Locals reflect on their experiences as America came under attack on 9-11

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, September 12, 2021
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The Ranger-Review Sept. 13, 2001 issue prominently featured news about the attacks of the previous Tuesday. Ranger-Review archive

“Where were you on 9/11?”

It’s a question that a lot of people have been asked over the last 20 years. As scenes of unthinkable chaos unfolded on the East Coast ,watching it unfold on television was all that people here in Montana could do. Nearly 2,000 miles removed from the scene, the local residents still felt the shock waves as the day’s events changed many perspectives on day-to-day life.

Many locals easily recall where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. For a lot of people, they were at work at the time. This was the case for Mayor Jerry Jimison.

In 2001, Jimison was just a mayoral candidate, still working his regular job at BNSF. When the news of the attack broke though, everyone working at the roundhouse was drawn to the TV as events unfolded.

“I was delivering some parts to the roundhouse and some of the machinists were talking about what they had just heard. There was a television in the lunch room, so from that point on for the rest of the day, whenever I had time, I would pop in and out of there to catch up on what was transpiring. Not only with the World Trade Center but I also followed the drama with the plane crashing into the Pentagon and the passengers taking over the plane from the terrorists and crashing the plane in a field in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Others caught the news a bit later. Former Lincoln Elementary School teacher Millie Robinson said she didn’t learn of the event until she got to work that morning, as she wasn’t listening to the news, but it was all her colleagues were talking about, especially after the second tower got hit.

“My husband and I got ready for work without listening to any news that morning. I got to Lincoln and was busy in my classroom until my students began arriving. It was picture-taking day. We were called for pictures and when we got there the photographer looked at my paraprofessional and me and said with a look of shock, ‘They just hit the second tower!’ I must have looked puzzled, although in the back of my mind I had an idea of what it was. He said, ‘you hadn’t heard? Planes crashed into the World Trade Center.’,” she said.

Robinson wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the news either. County Commissioner Brad Mitchell literally woke up to find the world changed that morning. At the time, he was an officer with the Glendive Police Department and after working the overnight shift, he went to bed after getting home. When he woke up, he learned what had happened.

“When I got up, it was just all over TV, and I remember, being quite honest with you, just being in shock. Like, ‘this can’t happen in the United States, this can’t happen in America. I mean, we’re the safest country on the planet.’ And at the same time, it was very sad to see such an act happening on our own home soil,” he said.

What followed was a time of high alert, as people tried to cope with such a large-scale tragedy that was once unimaginable. According to the September 13, 2001 edition of the Ranger-Review, the first issue to be published following 9/11, security at all federal buildings in Helena was increased, visitations to the Dawson County Correctional Facility became much more restrictive and local residents were worried for their relatives on the East Coast.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, people also had to learn to adjust to all sorts of new regulations and security protocols in places like airports. Jimison noted this was something that even had to be navigated at the local level after he assumed the position of Mayor in 2002.

“One of the major things that we as a city had to deal with was the federal government was trying to upgrade protections for our infrastructure; our water supplies, sewer, different things like that. Glendive, in a roundabout way, got involved in a national study on safety for water supplies. Our Public Works Director at that time, our county public health officer and myself were all invited to a one week seminar in Washington D.C. made of big towns, medium towns, small towns, and Glendive was picked to represent communities of less than 10,000 people,” Jimison said. “As a result, we got a federal grant to put a huge fence around our water tank, our water supply, and had to start locking the gate and things like that.”

He added that local first responders were also provided extra training on how to respond to large-scale catastrophes.

Aside from procedural and security changes, there was also a noticeable shift in the people. As Mitchell noted, the sense of unease that was created seemed to disrupt the usually small town atmosphere, with people becoming a bit less trusting and more withdrawn.

“I noticed such a change in the people after that,” Mitchell said. “In a law enforcement perspective, that was like a line drawn in the sand that day and from then on, nobody wanted to get involved, to where law enforcement duties felt like they doubled because people were unable to solve problems by themselves instead of talking to their neighbor or talking to the person who lives down the street... It felt like for awhile, we kind of lost that hometown feeling of trust, to where it seemed like everybody kind of took a step back.”

To this day, Mitchell said he still doesn’t think the sense of hometown trust has completely recovered, but he does think there has been some recovery done.

“I don’t know that it’s ever completely come back, but we’re so fortunate in where we live. This is probably one of the most giving, friendly communities that I’ve ever seen. We’re tough out here, we put up with 30 below winters and 100 degree above summers and we’re pretty resilient out here. I think we bounced back, but we’re fortunate we’re survivors.”

He added that the events of 9/11 also made people aware that the U.S. isn’t as invincible as it was once thought to be. This shift in perspective has taken some trust out of people, however it has also driven others to appreciate what they have more.

“I believe it made me more grateful for my family and personal relationships but also more aware of how quickly the unexpected and unthinkable can happen, to anyone, anywhere. With all that has happened since, I am probably more careful and aware of my surroundings when I am away from home,” said Robinson.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

“It felt like for awhile, we kind of lost that hometown feeling of trust, to where it seemed like everybody kind of took a step back,”

Brad Mitchell,

Dawson County