RAPID FIRE: Remembering 9/11

"This is an unusual era in which we live, defined on September the 11th, 2001. See, that's a date that reminded us the world had changed significantly from what we thought the world was. We thought that oceans and friendly neighbors could protect us from attack. And, yet, on that day, less than 20 miles from this post, an airplane crashed into the Pentagon and killed 184 men, women and children. An airplane driven by fanatics and extremists and murderers crashed into the Pentagon. And as you know, on that day nearly 3,000 people died in New York. And more would have died had not the people on United Flight 93 showed incredible courage and saved no telling how many lives here in Washington, D.C., by taking that plane to the ground.

"My attitude about the world changed, and I know the attitude about the world from a lot of folks here in America changed. It reminded me that the most solemn duty of your federal government is to protect the American people from harm. The most solemn duty we have is to protect this homeland. I vowed that day that we would go on the offense against an enemy ... the best way to defeat this enemy is to find them overseas and bring them to justice so they will not hurt the folks here at home. In other words, we don't have the luxury of hoping for the best, of sitting back and being passive in the face of this threat. In the past, we would say oceans would protect us and, therefore, what happened overseas may not matter here at home. That's what changed on September the 11th. What happens overseas affects the security of the United States. And it's in this nation's interest that we go on the offense and stay on the offense. We want to defeat them there, so we don't have to face them here.
President George W. Bush, speaking at American Legion Post 177, Fairfax, Va., April 10, 2007


Terrorist attacks could not keep Manhattan Legionnaires down.

Sean Powers had seen his share of tragedy. The former U.S. Army warrant officer served for 10 years in the New York Police Department. But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, went beyond anything he could ever have imagined. Powers lost several friends in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Among the victims were two police officers he considered close friends. He spent the weeks following 9/11, both on his police shift as a helicopter pilot and in his time off, helping rescue efforts in the smoldering cavity of lower Manhattan they called "the pit."

"When they changed it from ‘rescue' to ‘retrieval,' I was done with that," says Powers, who later retired from the department after four knee surgeries and now serves as commander of American Legion Post 1870 on board the USS Intrepid. For decades before 9/11, the famed Downtown Athletic Club - home to college football's Heisman Trophy - had given Post 1870 a place to meet in the heart of the financial district. The relationship between the post and the Downtown Athletic Club could be traced back to 1948. Many charter members of the Legion post were also DAC members.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, so badly damaged the club that it was forced to close and eventually file for bankruptcy. Post 1870 began meeting in various restaurants - "very expensive restaurants," says Powers, who joined the post in 2002 and has served four years as commander.

In early 2005, Post 1870's current vice commander, Ralph Slane, came up with the idea to see if Legion meetings could be conducted on board New York's aircraft carrier-turned-museum, the USS Intrepid. Slane once served on the carrier. The idea led to an agreement with the USS Intrepid Association and the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

"We have a very symbiotic relationship with the Intrepid folks," says Powers, 45, who was in the Army from 1982 to 1988. "There are former crewmembers of the Intrepid who are members of our post. It's a positive relationship for both sides."
With nearly 90 members, Post 1870 has long sponsored events and fundraisers for veterans and their families, including a Department of New York Legion College honorarium named for former post commander Tony Tucillo. The post also works with local VA facilities to provide needed comfort and care items for veterans.

The post's biggest annual event is Fleet Week, when New York City hosts thousands of sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, honoring their service the week before Memorial Day. The celebration, which started in 1984, includes dozens of military demonstrations and displays, as well as public tours of participating ships. More than 4,000 servicemembers came to New York City during Fleet Week 2008.

For 14 years, Post 1870 has hosted a Commanding Officers Reception at the conclusion of Fleet Week. The post organizes a dinner and celebratory night at The Water Club for senior and commanding officers. Earlier in the week, Past Post Commander James G. Kennedy hosts a barbecue for noncommissioned officers.

The Commanding Officers Reception is a major fundraiser for the post, bringing in $35,000 this year alone and more than $250,000 since it started. The money goes toward VA medical facilities, scholarships, the purchase of wheelchairs for disabled veterans, and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which has provided nearly $60 million in support for the families of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty, and for severely wounded military personnel and veterans.

The reception requires a team effort. Kennedy is chairman of James G. Kennedy Co., a New York-based construction company; Past Post 1870 Commander Roger Norton is the company's CEO. Both make financial contributions to the event, along with Past Post 1870 Commander Richie Bisso, who owns a plumbing company.

Bottom line: an act of terrorism could not keep this New York City post from coming back to life and resuming its place in the community. Powers admits there was some talk of shutting down the post after 9/11, but its members persevered.
"I think what we have here is a post that is so tight-knit," he says. "These guys are more service-oriented than looking for a social membership. We don't have a post facility. We don't have a hall. We just have guys looking for some way to help."

- By Steve Brooks


California Legionnaire leads effort, locally and nationally, to honor the heroism of Flight 93.

It wasn't until hijackers commandeered United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, that passengers learned through frantic phone calls to family and friends on the ground that terrorists had flown planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In an effort to reclaim control of their plane, passengers and crew launched an attack against their captors. Their counter-assault sent the aircraft plummeting into a reclaimed strip mine near rural Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone on board.

The bravery demonstrated by the passengers and crew of Flight 93 sent a ripple of patriotic pride across the United States. Michael L. Emerson, a member of American Legion Post 649 in Castro Valley, Calif., was so struck by their act of courage and sacrifice that he wanted to do something to keep their memory alive.

"I was concerned that the heroics aboard Flight 93 might become a footnote to the tragedies in New York and Washington," Emerson says. "Had it not been for passengers and crew, the White House or Capitol could have been destroyed. As a result of their act of rebellion against their hijackers, those aboard Flight 93 should forever be remembered as heroes."

Emerson prepared and presented a hand-drawn sketch depicting his vision for a befitting memorial thousands of miles away from the crash site, in Union City, Calif. City officials liked the idea but suggested Emerson consult Robert Mowat, a local landscape architect, to help him refine the drawings. With support from the families of those who perished on Flight 93, Emerson resubmitted his plans, and the city approved the project.

With the site chosen - Sugar Mill Landing Park - he led a campaign that netted more than $35,000 in donations, including $1,000 from his Legion post. Companies from four states contributed memorial and storyboard stones, transportation, labor and services, along with benches, concrete, trees, landscaping and a flagpole.

More than $2.5 million ultimately went into the memorial, which was dedicated in December. Emerson presented a $28,000 check to Union City officials for future maintenance.

Recognizing his efforts and accomplishments, the National Parks Service, at the urging of many Flight 93 families, appointed Emerson to serve on a steering committee to oversee a national memorial to Flight 93 at Shanksville, Pa.

"Every life is precious," he says. "Every hero aboard Flight 93 had the potential to do great things. I am overwhelmed at how many people across the country want to play a part, and to help us honor the heroes of Flight 93 in such a way that they might never be forgotten."

– By James V. Carroll

Union City Flight 93 Memorial
National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.