Today, September 11, 2021, marks 20 years since 2,977 Americans lost their lives in the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and attempted attack on the U.S. Capitol that was thwarted by passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The deadliest foreign terrorist attack on American soil forever changed the nation, and the events of that day still are seared into the minds of Americans. On this 20th anniversary, the Branson Tri-Lakes News contacted elected officials and Branson-area entertainers about their memories of that day and how they view the attacks 20 years later.
Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard about 9/11?
Branson Mayor Larry Milton: “I was in a construction trailer, with a few contractors, building our 1st Stop Travel-Plex/Branson Tourism Center building on Hwy 65 and Branson Hills Pkwy.”
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt: “I was at an event in D.C. when I first heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. At this point, I had thought the crash was unusual but without knowing key details, like the type of plane, I could not have imagined that our nation would witness the most deadly attack on U.S. soil. Leaving my first event without much information I headed to the Capitol. I was meeting with constituents in my office in the Capitol when I heard news reports that additional planes had lost contact and, as a result, posed a threat to either the World Trade Center Towers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Pentagon, or all of the above. The meeting was cut short when the U.S. Capitol Police began evacuating thousands of people – tourists, staff, members of Congress – out of the Capitol.
“My most vivid memory of that day, and also the moment it became clear our nation was under attack, is when I walked by a Capitol Police Officer, a woman I saw almost every day on my way into the Capitol, who told me to get out of the building as quickly as possible. Knowing full-well that a plane could be moments away from striking the Capitol, this heroic police officer remained at her post inside the building, putting her life on the line to save others. I, like many Americans who witnessed the attacks, will always remember images of first responders running into the Pentagon and World Trade Center Towers when everyone else was running to safety.”
Former Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley: “I was serving on the Springfield/Branson National Airport board at the time and was attending, with fellow airport leaders, an airport conference in Montreal Canada. I saw the planes hit the towers while getting ready in my hotel room to attend the conference. The day was surreal in many ways, but magnified because the board was attending with airport leaders from throughout North America. Many of the airport staff rented cars and left immediately to try to get back to their airports. I remember my mother crying and wanting me to return to the United States. But there were no planes flying.”
Entertainer Timothy Haygood: “We had actually just finished dancing lessons and were on our way home. We saw long lines at the gas stations and had no idea why everyone was buying gas all of a sudden. When we got home we turned on the TV to see what was happening and sat transfixed for the next few hours watching the news. It was incredibly shocking for the whole family.
“We were all pretty young with a few teenagers performing at SDC at the time and a couple of us considered joining the military as it moved us so much.”
Merriam Woods Mayor Rusty Ault: “I had just come home that morning and my wife was watching the news. I was in shock and then actually saw the second plane come in and hit other tower.”
BRAC executive director Jim Barber: “I was at home in Branson watching the attacks unfold live on television while holding my 2-month old daughter Jessica in my arms. It’s a moment I’ll never forget as I asked my wife, with tears in my eyes, what kind of world is she going to be growing up in?”
State Rep. Brian Seitz: “I was at home at the time and saw the event as it was covered by the news. I immediately put in a VHS tape to record what was happening, and I think I went through four or five tapes that day. Soon after, before picking up my children from school, I filled up my gas tank and a few spare gas cans, and went to the store to purchase basic items. If we were in a war that reached our shores, I wanted my family provided for.”
State Rep. Brad Hudson: “I was working for Stone County at the time, and was on the first floor of the old courthouse in Galena. Someone from the maintenance department informed us that a plane had hit one of the towers. At first we thought it was nothing more than a terrible accident.”
Entertainer Judith Dutton: “I was driving my daughter Jessica to pre-school early in the morning, and listening to NPR on the radio when things started to unfold. I was so shocked and horrified, that I thought seriously about pulling over. I managed to make it home to spend the next several days glued to the television watching everything that I thought I knew unravel. I was full of grief and anger and sadness and helplessness all at once.”
