Roseville reflects on tragedy
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Roseville resident Kurt Dittig gave his wife a hug and kiss before leaving for work as a firefighter in Sacramento.
“I thought it’d just be any other day,” Dittig, now 53, said.
He didn’t see his wife for the next 10 days.
That Tuesday morning, Dittig — now a fire captain with the Sacramento City Fire Department — was teaching a rescue class when the news came that an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers in New York City.
About 15 minutes later, another plane flew into the second World Trade Center tower, resulting in the biggest terrorist attack the United States had ever seen. This year marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and Dittig and other local residents are reflecting on the tragedy along with all Americans.
Back on that fateful day, Dittig and about 70 other firefighters from Sacramento were summoned to Ground Zero as part of a search and rescue team. They left Travis Air Force Base at 4 p.m. and arrived on the east coast at midnight.
Dittig worked 12-hour shifts digging through the pile looking for trapped people. The effort was unsuccessful. He said there was nothing recognizable in the rubble — not a desk, a toilet, a cubicle. It was just twisted metal, wires and dust.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it,” Dittig said. “I have mixed emotions. In a lot of ways I put it behind me, but there’s also a lot of other people suffering. It was overwhelming what we saw. Time heals, as the years have gone by. Do I still think about it? Yeah. Do I have a desire to ever go back to New York? No.”
He purchased newspapers and magazines in the days following 9/11, and brought them home, but has never looked at them.
“I don’t ever want to relive it,” Dittig said.
Since then, concerns have grown over respiratory illness linked to rescue workers at Ground Zero, and studies suggest higher cancer rates among 9/11 firefighters. Dittig has a chest X-ray performed annually to monitor his lung capacity.
A decade ago, local resident Richard Roccucci — who is currently a Placer County planning commissioner — served on the Roseville City Council. On Monday evening, he arrived in Washington D.C. for meetings at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The next morning, as he watched television while waiting for a meeting to begin, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower.
“I thought at the time it was an accident,” he said.
He called his wife, Pauline, currently Roseville’s mayor, waking her up and alerting her to the tragedy. His meeting commenced. Soon after, it was interrupted with the news of a second plane hitting the Twin Towers.
A third plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth aircraft crashed into a Pennsylvania field en route to either the Capitol or White House.
Roccucci and his colleagues walked 2.5 miles back to their hotel — traffic was jammed and cell phones didn’t work. Several hours later, he was able to call his relatives to let them know he was safe. Another four days passed before he got a flight back to California.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I put on my tennis shoes and walked over the city. It was like a military zone. There were tanks at every intersection. I’d been to D.C. before and there was security, but not like this. It looked like we were at war.”
A few years later, we would be.
Sun City Roseville resident Elisabeth Bourdet had no direct connection with the 9/11 tragedy. She, like many others, saw the tragedy unfold on television. Immediately, she began collecting victims’ names and ages. Using a Sharpie, she handwrote the name of all 3,014 killed on a U.S. flag she made.
“I knew by the next day that’s what I wanted to do,” Bourdet said. “It was a very powerful process. It took awhile to write the names. You think about that person and the loved ones they left behind.”
By the time she finished in September 2002, names filled the entire flag. Since then, she and her husband have flown it at their house on the 9/11 anniversary. This year, the flag is on display at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roseville.
“Some people who came to the house knew people (who died),” Bourdet said. “It’s apparently very special for them. It’s special to me, too.”
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.
9/11 memorial flag display and service
When: Public viewing is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Service is at noon on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church, 2351 Pleasant Grove Blvd. in Roseville
Info: Open to the public. Service will include prayers, hymns, readings and the name recitation of the 3,014 people whose lives were lost during 9/11.