As it should have done, the nation paused in recollection of that horrific day fifteen years ago when the lives of all of us were changed forever. On that Sunday, September 11, 2016, newspapers recounted the events entrenched in the memories of all, television tributes included the reading of names of those lives taken away via the deadly missions of commandeered commercial airline flights and locally thousands of motorcycles roared along the roadways as onlookers waved flags and wiped away an occasional tear.
September 11, 2001, a day standing right alongside December 7, 1941 as the darkest days in our nation’s history saw 2,996 perish, over 6,000 injured and a staggering 3-trillion dollar total cost. As I wrote the column you are reading in the quiet of this September 11 Sunday morning, not unlike most of you, I can vividly recall where I was, what I was doing and the difficulty trying to keep emotions in check and the uncertainty of what might happen next.
I still recall a visit made to Shanksville, PA and the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 a few years following. I have visited many of our nation’s memorials and while finding all of them to be emotional and moving, that Shanksville experience was like no other. Today, a wonderful new national memorial is in place that is worth your time to visit. But the stillness and the simplicity of that temporary memorial were chilling.
A small dirt road was your entry to that makeshift memorial located on a hillside 500 yards from the crash site. Flags whipping in the wind were about the only sounds heard. A few porta-pots were your convenience stations. The memorial included a 40-foot (to commemorate the 40 passengers and crew) chain-link fence on which visitors could leave flowers, flags, hats and other items. Next to the fence were several memorials such as a bronze plaque of names, flags and a large cross. A small garage-like building enabled visitors a place to sign a guestbook and view loose-leave notebook folders giving a time line of the events that went on that day. In the distance a large boulder was in place marking the site where the plane hit the ground.
It almost seemed like you could hear those words echoed by Todd Beamer, a software account manager, “Ok, let’s roll” as onboard passengers staged the attack on the four hijackers, making heroes of everyday citizens who ultimately made a decision that saved the lives of others and presumably prevented a crash into the intended target of the U.S. Capital Building.
Throughout the course of our nation’s history there are countless tales of actions taken by ordinary individuals ‘just doing their job’ that have instantaneously rushed to the aid of those in peril. Sadly, in the fifteen years since 9/11 all too many others have lost their lives at the hands of barbaric deeds of zealots. Heartbreakingly, a by-product of these acts has become an almost common-place acceptance of the news we see and read all too often in today’s society.
Beamer’s “let’s roll’ led a charge to ‘get the bad guys.’ A few days before this year’s 9/11 observances the same quick reactions of a U.S. Homeland Security Officer defused still another school shooting in Alpine, Texas where a ninth-grade girl shot a classmate and then turned the weapon on herself. Locally the event seemed merely as just another news story. News reports out of Alpine stated, “A U.S. Homeland Security officer first responding to the scene was shot in the leg when a U.S. Marshall accidentally discharged his weapon. The officer was transferred to a hospital in Odessa.”
To paraphrase Paul Harvey, let me tell you ‘the rest of the story.’
That officer was Jon Dangle, a graduate of South Williamsport High School. One of our very own, he was the first on the scene to save others. Dangle’s injuries were serious; so serious that it was Dangle’s explicit instructions to medical responders as to how to apply a tourniquet that was credited with being instrumental in saving his leg.
Dangle served in the military before relocating to Alpine where he later graduated from Sul Ross State University with degrees in Public Administration and Criminal Justice. In that same small Texas town (population 5,900) it was another September morning disaster that would forever change his life.
Many years earlier I had the opportunity to coach Jon Dangle on a Junior High School basketball team. At that stage of his life his hoop skills did not keep pace with his growing body. He became discouraged and wanted to quit the sport. His father asked me to meet with his son with some words of encouragement. I can’t recall the exact details of that meeting, but young Jon decided to give the game another try.
He grew to about 6’4 and played an important role on South’s varsity basketball team. He could rebound and defend but his Achilles heel was foul shooting. With practice and determination he kept working on those foul shots. I can still see the smile on his face when he sank a late game foul shot propelling South to a playoff victory over Loyalsock in a game at Bardo Gym. Mobbed by his teammates he was a hero.
Only he can tell you if ‘OK – let’s roll’ was on his mind on that Alvin, Texas morning, but for certain Jon Dangle is once again a hero!