Vivid memories

Greenville City Council member Al Atkins has vivid memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago today.

One local community leader found himself in the middle of the chaos in the hours and days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Al Atkins serves in Place 2 on the Greenville City Council and as Mayor Pro-Tem for the 2021-2022 term.

After high school, he served in the United States Army as a Communications Systems Instructor and later a Battalion Legal Technician until honorably discharged in 1976, which he followed with a 25-year aviation maintenance and engineering career with both Eastern Airlines and American Airlines in aircraft mechanic and operational managerial roles. Atkins retired as a Manager, Technical Operations in 2006.

Atkins recalled his experiences on that day 20 years ago.

“I was inside the American Airlines Maintenance Operations Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the attack unfolded,” he said. “Along with our Systems Operations Center at DFW, we learned two of our airliners and two United airliners had been hijacked. At 8:46 a.m. our Flight 11 hit the North Tower followed by United 175 hitting the South Tower 17 minutes later. At 9:37 a.m., American 77 hit the Pentagon followed by United 93 crashing in the field near Shanksville, PA at 10:03 am. after those heroic passengers gave their lives to stop further mass destruction.”

Atkins said the attacks touched the lives of everyone involved in the aviation industry.

“For the next hours and days, the entire airline community struggled through the trauma of the attack, deaths in our airline families, to passengers, and thousands on the ground,” he said. “With closed skies, no contingency plans, ever changing directives from the government, it required our emotions to be held in check as we managed the crisis and the subsequent return to operations.”

Atkins believes while the attacks were among the worst of times, it offered a chance to show the best of mankind in responding to the disaster.

“While the horrors of that day will forever be with me, so will the memories of the courage and actions of our first responders, our airline teams, and especially the goodness of the people of the world,” he said. “People worldwide who opened their hearts and homes to stranded passengers, drove hundreds of miles to assist folks, provided everything imaginable to bring aid and comfort to those in need.”

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