The events of Sept. 11 will linger in the minds and hearts of everyone who watched thousands of people perish at the hands of terrorists. But for those who choose to serve and protect their communities, they will never forget their comrades who unselfishly gave their lives to do their jobs.
“It was one of the saddest days in my lifetime,” said Los Lunas Fire Chief Lito Chavez. “Firefighters are a very special group because they’re all trained and dedicated. It’s a brotherhood, and, on that day, we lost a lot of our brothers. When one falls down, we pick them up — but on Sept. 11, there wasn’t anything anyone could do for them.”
Everyday of every year, firefighters, police officers and others dedicated to civil service risk their lives to do what they love. On the morning of Sept. 11, these dedicated people had a job to do, and they lost their lives trying to help their fellow man.
Like many others around the world, Bosque Farms Police Officer Don Cadenhead was at home watching television when he heard that two planes had just flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. It never crossed his mind that the tragedy he witnessed was anything other than sabotage.
“I didn’t know that so many would lose their lives on that day,” Cadenhead said. “I was stunned at the number, but when I began to realize that there were firefighters and police officers who also died trying to help, it really hit home.”
Cadenhead, who has been a police officer for 23 years, knows the dangers of his job. He knows that, as a police officer, he doesn’t know if he’ll go home at night. But what happened on that fateful day gave Cadenhead a new perspective on what he does and who he works with.
“It makes you think: we’re a brotherhood — and, when one of us gets killed, we all take it pretty hard,” he said. “It also makes me acutely aware that you don’t really know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next.”
With every police department on high alert, Cadenhead reported to work that day not knowing what was coming next. He never had a second thought about what he did for a living, but he knew that he would never be the same.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Staff Sgt. Robert Casias reported to work at 7 a.m. at the 3rd Battalion, 200th Air Defense Artillery armory south of Belen. It was just like any other day, he said. People were going about their daily business when one of the soldiers turned on the television to watch the morning news.
Within minutes, the conference room was filled with soldiers watching something that would change their lives forever.
“Right away, we knew it was a terrorist attack because no civilian would do that. No American would do that,” Casias said. “It hurt watching Americans die like that.”
In the next two days, Casias and the rest of the battalion got word that they needed to start calling people up for guard duty. Not knowing where, when or how another potential terrorist attack was going to take place, all military bases, including the Belen armory, were put on high alert.
After security concerns de-creased and reserve soldiers and the rest of America went back to their daily lives, Casias noticed a change — a change of attitude.
“We are closer together and the way we work together,” he said. “I remember one day, it was Mo-ther’s Day, and we were at Wal-Mart and people were coming up to us and thanking us for our service. It made me feel very proud.”
Pride is just one of the emotions that Gloria Sanchez feels about her son, Raymond, who was 2,000 miles away on Sept. 11. Like many Americans, Sanchez woke up to see the tragedy on television. “I was up and I got my cup of coffee and I went into the living room, like I usually do, and turned on the TV, and it was there,” she remembers. “I was just stunned. I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a nightmare.”
But what seemed to be like a dream became a reality for San-chez when she received a phone call about 45 minutes later from her son. Raymond, who is a captain with the Montgomery County Fire Department in Maryland and a member of the Federal Emer-gency Management Agency, call-ed his mother to tell her he was on his way to help at the Pentagon.
“I had so many mixed feelings,” she said. “I was angry, I was shocked and I was scared.”
Although Sanchez knew that her son was trained to handle what he was about to do, her concern about her son’s safety grew when she saw the twin towers crumble to the ground. As the day went on, her anxiety lessened as her daughter-in-law kept calling, informing her of how Raymond was doing.
“On the second day, Raymond called me,” she said. “All he said was, ‘Mom, I’m OK. I know you’re concerned, but we’re taking care of ourselves.'”
As the days and months pass-ed, Sanchez has been able to talk with her son about what he went through trying to save lives — any life. But it was not to be. Ray-mond and other rescue workers were unable to find any survivors.
“Ray isn’t a very emotional person,” Sanchez said. “He’s a very focused person, and, sometimes when you talk to him, I get the feeling that he doesn’t really express everything that he might be feeling. He was very disappointed that they didn’t find any survivors.”
Whether it was intentional or just a tragic twist of irony, the attacks on Sept. 11 occurred on National 911 Day. The day, which was set aside to honor emergency responders, will now always be remembered for thousands of lives lost.
Kasha Gordon, a paramedic with Belen Fire and Rescue, was on her way to work when she heard on the radio that a plane had just hit the first tower. She remembers calling her mom, who works for a television station in Nevada, to ask what was going on.
“I remember watching and couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said. “I thought to myself that this had to be staged. At that second, I wasn’t thinking that we were losing paramedics but about the victims trapped in the buildings. I didn’t realize until I saw the units outside demolished.”
As she sat back and watched what was unfolding, Gordon’s first reaction came from her training — she wanted to help.
“I wish I was there — I needed to be there,” she said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, but we’re nothing special. We’re the average human being, and it’s just something that we love to do. We don’t have a halo hanging over our heads, but the difference is that our heart is in it.”
Gordon says it’s nice to hear that people think of the rescuers as heroes but says they were there to do a job, a job that they trained for but never thought they would lose their lives doing.
“I don’t think we should be put on a pedestal, but, heck, look at the bystander who goes over and rushes to help,” she said. “To me, he’s a hero. We’re trained, and for a person who isn’t trained and just acts out of instinct and compassion — now that’s a hero.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.