Branson Alderman Ruth Denham: “I was working as Assistant Director of Planning & Development at the City of Branson. I heard about the first plane on the radio as I was pulling into the parking lot. It was a shocking moment, almost confusing. I ran upstairs to turn the television on in the break room, and stood with many, in disbelief, as we watched the second tower being hit.”
Hollister Mayor David Tate: “When I first heard about the terrorist attack, I was attending a municipal conference in St. Louis.”
Entertainer & Branson Alderman Clay Cooper: “I woke up the morning of the 11th, made a cup of coffee and turned the TV on. sat there for hours in shock and disbelief of what I was seeing.”
Entertainer Dave Hamner: “I was just waking up on the West Coast when the first plane hit the Twin Towers. Denise and I watched all morning as the Second plane hit, then heard the third plane had hit the Pentagon, with a fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania. I remember lots of tears as we watched this attack play out in front of us. We got the call soon that morning that Universal City had closed down because of the terror threat, so we didn’t work for a couple of days.”
What kind of impact did 9/11 have on you at the time?
Branson Mayor Larry Milton: “Initially I was in disbelief. Our country was under attack, on our own soil. As a Marine, I was angry and wanted to help defend our country, in any way I could. My heart went out to the 3,000 that perished and to the 1st responders and citizens that attempted rescues and ultimately the gruesome recovery process. I was very supportive of President Bush’s decision to immediately take the fight to their soil.”
Branson Alderman Ruth Denham: “We were all speechless at work. It was almost a helpless feeling. There was silence, and we continued to stare at the television in utter shock.
“Later in the morning, I received a call from my sister in CA, and she was so distraught. My nephew was working at the Pentagon, and after the crash, she continually tried to call him, with no success. We finally heard from him at about 2 a.m. He was in the building not far from the explosion. He said there was horrible chaos and shutdowns. He had no phone service, and lived in Maryland. It was a long journey for him to get home to his family.”
Entertainer Dave Hamner: “9/11 profoundly affected both Denise and myself. Beside the horror of seeing all those souls lost in the attack, we sought the Lord and prayed for all those families and brave 1st responders trying to help. It was a day of spiritual introspection and concern that America could be attacked at any moment without notice.”
Merriam Woods Mayor Rusty Ault: “At first it didn’t have much impact on myself. After a few days I realized that our country, state, and city is vulnerable to this. What we take for granted like security can be gone in a moment.”
Entertainer & Branson Alderman Clay Cooper: “I had a performance of the Country Tonite show that day at 3:00 p.m. and remember thinking how bad I did not want to perform that day. What will the crowd be like? How will our cast be? And how will I be able to perform and try to make people laugh on a day like that? I watched the news for hours a day week after week just seeing the images and hearing the stories.”
Hollister Mayor David Tate: “There were two significant events that impacted me on that day. The first, of course, was the terrorist attack on our east coast which left me feeling violated as a nation and angry as an individual. I felt it was important that we identify those responsible and respond quickly and appropriately.
Secondly, was a fire that destroyed the City of Hollister’s main building that housed almost all the City’s vehicles, equipment and supplies. We were left with only the four vehicles that were not in the building at the time; two offices, the fire station and the Wastewater Plant were the only City facilities that were left standing.”
Former Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley: “Once the fear of immediate harm passed I remember focusing on our tourism business, the Branson and Missouri Tourism industry. I was also serving on the Missouri Tourism Commission and it was easy to see that travel patterns would change dramatically, along with yet unknown changes to airports and public transportation. We tried to balance the appropriate message of caring and concern, with the knowledge that the economy would need to reopen to keep jobs and businesses from going under.”
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt: “It was incredible to see Americans of all backgrounds and viewpoints put their differences aside and come together in both sadness and resolve after such a tragedy. In Congress, we immediately began working to try to prevent another major terror attack, focusing on things like improving intelligence sharing between government agencies responsible for national security and making sure first responders had working radios and other equipment to protect their communities. I believe one of the biggest takeaways from 9/11 was a real understanding across the political spectrum that there were certain things the federal government needed to do to keep our nation safe, and that they needed to be done quickly and in a broad, bipartisan way. It was a unique moment in our nation’s history when there was a sense of unified purpose that all of us felt and I hope we reflect on as we look back 20 years later.”
