ST. PETER — Solemn tolls from a bell Saturday in St. Peter served as a reminder of the lives lost on 9/11.
The tolls came during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which killed 2,977 people. Organized by William R. Witty American Legion Post 37 and the Redmen Club Ottawa Tribe 49, the groups invited local veteran, law enforcement and firefighter representatives to toll an old school bell for the victims.
After tolling the bell in honor of United Airlines Flight 93’s crews and passengers, retired Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jim Bixby said he was glad St. Peter found an appropriate way to remember the day.
“I just very much appreciated seeing the support and the observance,” he said.
Bixby, a pilot with Delta, has lived in St. Peter since 1999. At the time, he’d finished up his early career on active duty with the Air Force and transitioned into a C130 pilot role with the Air National Guard along with flying for Northwest Airlines.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Bixby remembers being in St. Peter packing to leave for a Northwest flight. He dropped his son off at daycare, and someone there told him a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
The St. Peter pilot went home and turned on the television.
“Needless to say, I did not leave on that trip,” he said.
The next few days or so were a waiting game for when flights could resume again. Plans to transition back into civilian life took a 180-degree turn.
By late January 2002, Bixby was deployed with the National Guard to Kuwait. Within weeks he was in Uzbekistan, flying in and out of Afghanistan for the next couple months.
He was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other counties just about every year-and-a-half to two years over the next decade before retiring from the National Guard in 2011.
Looking back at the attack that started it all, Bixby said it should be remembered as a “tragic and unfortunate cause of unity of purpose.”
“It caused us to look beyond politics and to contemplate what this country stands for and what it means to be an American,” he said.
Nicollet County Veterans Service Officer Nathan Tish had a similar feeling about the day’s legacy. He tolled the bell to honor the lives lost in American Airlines Flight 77’s crash into the Pentagon.
“I like to think about the sense of being united,” he said. “That was easy for me to have that sensation while serving in the United State Army in Fort Hood, Texas, but I hope most places across the nation would’ve felt the same way as far as feeling more united together as a society in the days that followed.”
Saturday’s remembrance, he added, helped foster a sense of that unity again in St. Peter.
“I miss that feeling,” he said. “I think a lot of us do.”
Tish was a young Army specialist in Fort Hood back then. The fort was more open before 9/11, then went into lockdown afterward.
People on base were preparing just about right away as if they might be headed to war, he recalled. His deployment to Iraq came in 2004.
St. Peter firefighter Ed Johnson tolled the bell to honor the lives of firefighters who died responding to the crash sites. St. Peter Police Chief Matt Grochow and Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Karl Jensen tolled the bell to honor the lives of police and port authority officers who died in the line of duty on 9/11.
The bell tolls for all the victims — including from American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 — seemed like a symbolic way to mark 20 years since the day, said Dave Johnson, a local Legion, Honor Guard and Red Men member who helped organize the event.
With people able to watch speeches and other events happening all over the country over the weekend, Johnson described St. Peter’s event as a show of remembrance and appreciation to go with them.
“As a community, we remember those innocent victims,” he said. “And we’re thankful and showing support for our fire department, police department and law enforcement.”