Columbus Police Chief Charles Sherer still vividly remembers the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I recall that I was up getting ready for work that morning, putting my uniform on, watching the morning news when the national broadcast turned to the plane impacting the first tower. I sat watching, mesmerized, thinking, ‘This couldn’t be real! How could this be happening!’” Sherer recalled. “I thought, ‘Now I know how it felt when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941!”
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, according to History. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which resulted in major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism.
Sherer, who was a captain in CPD’s support division on Sept. 11, 2001, said it was not an easy day as the events continued to unfold.
“I came to work, but was actually numb! Watching the events unfold on my Office TV, again, thinking, ‘how this could happen in the U.S. today?’” Sherer said. “Thinking of all those men and women who went to work that day, but wouldn’t be returning that night.”
Similarly, Columbus Police Sgt. Bret Strecker was going about his normal business on Sept. 11, 2001, as he stopped at a gas station along 23rd Street where Walgreens is now located to fill up his vehicle.
“From the moment I stepped out of my truck to when I got back into it, things changed,” said Strecker, who was a CPD investigator at the time. “I was listening to the radio station and it flipped to the national news. All I could think was, ‘what’s happening?’
Twenty-two years later, Sherer said he believes the events of Sept. 11, 2001, emboldened law enforcement agencies at every level by requiring them to communicate better, do a better job of identifying threats and sharing information.
“I think it reiterated a sense of duty in all first responder professions,” Sherer said. “Reminding us it’s not what we do, it’s what we’re willing to do for the badge!”
Sherer said he has visited Ground Zero and the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, noting that seeing it up close allows you to truly comprehend the enormous effort all of the brave people attempted to accomplish on that day. He said he will always have the utmost respect for all the brave men and women who responded that day, noting that some first responders knew they were en route to a one-way trip on their call on Sept. 11, 2001.
In the U.S., Sept. 11 is now known as Patriot Day as a way to honor the people killed in the terrorist attacks in 2001. Sherer said Americans’ response on 9/11 and after reminded him why he loves his country. It also should remind everyone to enjoy every moment, he noted.
“It solidified a sense of patriotism in all Americans and a pride in our American heritage. (It) made me proud to be a retired member of the military and a police officer,” Sherer said. “Makes me recognize that every day we leave home to do our jobs, that something may happen that will prohibit us from returning home to our families and loved ones. Makes you realize that every day could be your last and not take a single day for granted!”
Strecker said he really appreciated how the country came together immediately after 9/11, but noted things have tempered since then. He said he hopes people will reflect on that day and encourage others to learn more about all that transpired, especially the younger generations.
“I’m worried we’re going to forget and that it’s just going to be a history book thing, which everything becomes so that is what it is,” Strecker said. “But every year there are different specials on about it, and I think it’s important if you don’t know much about it to watch it and pay attention, because this could happen again.”
When asked if had any other thoughts on 9/11, the Columbus police chief offered four simple words:
“God Bless the U.S.A.”