Retired Army Col. Thomas P. Evans remembers it was a fairly “typical Tuesday morning” when he arrived at his office in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

That would soon change.

At 9:38 a.m., while watching events at the World Trade Center in New York City unfold on TV, he heard an explosion and saw what he would later learn was the burning tail section of American Airlines Flight 77 fall outside his office window in Washington, D.C.

“The smell of jet fuel was staggering,” said Evans, who currently serves as security director at Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin.

He spoke Friday morning at a ceremony at Johnson City’s Memorial Park Community Center to honor victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“The building was evacuated, and as we were leaving, first responders were going in,” he said.

The crash of the hijacked airliner killed all 59 onboard, as well as 125 people inside the Pentagon.

Evans, who now lives in Jonesborough with his wife, Tracie, and son, Tucker, said his department lost two active duty soldiers and three defense contractors on that day.

“I lived eight and a half miles away from the Pentagon, and I walked a little more than an hour to get home,” Evans said.

To this day, Evans said he still doesn’t know why he didn’t attend a meeting scheduled that morning in the same part of the building where two of his colleagues were killed.

“In my 32 years in active service, I never missed a meeting,” he said.

Honoring The Dead

Bryan Lauzon, commander of the American Legion’s Kings Mountain Post 24, said this year’s 9/11 ceremony was held to remember both the victims who died in New York, Washington, D.C. and in Pennsylvania, as well as the first responders and others who have died or have seen their health impaired as a result of the dust and debris at the site of the attacks.

“We honor all the first responders who rushed to the scene to rescue total strangers,” Lauzon said.

Officials with Johnson City’s police, fire and emergency medical departments joined members of the American Legion at the morning event held in the Memorial Park amphitheater near the Municipal and Safety Building on East Main Street.

A moment of silence was held during the 9/11 ceremony at 8:45 a.m., which was the exact time the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. That pause was followed by a Johnson City police officer, Lt. Becky West, ringing a bell five times to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Saluting First Responders

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said the “horrific actions” of the terrorists on 9/11 “changed us.” She said it brought the threat of terrorism home to most Americans.

“It also also brought out the best of us,” Brock said, noting the heroism of rescuers in New York and Washington, D.C., on that date and in the days that followed.

“It’s hard to believe it has been 19 years,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy told the crowd at Friday’s event.

He said the nation is currently involved in a health disaster that has tested all of its first responders on a daily basis. Grandy said the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in local officials having to “rewrite emergency plans.”

Friday’s remembrance event also saw the Kings Mountain Post 24 of the American Legion honor three local first responders.

Johnson City Police Sgt. Reggie Sparks was named its law enforcement officer of the year, Lt. Logun Shell of the Johnson City/Washington County Emergency Management Services was honored as EMT of the year and Lt. Adam Momberger of the Johnson City Fire Department was awarded firefighter of the year.

Momberger was also named the American Legion’s firefighter of the year in Tennessee.