Lives of Sept. 11 victims resonate

The voices of the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America have been silent 13 years. The voices of the family members of some of those victims will be with me forever.

Southern Nevadans awoke that awful morning to find international terrorism playing out on television in real time. Not long afterward, like so many other communities across the country, we found local heartbreaking connections to an act of violence with global ramifications that continues to reverberate well more than a decade later.

Schoolteacher Barbara Edwards was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. Edwards was admired by her peers at Palo Verde High School and beloved by her students. She taught French and German, and just imagine how dynamic you have to be to still be admired by your kids after compelling them to conjugate irregular verbs.

She helped students in her classes expand their personal horizons beyond the Las Vegas Valley and into the world. There was meaning in her life, and that meaning remains.

A UNLV graduate, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Karen Wagner was on the ground at the Pentagon that morning. One of our best and brightest, she was serving her country.

On Flight 77, American Airlines attendant Renee May was busy on what must have figured to be a routine run when the hijackers took over. Her parents live in Las Vegas. She had the courage to call her parents from the airliner, asking them to relay the emergency message to the airlines.

And on it goes. Las Vegan Mary Jean O’Rafferty lost her brother, finance executive Walter Matuza, at the World Trade Center’s north tower that morning.

Cantor Fitzgerald executive Stephen Cherry was at the World Trade Center, too. His father Don Cherry, a longtime country singer and former professional golfer, lives in Las Vegas. For years after that fateful day, the father took time out to extol the virtues of his musically and athletically talented son, who himself was a proud father and devoted husband.

Veteran Las Vegas emergency room physician Michael Brown lost his big brother, Fire Department of New York Capt. Patrick “Paddy” Brown, in the north tower. As ever, Paddy Brown as a member of Ladder 3 was hurling himself into harm’s way to attempt to save a civilian.

Just hours after the collapse of the towers, Michael Brown decided to travel to New York to participate in what so many hoped would be a massive rescue effort. No one then knew or could comprehend the totality of the carnage. He would eventually write a book about his experiences and his brother’s courageous spirit.

With each passing year, we are reminded often just how close terrorism is to our own door. That is especially true in Las Vegas, where it’s no secret that the Sept. 11 hijackers made repeated visits in the months before the attacks. At least one Al Qaida-allied website recently mentioned Las Vegas as a desirable target for terrorism.

On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama addressed the American people on the the run-up to another confrontation with a terrorist threat. Not al-Qaida this time, but a hybrid called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

And so the fight continues.

But on this day of remembrance, the voices of the living recall the victims. I’ll give the final word to Don Cherry.

Recalling his son a few years ago, Cherry said, “It’s something you think about all your life. He was my best friend and probably the closest friend I’ve ever had. He was such a good man. He took such good care of everyone. He was something else.”

In their own way they all were. And they should always be remembered that way.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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