Seniors reflect on eyewitness experience of WTC attacks

When Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven planned a tour of New York City and Niagara Falls last year for a group of senior citizens, he said they were hoping for a &uot;trip of a lifetime.&uot; Their dream trip, however, turned into a nightmare.

The group of 43 local senior citizens were just blocks from the World Trade Center last Sept. 11 when terrorists flew hijacked commercial airliners into the Twin Towers, killing thousands of people.

After the plane crashes, the group headed back to their midtown motel and prayed for those inside the towers.

The group finally returned to Liberty Baptist Church in Chelsea two days later to thankful and flag-waving friends and family.

Niven will give a retrospective speech on video at tonight’s event at Oak Mountain Amphitheater, &uot;In Rememberance of Sept. 11,&uot; beginning at 6:30 p.m. Niven will speak to three other groups that day as well, Chelsea High School, the Inverness Rotary Club and Calera Baptist Church.

A year later, Niven said his outlook toward life has changed dramatically. He said the group has not had a formal gathering, but some have gotten together for TV interviews.

He referred to the tragic events a &uot;situation of disbelief.&uot;

&uot;It didn’t hit us until we got home. Seeing an event of that magnitude, we didn’t realize how that effected the history of America. It was an unreal site,&uot; he said.

Looking back, Niven said he has re-prioritized his life.

&uot;It reaffirms to us what all of us true Americans ought to have as priorities. They are God, family and country. When that event happened, the first thing people did was run to God for direction,&uot; he said.

&uot;The family (aspect) was the (realization) of the sacrifice and loss on what happened that day. When (the victims of Sept. 11) went to work that day or when they dropped kids off at school, kids who would never see their parents again, it put an emphasis as to the importance we ought to put on life.&uot;

Niven said keeping the country as a priority is evident in our patriotism.

&uot;Over this period, America has drawn closer together supporting the president’s actions toward this terrorist act. There has been an awakening and unity as a result of this tragedy.&uot;

Niven said Sept. 11, 2001, has increased his faith in God.

&uot;Looking back on my life, I have believed in Jesus Christ since I was 12 years old. (Sept. 11, 2001) has reinforced that there is a supreme being,&uot; he said. &uot;The photo shows that wherever there is an evil act, Satan is there, not only when there is an explosion but any event in our life.&uot;

He said he considers himself lucky to be alive today.

&uot;Looking on on that day, we left at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. It was God’s plan. He wanted us to witness it, but he didn’t want us to be in the middle of it,&uot; Niven said. &uot;If we had left at 8 a.m., we would have been in harm’s way at the back of the towers.

&uot;It made us see what could have taken place if not for the grace of God. It has made me strong in my beliefs for the grace of God in directing our lives while this group was up in New York.&uot;

Inez Smith, another Chelsea resident who was on the trip, said that tragic day makes her thankful she lives in America. She feels confident nothing similiar will ever again take place in this country.

That day in New York City remains a vivid memory, she said.

&uot;The thing that was most noticeable was when we got back to our hotel, after we had turned around from the explosion … (the hotel) already had security,&uot; she said. &uot;I was amazed that we could not get in without a room card. This was in New York City &045; the city that never sleeps. It was certainly closed down that day.&uot;

Smith said the events have not weakened her resolve to travel.

In fact, she said, members of the group would like to return and finish the trip.

&uot;We hope to go back next year and visit the site and visit the Statue of Liberty,&uot; she said. &uot;We’d liked to finish the trip. We would like to see it cleaned up after all the smoke. It will probably be a real re-awakening to see it with the Twin Towers gone. You see it in pictures, but there is nothing like seeing it firsthand.&uot;