as local and state police, veterans and auxiliary teams. And of course, active duty military who had no idea their lives were about to change forever.

I love seeing the photos and hearing stories from the volunteers who were at the airport that day and even the Arc employees who were there. Within days, families were getting closure and we were learning about who died.

Here we are, 20 years later, hearing those stories and remembering who died.

And the Wellsville community plays a big part each year in the remembrance.


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