By Lisa Morton
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Saturday marked 20 years since terrorist attacks killed almost three thousand people and injured many more at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Most of us look back on that day and remember where we were and what we were doing when news of the events changed America forever.
Advocate contributor Lisa Morton shares her experience at work and at home that tragic day including reactions from two businessmen from Van Horn, Texas, aka small-town America.
I have often told people that, in Valentine, if you don’t work at the school or the post office, you work out-of-town. I was in my fifth year working at the Van Horn Bank’s insurance company, West Texas Insurance Agency, the day foreign terrorist threats on America touched our soil.
My commute to work that day had me walking in the bank lobby just minutes after a plane struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The small TV on the second level of the building, which today is the reclaimed Hotel El Capitan, was not typically on at opening time, so I knew that there was something worth watching going on. A solemn-faced coworker informed me that an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center. I rushed up the steps thinking I would see the aftermath of a horrific accident when another huge airliner struck the South Tower. Everyone watching realized this was no accident, without saying a word.
My first reaction was to call my parents who lived in El Paso. Mom answered and we shared our disbelief before I quickly asked her to pass the phone to Dad. I knew he was the one that could tell me what to do. My father served in the US Army for 21 years as a Green Beret in the 8th Special Forces Airborne Division. If I knew one thing about my father, I knew that he had fought threats against the USA on foreign soil to keep his family and his country safe at home. I asked him hysterically, “What are we going to do Dad?” In a calm and reassuring voice he replied, “We’re going to kill them.” His remark instantly comforted me.
Bank President Mike Hensley led a group prayer and the rest of the workday felt robotic. Once I got back home, my then 6-year-old daughter Kimberly rushed to me to tell me that they got out of school early because some bad men crashed some planes into some tall buildings. The impressions left on her from the 9/11 attacks weren’t fully realized until a few weeks later when I told my children I would be going to a conference at a hotel by the airport in El Paso. Kimberly became highly emotional and told me “No mommy! You can’t go cuz some planes will kill you there!”
Larry Simpson, owner of the Van Horn Advocate, and a military veteran, published his response to the terrorist attacks two days later, predicting America was going to war. The following week, pecan farmer Kyle Brookshier felt compelled to submit a Letter to the Editor. Kyle had a true understanding of the Afghan people after having lived there with his family. The letter was a plea to the community not to paint the people of this country with a broad stroke.
Sudhir “Sam” Bhakta, local motel owner, said he was asleep at the time of the attacks and woke up in a country that was changed forever. Bhakta is one of a second minority living in Van Horn who own or operate about 80% of the hotel/motel business in town. In the days, weeks, and months immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Arab-Americans, South Asian-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and Sikh-Americans were the targets of widespread hate violence. Bhakta and his fellow businessmen were on alert. Still, they felt little antagonism from those in the community and for about two months, experienced more from travelers who would walk into their businesses only to turn around and walk out.
A couple of days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I was very disappointed to see a xenophobic Facebook post from a high school friend aimed at Muslims. With the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban control courting the likes of terrorist masterminds like Pakistani cleric Masood Azhar, it feels a lot like we’re back to square one. God bless America.