Politi­cians say day was eye opener for county seat

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

As the na­tion re­mem­bers the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, two po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in La Plata shared their own per­spec­tive of what hap­pened that day.

Bill Eckman was the mayor of La Plata from 1983-2005 and was in of­fice when the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks oc­curred. He is a long­time La Plata res­i­dent who loves his town, and is rec­og­nized as an es­sen­tial fig­ure in the re­cov­ery af­ter the tor­nado dis­as­ter of April 2002. Re­cently he was hon­ored as the FOX 5 GEICO Home­town Hero from La Plata dur­ing the FOX 5 Zip Trip.

Eckman and the cur­rent mayor of La Plata, Roy G. Hale, re­called be­ing in a town coun­cil work ses­sion when they heard about the ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Hale, who was a Ward 4 coun­cil­man at the time, said the meet­ing took place

at the old town hall that has since been moved to Queen Anne Street.

“That town hall was lo­cated on Gar­rett Av­enue but was torn down be­fore the hos­pi­tal ex­pan­sion,” Hale said. “In those days we used to have our work ses­sions from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morn­ing, rather than the evening. That way every­one could go to work af­ter the meet­ing.”

Hale said dur­ing the meet­ing a town em­ployee poked their head into the con­fer­ence room and no­ti­fied them that a plane had just flew into a build­ing in New York City.

“We were con­cen­trat­ing on the meet­ing and the whole thing didn’t reg­is­ter at that point,” Eckman said.

That morn­ing, hi­jack­ers crashed var­i­ous flights into the World Trade Cen­ter’s north and south tow­ers, the Pen­tagon and near Shanksville, Pa., af­ter those pas­sen­gers fought the hi­jack­ers. Flight 93 crashed in a Penn­syl­va­nia field, but the tar­get is be­lieved to have been either the U.S. Capi­tol or the White House.

“There wasn’t very much in­for­ma­tion about it, so we didn’t break up the meet­ing im­me­di­ately,” Hale said. “It was when the per­son came back in and said that a sec­ond plane has now struck the World Trade Cen­ter, we stopped the meet­ing and went to watch the tele­vi­sion broad­cast. When the sec­ond plane hit, it be­came a con­cern that it was ter­ror­ist at­tack. When the next plane struck the Pen­tagon and then the fol­low­ing one hit in Penn­syl­va­nia, we were con­cerned about other at­tacks in the area. Es­pe­cially with us be­ing this close to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the plane could have redi­rected any­where close by.”

Both Eckman and Hale said the whole scene was shock­ing.

Eckman said the at­tacks re­ally caught his at­ten­tion when he learned of the plane that crashed in Penn­syl­va­nia. His fam­ily is deeply rooted in the state, and he had vis­ited the Shanksville area not long be­fore the crash.

“I was born and grew up 10 miles from Shanksville, in Ber­lin, Penn­syl­va­nia,” Eckman said. “A niece of mine was at a school in Shanksville when the plane crashed. My nephew was on one of the fire crews that re­sponded to the plane crash. He said ev­ery­thing was scat­tered and there was no sur­vivors. My other nephew helped put the mu­seum to­gether, which opened on Sept. 10, 2011.”

He has vis­ited the Flight 93 Na­tional Me­mo­rial and said the Na­tional Park Ser­vice has done a beau­ti­ful job of cre­at­ing a me­mo­rial and state park to re­mem­ber those who were lost that day in Shanksville. Eckman said many items were kept from the plane crash, such as pieces of wreck­age, names of the pas­sen­gers and a series of recorded tele­phone calls made by pas­sen­gers while the plane was go­ing down.

An­other main con­cern of both politi­cians dur­ing 9/11 was the fact that many La Plata res­i­dents trav­eled to work daily in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“Every­one al­ways thought the Pen­tagon was im­pen­e­tra­ble, but it wasn’t,” Eckman said. “I think it was an awak­en­ing for all of us. We are lo­cated out in the coun­try, but we are like the peo­ple in Penn­syl­va­nia who were miles away from the state cap­i­tal and were hit. In Amer­ica, maybe we were feel­ing pretty safe be­cause most of the wars took place thou­sands of miles from us, but this at­tack was right close by.”

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