Memorial American flag flys high

A new American flag was raised at the September 11 memorial on Freezeout Hill last week. It is 12 foot by 18 foot and will be a reminder of the first responders and also those who gave their lives in Gem County. From 2019 Messenger Index 

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It was a warm Tuesday morning in September 2001 when the world changed for many Americans. A nation watched in stunned disbelief as planes penetrated the World Trade Centers in New York – one, then another. Then word came that attacks were also made on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and another plane was downed in Pennsylvania. All the while millions watched as eventually each of the twin towers collapsed, and with it a sense of security and safety in a violent world.

Emmett residents interviewed in the Sept. 19, 2001 edition of the Messenger Index expressed “shock”, “disbelief”, “anger” and “fear” in describing what many of them had watched unfold on their television sets. While stunned by the visuals, and echoing a call for retribution, there was little to be done locally. Fundraising and blood drives made a contribution but for many it remained a vision they could not un-see but appeared to have no direct impact on their lives.

One year later, on Sept. 11, 2002, a memorial flag was dedicated on the scenic turnout on Freezeout Hill. In subsequent years a larger memorial was fashioned with dedicated bricks and an engraved marker.

Now, on the cusp of the 20th anniversary of that fateful day, there is a generation born with no personal memories of that day.

A solemn program will be held Saturday, Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. at the Freezeout Memorial intended to help share those memories for all generations. The ceremony is expected to last about an hour including a half-mast remembrance honoring the firefighters, law enforcement, and civilians who perished in those attack.

If you go try to car pool as there is limited parking space at the Memorial.

While 9/11 remains a memory for many – of a moment in time. For others it will remain a turning point in their lives and those of their families.

Two participants in the Saturday ceremony have deeper connections to that day.

Curt Christensen, recently out of the military, was at home that morning with his young family in Meridian.

“My mother called to tell us that a plane had flown into a building in New York and that it was all on television,” Christensen recalls. “My wife and I and our two children at the time sat down and watched as the second plane hit – and then the collapse – and the rest of the news.”

While Christensen had all the same reactions that most Americans had, from disbelief to anger, what he saw stuck with him for some time. So long, in fact, it changed the course of his own life.

“From that day forward the idea of becoming a firefighter never left my mind,” Christensen said. “It took a while but it became clear to both my wife and myself that fire fighting was what I was meant to do. I started with a paramedics class and took it from there.”

Christensen is currently the Chief for the Emmett City Fire Department. He and his volunteer crew will be at the forefront of the flag lowering to half-staff on Saturday.

Thomas Butler was nearly ten years removed from having served in the first Gulf War when 9/11 changed the course of his and his family’s lives. He had been working in law enforcement and had no inkling to return to military life. He had moved to Emmett and was settling down. Until the towers came down.

“I immediately went to a recruiting office to see if they would take a re-up from a 38-year-old,” Butler said. “I was a little surprised they said yes.”

Initially that brought Butler into the National Guard. It wasn’t long after when the United States returned to Iraq as part of its quest to apprehend those responsible for 9/11. Butler’s Guard unit was activated to active Army and in 2004 he returned to the Middle East.

“I remember telling a buddy as we were pulling out in the first Gulf War and headed home that I felt we would be back someday,” Butler said. “I didn’t envision that someday we would mean me.”

Butler’s story was very close to ending in Iraq. He was critically wounded by the detonation of an 155 Howitzer round that nearly took off his left leg. He was evacuated from Iraq to spend six months in surgery and rehabilitation at Brooks Army Medical Base.

Portions of his tibia had to be replaced by grafting cadaver bone. Muscle tissue was harvested from his own body to help rebuild a calf in the leg. Additional shrapnel was embedded in his abdomen.

“It was weird, nearly five years later – in fact five years to the date of the injury — a small piece of shrapnel just fell out of me,” Butler said. “They told me it might happen, there were so many little pieces there they didn’t try to remove them all since they weren’t posing a threat to organs.”

Butler eventually returned to Emmett with his Purple Heart and remained as on officer in the Idaho National Guard until retiring recently as a First Sergeant – only to be picked back out of retirement to serve in a civilian capacity. He also serves on the Gem County Fair Board and in his first term as an Emmett City Councilman.

Since 9/11 Butler’s family has followed in his footsteps. Some of his children have served in the military since, and have paid a hefty price for their service as well.

Butler is heading up the ceremonies at the Freezeout Memorial on Saturday. For he and his family 9/11 is a day they will always remember and never forget.

Editor's note:  This article has been edited to remove an erroneous citation that stated that the universal call for help - 911 - was a product of 9/11. That was totally inaccurate as our readers have accurately informed us that the 911 emergency phone dial had been around for decades prior to 9/11. 

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