Although New York City is 2,000 miles away, what happened there, and in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., 10 years ago on 9/11 affected everyone in America, including the people of Pagosa Springs.
Dick Richardson woke up in New York City, put on his leisure clothes and walked out the door to Fifth Ave. It was morning; it was brisk. It was a routine that would soon be sanctified into ritual by the events of the day.
“I always walk when I’m there,” Richardson says. Up or down the Hudson River. Wind his way back through the intertwined streets weaving through Greenwich Village. Back towards his apartment via Tenth Street, where he would get ready for work as a professor at New York University. There on the corner, he’d pass a fire house.
“I’d pass by every morning, stop and look at the mural,” Richardson says. The mural was simple, of a fire truck and fire fighter. That day, though, that routine day, changed the mural.
“Everyone who was on shift in that fire house that day was killed,” Richardson says. They were all first responders to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and none came back.
The mural now is replaced by portraits of all the men who were on that shift. Up until a year and half ago when Dick retired from his post at NYU and became a full-time Pagosa resident, his ritual was observed. Every morning he walked, up or down the Hudson River. Winding back through Greenwich Village to 10th Street, around a corner where he’d stop briefly at the firehouse and the portraits of a group of firefighters who gave their lives.
There was a noise when Dick came back to the apartment. He turned on the TV and saw the burning building, blocks away from him.
“I went outside,” Pat, Dick’s wife, says.
“I couldn’t do it,” Richardson says. “I couldn’t go outside.”
Outside their ground floor apartment, the Washington Arch framed the World Trade Center. “I stood with 500 people and watched. Saw the smoke rising. The second plane passed over our heads. We saw it go toward the Twin Towers and it didn’t reappear,” Pat says, then she pauses. Still now, 10 years later, what happened seems beyond understanding. Something that is not to be grasped. Something that with the hollows of lost friends and family, of lost buildings and skyline, the American people know is real.
“I frankly freaked out,” Richardson says. He didn’t go outside except to walk a few blocks to his NYU office where, for the rest of the day he, “hid out.”
“I was really, traumatized. I was really depressed.”
“I stood and watched the building implode,” Pat says, holding onto her coffee, staring at nothing in particular.
The area they were in was sectioned off. Fifth Street was shut down. No one knew, yet, what exactly had happened. The thought was: if this did happen, then what other destruction can occur?
“We wanted to do something, you know?” Richardson says. Dick and Pat went to St. Joseph’s Hospital. People might need blood. The injured might need blood. Didn’t there have to be injured? All of New York seem to think yes.
“There was already a line forming around the hospital,” Pat says. “They told us to leave.”
The show of support, of help, was inspiring. People were still people and wanted to help other people.
But the Richardsons noticed something else.
“There were no ambulances,” Richardson says. “It was the largest hospital in the area. There were no ambulances going in and out.”
“They didn’t need the blood, because there weren’t survivors,” Pat says.
In that line, waiting to help, to give even if it might not be needed, there was a bond. “There was a great feeling of brotherhood,” Pat says. And this brotherhood was the inspiration, the help that pushed the people of New York, and the country with them, onward.
Tim Batchelor, Archuleta County Fire Manager, also felt this bond. And so did Richey Flynn.
Richey Flynn was a first responder. When the planes struck the World Trade Center, Flynn was a New York City fire fighter.
“He went into the smoke and flames and falling wreckage as the building fell,” writes Pagosan Jerry Smith in a letter to The SUN.
“He worked the site for weeks afterwards sleeping on truck seats, eating Red Cross sandwiches and enduring constant horror and fear, searching for lives to save. He lost fifteen brother firemen and police on the first day.”
Batchelor, though he wasn’t at Ground Zero on 9/11, made his way as quickly as he could to the site.
Batchelor was the fire chief in West Brookfield, Mass., and when the terrorist planes hit the WTC, he wanted to help, to do something. He felt compelled to be of service to his country. He and two other people from his fire department, along with members of the Boston Fire Department, boarded a train in Norwood and headed to Manhattan.
Batchelor, never having been to New York City, never having before ridden on a train, arrived on Sept. 13 at Penn. Station. When he got off the train and emerged onto the streets of New York City, even for a stranger it was strange.
