HUNTINGTON — Although the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, didn’t come within 280 miles of Huntington, the event and ensuing aftermath made its way to the Tri-State.
Marshall University lost an alum, 1995 graduate Dr. Paul Ambrose, who was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon. The Cabell County native was on his way to a medical event in Washington, D.C., when the plane was hijacked and eventually crashed.
Ambrose was 32 and an advocate for an expansive health policy. He attended Marshall for both his undergraduate degree and medical school. After medical school, he spent a year in D.C. working as a legislative analyst for the American Students Association. He then spent three years as a resident at Dartmouth College, where he formed ties with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
“He was just a rising star, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dr. Pat Brown, associate dean for student affairs at Marshall’s medical school, following the attacks in 2001. Brown recruited Ambrose and taught him at Marshall.
“I would just sit back and wait for the more important thing that he would accomplish,” Brown added.
There weren’t any other reports from the Tri-State community of area residents or natives losing their lives in the tragedy. But there were a few close calls.
Huntington resident Dwight Woosley spent the day waiting and hoping. His daughter, Carolyn Brashears, worked on the 14th floor of the World Trade Center, and he hadn’t been able to get in touch with her. Around 2:30 p.m. that afternoon, she called him.
“She told her sister the only thing that saved her was she decided to stop in her office on the 14th floor to drop off her purse and laptop before going up to the 40th floor for a meeting,” Woosley said as he stood in downtown Huntington with his wife, Maureen.
Woosley said when the first airplane hit, his daughter was knocked to her knees. Everyone started screaming. The lights went out. The sprinklers came on.
“She said she saw people on fire and people drowning in the elevators,” Woosley said.
She ran to the elevators and then went down the steps. When she got outside, Woosley’s daughter said she heard a loud scream. She looked up and saw the second plane fly overhead.
Maureen Woosley had her own fears that day. Her brother-in-law works in the Pentagon, “right where the other plane hit.”
“Thankfully, he was able to get out, too,” said Woosley, a teacher at Barboursville Elementary School. “But we had two family members in the attacks. It’s been a bad day.”
Tom Witt, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, was in one of the World Trade Center towers when it was struck by a jetliner.
He was there for the annual meeting of the National Association of Business Economics. He called WVU about noon to let co-workers know he survived the attack. He said his wife, Grethe, was there, too, and also was uninjured, said WVU spokesman Tim Terman.
Phil Cline, also of Huntington, immediately called his daughter’s employer in Jacksonville, Fla., because his daughter often was on one of the flight routes involved in the attacks. She was safe and sound in Florida, but it still shook him.
Dr. Timothy Jones, a general surgeon at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell, Ky., and King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, was attending a seminar across the river in New Jersey and was bused in with other medical personnel to perform surgery on victims at nearby Liberty Park Hospital in New York.
“Tim was looking out his hotel window when he witnessed the second aircraft colliding into the World Trade Center,” his wife, Nicky, said through a OLBH press release. Jones had had special training with trauma surgery, making his skills very useful.
The ripples from the attacks were felt throughout the nation. In Huntington, the Radisson Hotel, now Pullman Plaza, searched for suspicious packages. Some retailers closed early, with the Huntington Mall shutting down at 6 p.m. The Ashland Town Center closed around 3 p.m., and the Charleston Town Center Mall also closed early.
When air travel was grounded nationwide, many hotels reported cancellations of reservations. But may filled those rooms with folks who had intended to fly out of the Tri-State Airport.
A Barboursville business had six people stuck in Calgary looking for flights across Canada to Montreal so they could rent cars and drive home.
After it became apparent that the plane crashes were of terrorist nature, Tri-State residents started making plans to travel to New York to help out in whatever fashion they could.
Nicholas Branham is not a firefighter or a rescue worker and has no personal ties to New York City. In fact, he had never even been there. But the 1996 South Point High School graduate pulled $180 out of his bank account and drove 11 hours alone through the night to get to New York City.
When he arrived around 9 a.m. Thursday — about 48 hours after the attacks — he was told no more volunteers were needed. On Friday, he just walked to the World Trade Center site and began helping the volunteers taking rubble out by bucket and hand. It was a task he performed all day Thursday and some of the day Friday, witnessing the carnage after unspeakable acts of violence. And, too, witnessing and feeling the overwhelming warmth from strangers and volunteers from around the world working together.
Branham is just one of what could be dozens of local folks — mostly trained emergency workers — who were in Lower Manhattan in New York City looking for any survivors and helping New York dig out of mountains of rubble.
“I just wanted to help, and I didn’t have a lot of money where I could donate money,” Branham said. “I just felt like God told me to go. I am not a real religious person, but sometimes you got voices in your head. Sometimes you listen to them, sometimes you don’t.”
Firefighters also heeded the call. Michael Webb, Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department; David Perry and David Clark, Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department; and others from Urgent Care in Piketon and Portsmouth, Ohio, headed to New York to help.
Webb, trained in search and rescue, witnessed three fellow firefighters fall through a mountain of debris and had to be rescued.
Perry, who worked at Steel of West Virginia at the time, is a veteran of the Gulf War and served in the U.S. Army and Air Force. His wife, Tammy Perry, said her husband knew he had to go.
Tom Bowen, who served with FEMA USAR and NYC OEM recovery teams, joined Pastor Jeff Johnson and Michael Manns to pray for victims families as their loved ones were found in the rubble. They would work 18-hour days helping and removing debris.
“When we would find a body, we would pray together before they removed it,” Bowen said.
On the seventh anniversary of the attacks, the memorial was unveiled at the Pentagon. There for the ceremony were Ambrose’s parents and current Marshall med student Juliet Wolford. Wolford was a former architect who worked on the design of the memorial with Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, whose firm, KBAS, was awarded the contract to build the memorial.
Because of her involvement, she felt called to become a doctor. Her mother, a West Virginia native, told her about Marshall University. During her interview for acceptance into medical school, Ambrose’s parents were brought in, and it was then she remembered their son and his ties to Cabell County and Marshall University.
“It seemed like everyone had come full circle,” Wolford said. “(Paul Ambrose) has kind of become a personal inspiration to me.”
The man behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, has yet to be captured. But the attacks sparked wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.