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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

9-11-01 remembered: Residents reflect on attacks

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tyler Blakely, a student at the Sikeston Fifth Grade Center, helps DARE officer Keith Hente raise the American flag.
SIKESTON -- Herb St. Mary of Sikeston doesn't mince words when it comes to his feelings about the events of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

"They were cowards," said the veteran and American Legion adjutant.

And like most Americans, St. Mary remembers where he was, what he was doing and how he felt when he first learned about the attacks on America five years ago today.

"I was sitting there watching TV, and I saw the second plane hit the tower," St. Mary recalled.

For Heidi Williams of New Madrid, the attacks on America hit a little closer to home. Her 18-year-old son, Jacob Nesselrodt, had just started his first semester at a New York City college.

"It was something I don't ever want to go through again," Williams said. "I didn't know what was going on (that day). My sister called me and said, 'Have you seen CNN? The World Trade Center has just been hit.'"

Williams said she kept trying to call her son and couldn't get a hold of him. "I knew he was just a couple blocks away. He could see the towers from his dorm room. I was so frantic that day. All I could do was stare at that TV," Williams recalled.

But at noon, Williams got through to her son -- briefly.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm OK,' and the phone went dead," Williams said.

It wasn't until mid-morning the next day Williams was able to speak to her son again. By that time, the school was evacuating students; Nesselrodt had to walk across a bridge to get out of the city. He took a train to Philadelphia, where a friend from school lived. Then Nesselrodt's father, Bobby Lynn Nesselrodt of New Madrid, drove across country to get him.

Three weeks following 9/11, Nesselrodt returned to New York City, but things weren't the same, Williams said. The city was so depressed, she said. "He told me everywhere you went, there was a reminder. Nobody wanted to forget, but you needed to move on, and how could you with constant reminders?" Williams said.

Nesselrodt managed to finish the semester and returned home at Christmas, this time for good. He attended Crisp Bootheel Education Center in Malden then moved to Little Rock, Ark., to attend college.

"He won't say it, but I think it was more of a horrifying experience for him than he really realized," Williams said about her son. "It was traumatic for me, and I know it was for him."

Today Nesselrodt lives in Little Rock, where he's still attending school and working full-time, his mother said.

"He's doing OK. He has moved on," Williams said about her son. But he will never forget, she said. No one will.

"My heart goes out to all those people who went through things 10 times worse than what I went through," Williams said remembering today.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remains at large and Americans continue to wonder if the nation is any safer than it was five years ago.

Williams said she is split on what to think about the situation.

"Sometimes I think, 'Are they ever going to find this guy and get his group out of the picture?' I have mixed emotions about it," Williams said.

St. Mary said he feels as safe today as he ever has.

Sikeston Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden said he thinks the country is more prepared and safer than it was five years ago.

"I am amazed that nothing has happened (again in the United States since 9/

11)," said Juden, who was camping with his wife and son in southwest Missouri when he first heard of the attacks.

The United States has a long way to go; it's not there yet, but it's taking the right steps, Juden said.

"Before 9/11 we didn't hear about the number of terrorist plots foiled," Juden said. "Since that time, the number that have been foiled, at the federal, military or local level are more prevalent. I think it's because we've become more proactive as a nation."

Eighth District U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said she also believes the United States has made a significant amount of progress in terms of disaster preparation since 9/11.

"We had a lot of staff-type of human intelligence during post-War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union," Emerson said. "As a result of the collapse, and communism, if you will, then you saw a dramatic shift in our intelligence capabilities."

From the early 1990s up until 2000-2001, the human element of intelligence faded, Emerson said. Because of the reduction in those human intelligence-

gathering activities, the United States wasn't able to determine 9/11 would happen, she said.

"Fast forward five years ... not only have we since 9/11 increased a lot human intelligence by putting people in different terrorists cells and putting people on the ground with the ability to communicate in agencies like the CIA or National Security Agency, but everybody is now communicating in a better capacity than 9/11," Emerson said.

In the last five years, more money was spent on a Homeland Security program and security has been increased at airports, train stations, bus depots, ground transportation and at the borders, Emerson said.

"We continue to do all of those things, and as a result, since 9/11, many plots have been thwarted before they got off the ground, and we are moving in right direction," Emerson said.

She continued: "We still have a lot of work to do, and it requires a lot of money and the best equipment."

The challenge for America is that fighting terrorism is a lot different than anything its ever faced in the past, Emerson said.

"The people with whom we're dealing with today value death more than life," Emerson said. "It's an extraordinary undertaking and requires communication by of all us to be successful."