BRAC executive director Jim Barber: “At first it was shock and disbelief, but that quickly turned to anger and confusion as to why anyone would plan and execute something so evil. It was very difficult to do anything without thinking about what might be coming next. Everyone was afraid to travel and it was a tough time to be a comedian. As it turned out, I was between performing jobs here in Branson that fall, and I recall thinking how tough it would be to go onstage and be funny at such a time in our country.”
Entertainer Timothy Haygood: “It was very jarring as I always thought the United States was invincible. I felt grown up and everything had changed. The world was different and it felt very different. We added a special section to the show right away and the reaction from the crowd while we sang Patriotic Songs was amazing. My Father was so moved he went to NY to help and was gone for a few weeks. He worked with the government helping folks get monetary aid who had lost everything. When he came back home, he was a changed man.”
State Rep. Brad Hudson: “At the time, like many others, I experienced a variety of emotions that are kind of hard to describe. Of course, it’s natural to feel angry after witnessing the aftermath of such evil, but there’s also a feeling of great pride, and patriotism that comes out of witnessing so much good in those who worked to rescue others, and protect our country.”
State Rep. Brian Seitz: “In every individual there is a fight or flight reflex, and I was ready to fight,” Rep. Brian Seitz said. “I was angry that something like this could happen on American soil and the soldier in me wanted to get out and fight our enemies. My wife and I even discussed my possible re-enlistment to the Army. I also felt a camaraderie with other Americans. That moment united us in common purpose. It was powerful.”
Entertainer Amy Dutton Arambulo: “I called my husband [after hearing the news]. It was crazy because I remember we called the family, we had a big meeting, just trying to decide how we would handle it. It was huge.”
Twenty years later, do you still feel that same impact or how have your thoughts on 9/11 changed?
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt: “Serving as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the House and Senate, I know that our nation faces more threats from more places than ever before. September 11th showed how important it is to make sure our intelligence community has every tool it needs to monitor and respond to threats that put American lives at risk. Over the last two decades, I’ve also focused on increasing funding for programs that help law enforcement and other first responders purchase better equipment and improve training. Although our nation is better prepared to prevent terror attacks than we were prior to 9/11, we must always remain vigilant and remember that our terrorist adversaries will do everything they can to launch attacks against our nation. That’s why it’s so important to make sure our military has the tools and resources they need to carry out the tremendously challenging missions they face. As we mark this anniversary, it’s a time when we remember the lives that were lost that day, and the lives that have been lost and countless sacrifices that have been made by our service men and women over the past two decades. We owe our security, our freedom, and our way of life to these brave Americans.”
Branson Mayor Larry Milton: “Our nation has changed forever. We have lost freedoms and liberties that we all once enjoyed.
I agreed with the war and like so many, I am disgusted with Biden’s recent evacuation plan to get us out of Afghanistan. His incompetence cost American lives unnecessarily and he continues to defend his actions. I have been told of Marines committing suicide from Biden’s actions and that greatly disturbs me. But our nation is strong and resilient and I am very proud to be an American, especially a proud republican and I am honored to be the mayor of the greatest city in this country.”
Entertainer Dave Hamner: “My thoughts over the twenty years have not changed about 9/11. We must always be ready for something like this and pray for our country.”
Merriam Woods Mayor Rusty Ault: “I don’t believe (the Biden) administration would do whatever it takes to protect us. Anytime I am out late driving I watch for those unusual cars in closed businesses. I’d say I am still guarded and alert more.”
Former Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley: “After 20 years, I still remember the shock of the day. I also remember the way the nation came together in a time of crisis. I long for that feeling of shared love of country and care for fellow citizens. Flags flew everywhere and the message of patriotism that Branson was known for, suddenly was appreciated just a bit more.
