Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?
Ben Spencer said he was walking into his high school yearbook class Sept. 11, 2001, when it was reported that terrorists crashed two hijacked planes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Then, later in the day, he heard about the planes that crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania.
All day, Spencer and many others in America and around the world found themselves around a television watching in disbelief.
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After school that afternoon, he said he sat down and talked with his father, who was a firefighter at the time, and learned how it impacted him.
Spencer said he grew up wanting to become a firefighter but a few times thought of other careers.
In 2004, he joined the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department. Now, he serves as the department’s chief.
“I got away from it a couple of times with other interests, but it impacted me a lot, and a couple of years later, I was able to finally join the fire service and have done it ever since,” Spencer said.
In college, he had the opportunity to learn more about fire service and how first responders answered the call Sept. 11, 2001.
“I think it hit home with a lot of people that were in that class with me,” Spencer said. “A lot of those (first responders) went through the bombing that happened (at the World Trade Center) in the early ‘90s there, and you look at a building of that size, the chances of it coming down are there, but that’s something you have to put out of your mind, and you have to go do your job.”
That’s what firefighters, police officers and medical personnel did that day.
“I think it has affected me more now looking back because a lot of those guys, they probably knew they weren’t going to get out of there, they knew they weren’t going to come home and they still did it,” Spencer said.
“We have to really keep that alive, we have to really remember that because each one of those guys is not just a firefighter, not just a police officer,” he said. “It’s somebody’s wives and husbands and moms and dads that knew, ‘Hey, we’re going to go in this building. We’re going to save people. If we come out, great. If not, it’s OK. We’re going to do this job.’”
On Monday morning, Spencer reflected on where he was that fateful day in 2001 while attending a breakfast prepared by Crothersville High School’s FFA chapter for local first responders.
He said he appreciated adviser Linda Myers and her FFA members for taking the time to do something for those who serve the community.
“You have to keep the memories of the people that will go out and make that ultimate sacrifice alive,” he said. “I think the FFA, they do a fantastic job here with doing that, and it seems like every time we ask them to help us out, they are the first ones to jump and first ones to be there.
“And it’s not a couple of them,” he said. “It’s always a full-blown group of kids that come out and do that. We really appreciate them, and they’ve always been here for us for a lot of things.”
Myers said they decided to do the breakfast for the first time because the FFA and fire department help each other in several ways throughout the year.
That includes the FFA helping the firefighters teach fourth-graders fire safety during fire prevention week and cooking for the firefighters at their annual Christmas party. The firefighters also help when the FFA members deliver items for their annual toy and food drive at Christmastime.
“In my aspect, I need to let these members, the officers, get to know the fire department, so it’s kind of a working together kind of thing,” Myers said. “And then of course, on 9/11, to show our appreciation.”
This year during farm safety week, the FFA also has agreed to host firefighters from around the county when they learn about grain bin safety.
“It’s just another way FFA works with the fire department,” Myers said. “Crothersville is No. 4 in the state when it comes to safety projects, so we’re just trying to expound on some of the safety things.”
Senior Kalynda Hoevener, president of Crothersville FFA, said Monday’s breakfast was an important activity for the chapter.
“Obviously, we need to show our appreciation for them,” she said of local first responders.
Crothersville Police Chief Brent Turner and firefighter Brian Clouse were among those who attended the breakfast.
“It was awesome. It’s nice to be appreciated, especially with the times that are going on today,” Turner said.
“There’s not enough good in the world by far,” Clouse said.
They agreed Myers and the FFA students recognizing first responders was a positive.
“It brings the hope back,” Turner said.
“(Myers) is instilling good things in kids, and they enjoy it,” Clouse said. “Once they do it for you one time, when they see you out on the street, they might not remember your name, but they know who you are. That makes me feel good that she’s teaching those kids something.”
Like Spencer, Turner and Clouse remember what they were doing at the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Turner said he was driving a semi through Cincinnati, Ohio, when he heard the news on a radio program.
Soon after, he joined the police and fire departments in Medora.
“During that point of time is when I kind of jumped and made that decision,” Turner said. “It inspired me to do so.”
Clouse said he was asleep at home when the terrorist attacks happened, and he received numerous calls from people telling him to turn on the TV.
Around that time, he had thought about becoming a nurse. Two months later, though, he lost his daughter in a house fire, so that was put on hold for a few years.
Then he made the decision to join the fire department.
“You watch all of those people, they are running in, where everybody else is running away,” Clouse said of first responders running into the buildings to help people. “It’s inspiring, to say the least.”
After the 2001 attacks, many Americans were inspired to join a fire or police department, start a job in the medical field or enter the military.
Spencer said it’s a shame an event like that had to happen to draw that reaction, but he was glad people were willing to serve.
With everything that’s going on in today’s society, Spencer said it’s still important to have people interested in volunteering in those areas or making it their full-time job.
“Even with Crothersville here as a community, we have a great group of guys on the fire department and police officers, but we’re just not getting that turnout of flooding of people wanting to help,” he said. “It is kind of sad that an event has to take place like (9/11) and people have to deal with that, but then again, you do get those people that come in that truly want to help, and we’re ecstatic for them. We’re very thankful for them.”
Myers said she plans to make the first responders breakfast an annual event Sept. 11, which is known as Patriot Day.
“That will definitely be on our calendar as one of the first things we do,” she said.