Events held locally and nationally 20 years after terrorist attacks

By Raiza Giorgi

Isaac Swolgaard wasn’t yet born when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened, but he felt passionately he had to do something to honor the lives and the memory of the 2,977 people lost. The 17-year-old senior at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School decided to place 2,977 flags on the front lawn of the campus with his school’s chapter of the Young America’s Foundation

“I have watched the documentaries and learned about the attacks in class and I want to never forget what happened and honor those that lost their lives and sacrificed themselves for others,” Isaac said. 

On Sept. 11, 2001, a group of 19 terrorists associated with al-Qaida targeted the United States after they hijacked several planes. Two of the planes crashed into both World Trade Center towers, killing 2,750 people as the towers caught fire, weakening the structures, and eventually collapsed. Another hijacked flight, United Airlines Flight 93, headed for the U.S. Capitol was thwarted by passengers and crashed in Pennsylvania, killing 40 people; and another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people. First responders especially in New York City were devastated as hundreds of firefighters, police officers and paramedics were killed and/or injured. 

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School students and their siblings are shown in the process of placing 2,977 flags, one for each life lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Barry Sigman

Santa Ynez Valley resident Bruce Porter retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army a week before 9/11 and his office at the Pentagon was hit and destroyed. 

“My secretary Diane Hale-McKinzy was killed as was my friend Major Cole Hogan, along with about 20 of my colleagues,” Porter said. “For some reason I was given the gift of remaining alive, and I take that seriously every day.”

Porter added he was devastated learning of his secretary’s death especially as she was a good friend and the epitome of the American dream.

“Diane grew up in the poorest area of Washington D.C., and worked her way up in civil service to eventually working for a three-star general,” he said. “She was a great person and her life was snuffed out too soon.”

Porter has only been back to the Pentagon once since retiring and upon visiting the memorial of the attack, said he arrived with overwhelming anxiety and walked away more at peace having been able to mourn his friends and colleagues. 

Porter is also a past board member for the Santa Ynez High’s Board of Education and is grateful to Isaac and the campus YAF club for doing the memorial. 

The YAF operates at the late estate of President Ronald Reagan, whose Rancho del Cielo, at the top of Refugio Canyon in the Santa Ynez Mountains, is known as the “Western White House.” The YAF also operates The Reagan Ranch Centerin downtown Santa Barbara, as a “schoolhouse for Reaganism,” where people can visit and learn more about Reagan and their foundation.

“I got to go to the Reagan Ranch Center this past summer and met former Vice President Mike Pence,” Isaac said. “It was such an awesome experience of getting to talk to him and shake his hand.”

Isaac said as they were planning on placing the flags, they were approached by clothing company Patriot Provisions, who donated the funds to purchase the flags. Officials from Patriot Provisions said they were happy to fund the project.

“We were happy to support these young kids that know the importance of liberty and freedom, as well as honoring the people who died on 9/11 and not letting their memory fade,” said Patriot Provisions in a statement to the Star. 

“Our hope with this chapter of YAF is to inspire others to help protect our freedoms and everyone’s rights,” Isaac said. “Our most important freedom is that of speech and the freedom to practice religion, whatever that may be.”

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum led the nation to mark the passing and read the names of those lost by family members of the fallen. There were six moments of silence, marking when the towers were struck and fell, as well as the attacks on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. 

Locally there was a ceremony in the sunken gardens at the Santa Barbara Superior Court, hosted by Teen Court of Santa Barbara County. 

UCSB Detective Kovina Avila sang the national anthem and there was a multi-agency law enforcement color guard to raise the American flag as well as a 9/11 Flag of Honor with the names of all the victims from the towers, the Pentagon and Flight 93. 

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Adams moderated the event.

All of the fire stations in Santa Barbara County also held a ceremony at 9 a.m. to remember the fallen.  

The flags at the high school will be saved for following years to commemorate 9/11, Isaac said.