Signal Staff Writers
On Dec. 12, 1941, five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ranchers and small business owners of Santa Clarita awoke to The Signal headline: “Newhall Calm Under Impact of War.” It would be nearly seven decades until the news team at the paper had to once again inform readers that their country’s mainland had been attacked in an act of war — and how that attack of Sept. 11, 2001, would impact the community.
As their predecessors had done 70 years before, The Signal reporters left their office chairs the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, with the knowledge that they had to flush out the local connections, but as a daily paper rather than a weekly, they would have less than 24 hours this time.
“An Act of War” ran across the top of page A1 on Sept. 12, followed by a single story pulled from the Associated Press detailing what was known up to that point about the terrorist attack. The rest of the column inches were filled with the details of how one of the most horrific days in American history impacted a small, West Coast community.
Articles informed parents that local schools would remain open despite a number of them having gone into an emergency lockdown during the morning drop-off a day before. Signal Staff Writer Diana Sevanlan was able to track down former Valencia resident John Keysor, who watched the attack unfold from the ground on Wall Street.
Another front-page piece reported the reactions from local residents, saying that there was a mixture of “remorse, anger and sorrow after the worst act of terrorism ever committed on American soil.”
Reporter Patti Shea was able to reach Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon in Washington, D.C., eventually learning that hundreds of members of Congress and their supporting staffs were saved due to the heroic actions of the passengers on Flight 93, who fought to purposefully crash their hijacked plane instead of letting it crash into the nation’s Capitol.
“It boggles my mind,” McKeon said at the time of the incident. “I’m shell shocked.”
The final story at the bottom of the page, another authored by Shea, detailed how 900 residents had already lined up at the local chapter of the American Red Cross to donate blood.
“People need to feel like they can do something,” Deborah Alter, a Red Cross representative, told The Signal for the Sept. 12 issue. “I’ve seen this before at Oklahoma City.”
In The Years to Follow
On Sept. 11, 2002, a year after the attack, The Signal published a front-page headline that both delivered the hard news of the day, while also — whether intentionally or not — expressed through proxy an emotion that was being felt by so many around the nation.
“Terror Alert Level at ‘High Alert’” followed by, “Bush administration closes nine U.S. embassies, heightens security at landmarks.”
City of Santa Clarita employee Robert Murphy recounted to then-Signal City Editor Leon Worden about losing his brother, Lt. Raymond Murphy, 46, a lieutenant on the New York Fire Department’s Ladder 16, when the towers fell.
Murphy’s testimony was paired with a collection of reflections from other community members, Santa Clarita Valley first responders recalled their experiences assisting in the rescue effort at Ground Zero, and a number of ceremonies were organized by SCV residents to pay tribute to their countrymen killed 3,000 miles away.
Much like that one-year anniversary, the front pages on subsequent anniversaries would both inform readers of the news of the day, while also providing future generations with a time capsule into the nation’s state of unity and social-emotional health as time marched on.
For example, in 2004, three years after the attack, The Signal ran a photograph of the World Trade Center Towers shortly after being struck, the smoke billowing from the side of each obscuring the headline: “The memory remains.”
On the anniversary five years removed from the attack, tragedies were still being told and reflection was still being met with “heavy hearts,” said the Sept. 11, 2006, headline. However, prominently displayed above that: “Feeling Safer from Terror,” reflecting the shifting sentiments of the time.
On the 10-year anniversary, the full likeness of the Twin Towers was again placed on the front page, but without smoke spilling out from the inside. “Local agencies grow more cautious” introduced the bottom of the package, but the words written for the stories entitled “SCV Remembers” and “Heroic Response” filled out a silhouette of the skyscrapers — towering over all buildings and competing pieces on the printed page once again.
Now, 20 years later, The Signal continues the tradition established over two decades of remembrance.
Remembering 9/11 From the Front Lines
As the public information officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department, one of the first things former Capt. II Rick Godinez did when arriving at the media office as part of his morning routine was turn on the TVs that lined the wall.
“As I was turning these TVs on, everything was happening, and things were already starting to develop,” the Santa Clarita resident said. “And I remember just standing there watching as every monitor was lit up with the World Trade Center.”
As a firefighter, Godinez had been part of many high-rise building fires and remembered the unusual feeling as he watched the World Trade Center burn, knowing just how dangerous it was for his fellow first responders.
“Then, as the towers collapsed, all I could think about was, how many firefighters were in there,” Godinez added. “My heart just sunk.”
Soon, Godinez would find himself on a plane to New York, not to fight the fire, but to support his fellow firefighters who were searching the rubble for their own as part of a critical incident stress team.
The distinct smell and visuals of a 110-story building collapsed into a four- or five-story pile of rubble have stuck with Godinez all these years, he said.
“Everything was pulverized,” Godinez added. “It was just dust and debris and large chunks of concrete and metal.”
Nothing from these offices — whether desk, chair, computer or telephone — was recognizable.
“It was very surreal,” he added. “Every street corner, park, tree, bush was littered with debris, dust everywhere.”
In that dust, firefighters and police officers had written messages to the fallen, saying, “‘Johnny, we’re coming to get you,’” Godinez recalled.
Godinez said he couldn’t help but feel as though these men and women were his family, and though the feeling of loss will never go away, he said it made an incredible impact on his life.
“I think back over the years, and I feel fortunate to have been there and played a role in that to help in some way,” Godinez said, adding it was one of the highlights of his career to be able to respond to such a significant milestone in the nation’s history. “As sad as it was, I still feel proud that we were able to go and at least help out.”
Looking back, Godinez said it’s the patriotism that stood out and he hopes that Americans will continue to remember.
“People shouldn’t forget. They need to remember these events and how we preserved and came through it and are still America and are still a great nation,” Godinez added. “Despite the pandemic, despite things that are going on the world, we are the best country with more opportunities, so I think there needs to be an appreciation for the people that have paid the ultimate price to protect it.”
‘America the Beautiful’
Eleven-term Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, who represented the SCV during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said this week he remembers seeing the first plane hit the tower on the news, thinking, “What a sad accident” — until the second one hit.
McKeon joined other leaders on the steps of the Capitol later that day as they addressed the nation, recalling the feeling when someone started singing “America the Beautiful.”
“Everybody joined, and it was a very emotional time,” McKeon said. “When I went home, all the cars had flags on them. … It was a time of the country really coming together.”
It’s this sentiment that has stuck with McKeon all these years as the nation is again put through tremendous strain, hoping America can once again come together in the ongoing pandemic.
Good Guys vs Bad Guys
Castaic resident Marc Manfro was a New York police officer in September 2001, and spent the weeks and months following the attack guarding a handful of “terrorist target” locations, like the subway tunnels.
Since then, Manfro has battled an ailment many of his fellow first responders have come to know all too well — a respiratory condition dubbed “World Trade Center Cough.”
While Manfro has endured a number of surgeries and additional health problems due to his time at Ground Zero following the attacks, he said he is still proud to have aided in the efforts.
Manfro’s father was a police officer and now his son is an officer, too — both just trying to do their part for public service, Manfro said, adding that he hopes to continue inspiring others to do the same.
“(We) need to step forward to support all the organizations that the public needs to be protected … the police, firefighters, military, medical professionals,” he added. “It’s a cycle of the good guys continuing to battle the bad guys … so, maybe that cycle can inspire others.”