“The area was evacuated. There was no traffic. There were only government vehicles allowed,” Batchelor remembers. As Batchelor and his comrades rode on the back of dump trucks to the rubble of the Twin Towers, the citizens of New York City met the convoy with support, throwing socks, batteries, flashlights. The people of New York City were doing what they could to help.
“The buildings were still burning when I arrived,” Batchelor says. “There were piles of gray ash covering the ground. Paper rolling around. Policemen, military, cranes. Everyone searching for survivors.”
But this was on Sept. 13, and no survivors were to be found. He and his two crewmen looked for survivors, searched through the rubble for bodies. None were found. With other help arriving from around the country, on Sept. 15, he went back home.
“As least I was there, I did something, even if it didn’t amount to anything,” Batchelor says.
And then, all the way in France, brotherhood was also felt. Steve and Dolores Butler were not even a week into their month-long vacation in France. On 9/11, they were staying in Normandy. The morning for Steve and Dolores, began with a tour of the D-Day museum in Caen (Le Memorial de Caen). From there, Butler says he and his wife visited the invasion beaches.
It wasn’t until that afternoon, while he was in a store, wearing a USA ball cap, that a woman came up to Steve.
“She asked, ‘have you heard about New York City?’” Butler says. “My mind raced as she told us what had happened.”
The chances of touring a war museum, of visiting the invasion beaches in Normandy, hours before terrorists crashed planes into the Twin Towers was unsettling. It was hard to grasp.
However, back at the Butlers’ hotel room, neighbors from different countries rushed to their room to help console the Americans. Even in a foreign country, the American tragedy brought out a spirit of international brotherhood.
“It was sobering,” Butler says. And the visit had to be because, for everyone, the days after 9/11 were humbling.
“It’s not an experience we wanted to have,” Richardson says.
“Or that we’d want anyone else to have,” added Pat.
“But,” Dick continued and Pat nodded, “it will always be in our mind.”
For some, like Richey Flynn, it was more than an experience, more than a memory that will never be forgotten. For Flynn, it was what eventually, painfully, took his life.
“Like all firemen he (Flynn) had been trained to understand fumes, smoke, dust and the lethal effects of continued exposure,” writes Jerry Smith. “For days on end as he worked the twin towers site with his colleagues he knew that he was breathing poisons. He was giving his life.”
Months after 9/11, doctors gave Flynn the news that he could expect to live only a short while longer. So Flynn and his wife, Pat, moved to Pagosa Springs, bought some horses, made the best of life when it was still to be lived. Pat worked as a nurse; Richey joined the search and rescue team.
“As time passed, if you saw him often, you’d notice the weight falling off or the occasional unexplained absences,” writes Smith. “But then he’d appear again with his Irish grin. He became a leader in the search and rescue team, but something was still missing. He needed the salty camaraderie of professional first responders, of the folks that risk it all on a daily basis. He’d been tested and seasoned and missed the fulfillment of doing the hardest things.
“As time passed Richey endured increasing limitations. Sometimes the same hands that carried oxygen and axes up ten flights of stairs and carried people back out through the flames would fail him in some little task. He’d drop his pistol at a qualifying shoot, or be unable to write clearly. Sometimes he’d have to stay home for days while the meds took hold or a treatment went wrong. He never complained, never explained. Just showed back up and continued the mission.
“Richey passed away last year. Bin Laden killed him on 9/11, but Richey kept fighting for nine years. He became one of us Pagosans and we miss him.”
This Sunday, Sept. 11, at 1 p.m. the Pagosa Fire Protection District will honor Richey Flynn and other first responders at a groundbreaking ceremony for the 9/11 memorial to be built on the lawn at Station 1 on North Pagosa Boulevard. Batchelor will deliver a small speech.
The response, such as the memorial being built in Pagosa, Dick and Pat Richardson agree, is inspirational, as are memorials around the country. “It’s so nice … There are so few things of solidarity in this country,” Dick says.
Leaving his NYC apartment after 9/11, going for his walks, the Washington Arch framed a hole. That is, until 2006, when building on the National September 11 Memorial began. Dick and Pat saw, floor by floor, the new memorial building rise.
“Watching the tower grow was very inspirational,” Richardson says. “It makes one proud to be an American.”