BRAC executive director Jim Barber: “I’ve visited the 9/11 museum in New York and watched countless documentaries, but now I feel I ‘lived’ the day and it’s trauma and won’t seek out new information, but rather say a prayer for those lost lives and their friends and families whose futures were changed forever in just a few hours.”
Hollister Mayor David Tate: “Before 9/11, I traveled the world entertaining military families and cruise ships. I innocently felt completely comfortable visiting places in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and throughout Europe. After 9/11, my guard has been up anywhere I travel. That innocence turned to an unfortunate reality that evil exists everywhere, and we can never take our freedom or safety for granted.”
Entertainer Timothy Haygood: “I do remember it vividly as it felt like innocence lost when we were young. I have met a few of the guys with FDNY who have come to the show and listened to stories. We decided at that point to always end the show with a Patriotic song no matter what. It still feels very real and I pray for those who lost their lives and those who were affected in the aftermath.”
“Twenty years later we are still feeling the impact of the terrorist attack each time we travel by air, attend a large gathering, turn on the television or read a news article. We have invested our nation’s treasure and our military’s lives in preventing another event of that magnitude.”
Entertainer Judith Dutton: “Today as I observe the world around us, I am deeply saddened by the divisions in our country. In some ways, I feel like the terrorists accomplished something that they may not have even had on their agenda - a nation divided. I still remember clearly the physical damage that was done to the World Trade Center and to so many lives that day. Sadly, I think the psychological damage, the lack of trust in our government and nation is just as bad, because their is seemingly no end to it.”
Branson Alderman Ruth Denham: “The loss of so many souls, and the pain in the lives of surviving family and friends of the victims will always have an impact on me. Their lives are forever changed. I cannot imagine the horrible scenes that are etched in the minds of those who present that day...the live news was so difficult to watch. The compassion that Americans were showing to each other was heartwarming. Unfortunately, it was also a strong beginning of freedoms taken from innocent people due to the evil choices made by hateful humans. I value every day that I wake up, and do my best to help others in need. Human life is a treasure!”
Entertainer & Branson Alderman Clay Cooper: “The one positive thing I noticed from this terrible day in our history is how the Country pulled together. It didn’t matter who was a Republican, Democrat or Independent! We were ALL Americans helping each other. We’ve gotten away from that unity. I would love to see the unity in our country like that again!”
State Rep. Brad Hudson: “I don’t know that my feelings have changed much in the past 20 years. An act of terror of such magnitude on American soil was an example of the fact that there are some awful people in the world who will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. That is a truth that 9/11 taught me, and one that I have not forgotten. In thinking back I still feel much the same emotions today that I did back then. I have grieved for families I’ve never met. My heart has swelled with pride when thinking about heroes. Some of whom I may not have even known their names until after they had given their lives. I am thankful for our American way of life, and have great respect for those who are willing to risk their lives to protect it.”
Entertainer Amy Dutton Arambulo: “I think back on it but it’s lessened over time, because when you go through hard things they tend to lessen over time. But I still think of the Alan Jackson song ‘Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)’. The lyrics of that song still resonate with me today and makes me still feel the impact.”
State Rep. Brian Seitz: “Sadly, the unity that we developed directly after 9/11 seems to have become a thing of the past. We always say ‘Never Forget’ and yet, it seems like many have. My feelings haven’t changed over the past 20 years, and I have felt that familiar fire and anger rise up again while watching Americans get left in Afghanistan over the past few weeks. Our world has not escaped the danger posed by radical Islamic terrorists, and we probably never will. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we saw many of our freedoms infringed upon through the Patriot Act which was passed with good intentions, but targeted Americans rather than our enemies. The immediate reactions of our government in the face of the 9/11 attacks were understandable, but in hindsight not the best course of action. As we have navigated a post-9/11 world, I personally still feel the impact and will never forget that day. I hope one day to see our country unify behind a common purpose again.”