by John Selberg
Task Force members John B. O'Neill Jr. and Paul Nickl
('91) stand in front of a gaping wound in the Pentagon.
Tina Santi Flaherty was under attack.
Ruthless killers on a devious mission of unheard magnitude
had catapulted the best-selling author's world into total
chaos. "I didn't know if we were going to have to make
a run for it," says Flaherty. "I honestly
was fearing for my life."
The date was Sept. 11, 2001, and terrorists had crashed two
planes into the World Trade Center, killing thousands of innocent
people and forever changing the lives of many Americans.
Flaherty had begun the day at an animal clinic in Manhattan,
just a few miles from the towers. She had taken her dog, Ashleen,
for tests, when she first heard the sirens.
"The vet came out and said, 'one of the towers had been
hit,'" she recalls. "I thought it was just an accident.
Then he came in again and said a second plane had hit it and
they think it is terrorism."
The news jolted Flaherty into a state of panic. She grabbed
her dog and ran down five flights of stairs before jumping
into her car.
"My first thought was 'where are they going to hit next?'"
she says. "I was wondering if I would get out of this
alive. I just wanted to get home - it was the longest 30 blocks
I have ever driven."
Flaherty spent the rest of the day watching television news
reports from her apartment overlooking Central Park. "I
prepared an emergency kit because I didn't know if we would
have to flee the city or not."
Flaherty is the president and CEO of the New York City-based
Image Marketing, a company that specializes in communication
training. She won the University's Distinguished Alumni Award
in 2000 and served as the first female vice president for
three of the nation's leading corporations, including Colgate-Palmolive.
Flaherty co-hosted the afternoon dance party "Big Beat"
on WMC-TV before moving to the Big Apple in the late 1960s.
"Now, any time I hear a siren, I wonder if they have
hit again," she says. "Your whole perspective has
changed. Some of my friends have been to eight or nine funerals.
Anytime I hear an airplane, I wonder if it is us or them.
Everything is different now."
Flaherty did her part to help with the aftermath of the Sept.
11 tragedy. As a board member of New York City's prestigious
Animal Medical Center, she granted veterinarian services to
the many search and rescue dogs at the Ground Zero site.
"Anything we can do to help out," she says.
Flaherty was one of many University of Memphis alumni to
lend support; others rushed to do their part in easing the
effects of the tragedy.
Nickl to Help
U of M alumnus Paul Nickl ('91) struggles to find words to
describe the devastating scene in the nation's capital, where
190 people died after a hijacked jet rammed into the Pentagon
"It was a really nasty situation," he says. "The
fire raged for days - 70,000 pounds of jet fuel had exploded.
The building was burned north and south of where the plane
hit, and bodies were everywhere. The jet penetrated all the
way into the first two rings of the building and punched a
hole in the third."
Part of the Tennessee Task Force organized by the Federal
Emergency Management Association, Nickl and dozens of other
Memphians, including several U of M alumni, arrived in Washington,
D.C., to help search for victims and clean up the wreckage.
Nickl says he was unprepared for the amount of devastation
at the military headquarters, part of the worst attacks in
"We were there for a couple of days before I had time
to really think about what was going on," he recalls.
"We had a mission, so we were focused on that. But for
me, it was about the fourth day, when it just hit me."
crowd cheers the safe return of TTF members. Local rescuers
spared no time getting involved - they were deployed immediately
on Sept. 11, and returned home on Sept. 20.
The Tennessee Task Force, along with one from Maryland and
two from Virginia, was charged with assisting the military
in securing the building and searching for victims. The work
was sobering and challenging, Nickl says. As the group shored
up the inside of the building, they discovered victims of
Whenever they found a body, soldiers arrived at the scene
to remove the bodies, he says.
The Pentagon attack, coming just an hour after two jets crashed
into the twin towers at the World Trade Center, thrust the
United States into a war against the terrorists responsible
for thousands of deaths in a single day.
But for Nickl and the other Tennessee volunteers, the focus
the first few days was on helping federal officials secure
the badly damaged building. They drew on expertise they had
obtained in dealing with structural collapse from hurricane
or earthquake damage in other disasters.
Although the group trains together extensively, the trip
to the Pentagon marked the first time the task force was deployed
to a disaster. For Nickl, an information technology expert
for PricewaterhouseCoopers and volunteer firefighter for Germantown,
Tenn., the trip remains etched in his
"What I remember - what pops into my head most often
- is the sheer amount of devastation," he recalls. "None
of us, even firefighters who have been with the fire department
for years, had ever seen anything like that. Just the sheer
magnitude, the amount of damage, the people ... it is unforgettable."
Memphis Grizzlies basketball player Lorenzen Wright ('96)
has faced formidable foes while playing in the NBA, but he
says none stack up to the evil nature of terrorists. So when
he had an opportunity to help with relief efforts, he quickly
jumped at the opportunity.
Wright and several other Grizzlies traveled to cities throughout
the South signing autographs for donations and auctioning
basketballs to raise money.
"Every little bit helps," says Wright. "Maybe
the most important thing is showing that we care and we appreciate
what the firefighters and rescue workers are doing. It is
a show of support."
The money raised by Wright and the Grizzlies went to the
911 Relief Fund and to police associations.
From the Heart
On campus, faculty, staff and students were quick to help,
Communications Services Director Curt Guenther was one of
200 people who donated blood to help the victims of the attacks.
"Giving blood was a tangible way for me to help the
victims and to express my concerns for them," says Guenther.
"Had my life's circumstances been different, I could
have been one of those people in the towers or the Pentagon.
That is a sobering thought.
"Giving blood was also a way for me to overtly express
my support for the nation. On a very personal level, I think
it was a way of helping me come to grips with the almost incomprehensible
events that I watched that day."
University President Shirley C. Raines requested a moment
of silence throughout campus to honor the victims; a candlelight
vigil was also held at the Administration Building.
Task force member Michael Lambert (BSEd '99), a Memphis firefighter
who also went to the capital, says the incident united the
country like he has never seen before.
"We go because we love people and want to be there when
people need help," he says. "No matter if it is
a rescue or a medical, we do everything we can to fight for
someone's life - we are the Lord's working hands. That is
what makes America great - people helping others. America
will stay number one for that reason."