ONTARIO — More than 40 people, including members from law enforcement and elected leaders from the city of Ontario gathered on Saturday at the Hikaru Mizu Japanese Garden at Four Rivers Cultural Center to observe the 20th anniversary of when the United States was attacked by terrorists in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Four Rivers Cultural Center outgoing Executive Director Matthew Stringer was in New York getting coffee in Manhattan when the North Tower at the World Center was flown into by American Airlines Flight 11 at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time.

Stringer described the day before the attacks as “beautiful,” as he left his apartment on Fifteenth and Fifth Street in Manhattan, as he went for what was his normal three minute walk to the subway, before he heard a “big thud.” 

Stringer at first didn’t pay attention to it, he said, as he was was used to hearing sounds like that in New York all the time.

But when he arrived at One Manhattan Square, there were about 10 people already gathered pointing at the North Tower and discussing what had happened, just minutes before.

Describing what it was like to live there before the attacks, Stringer said a person could "see the Twin Towers anywhere that there was an open space in Manhattan."

Stringer then started counting how many floors of the North Tower, “had a gash in them,” from the crash of the plane, which he said was 26.

Stringer said he observed the situation for 5 minutes before getting on the last subway, before they were shut-down, as New York was locked down and a no-fly zone was established above the city by the FAA.

He said 3 minutes after he arrived at his office, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

Stringer said he could not leave his office, until after noon, as law enforcement had shut down Fourteenth Street coming south and anybody before that street, could not go south from Fifteenth Street.

Stringer said out of the 185 people in his office, three or four of his co-workers were left, as the remainder had gotten out of the area by ferry or by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

He said at that moment, he, “realized that I didn’t want [to be] alone,” as he started to cry on stage.

After that Stringer and a friend started walking the 2 and a-half miles toward home going in the opposite direction of everyone, who was leaving lower Manhattan.

Stringer said every two blocks he would see someone and couldn't help but stare at them as they were covered with cinders and ash from the debris clouds that came over lower Manhattan after both towers collapsed.

He said he “only wanted two things: water and money.” However, after going to four different ATM’s, which were empty, he gave up.

Stringer said he had trouble mentally processing the day's events, as he, was speaking with his mother on the phone and had asked him if he felt safe.

Stringer said, “God’s grace brought us so much love and support that day,” “Which was huge because it was very personal, it wasn’t just an attack on a building, we all personally felt attacked.”

Stringer, also, showed photos of the Twin Towers that he took from his apartment in New York, before the attacks, to the audience.

Civilian Aide to the Oregon Secretary of the Army Craig A. Wilhelm also spoke to the audience of his experience that day; he said that Sept. 11 “to many it is a date that is seared to the back of our mind.”

Wilhelm was at the Pentagon earlier that day, before he had to go pick up a colleague at the airport who’s flight ended up being grounded that day.

Wilhelm said,“We were attacked on American soil,” and after that moment our lives were changed forever.

He said, “We saw ordinary people doing extraordinary things” that day and that we should “never forget the sacrifice of ordinary people, law enforcement, fire fighters, EMT’s and soldiers.”

He also said that Americans were all “united” that day and that,“We were all in this together.”

Wilhelm also said when he talks to soldiers about America’s longest lasting war in Afghanistan that was a result of the 9/11 attacks, he tells them, “What you did meant something.”

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