Politicians say day was eye opener for county seat
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.”