Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
RIVERTON — Bunny Akins looked out at the rows and rows of 911 waving American flags at Riverton City Park, and her eyes filled with tears as she thought about September 11, 2001, and the lost lives the flag display represents.
Twenty years later, she still cries every time she thinks about the terrorist attacks that day.
She and her husband, George Akins, had just bought a motor home and were adventuring in Oregon when the attacks happened. They walked into a hospitality room for travelers, and a group of people were glued to a TV in the back in absolute silence. After the footage of the attacks became too overwhelming, the couple took a walk just to get away from it all.
On Monday, they drove from their home in Sandy to take a similar walk together and examine the educational boards that show the progression of the attacks and the exact times they happened on Sept. 11, 2001. They talked about how the country and the world came together to show support after the tragedy and how divided its citizens are now.
"Everyone was so together and patriotic until people started wars and split everybody up," Bunny Akins said. "There was unity with the whole world, but it didn't last."
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said something similar in the press release announcing the display, but he hopes that people will remember that bond forged by tragedy.
"As we observe the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I believe it's important for each of us to not only remember those who lost their lives in the heartbreaking events that took place that day, but to remember how we felt after 9/11. Our country came together in unity of purpose. We remembered then that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. Only an America that is unified on our nation's core values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be able to withstand those in the world who want do us harm who have a fundamentally different approach to human rights than we do," he said.
South Jordan residents Tamara and Richard Feist told KSL.com that they plan to come back and bring their 19-year-old daughter for precisely for the reason Staggs stated — to remember unity in a divisive environment, where freedoms are often taken for granted.
"People say that if we don't remember history, we're doomed to repeat it," Richard Feist said. "I think if we don't remember the protections we do have and fight to defend them, we will lose them. Most people have never been without those freedoms because they haven't spent much time out of the country and they treat it lightly."
He was working on the 46th floor of a 55-floor building when he watched the first plane hit another similarly towering building across the country. His company sent all workers home at the time, in part because they weren't sure if another attack would be carried out in other tall buildings across the country.
At home, his wife, Tamara Feist, was trying not to scar her kids, who were 1 and 5 years old, but she couldn't pull herself away from the news. She bought a little TV for her kids to watch something more light-hearted while she kept tabs on the unfolding devastation. She had grown up traveling around the world, including being in the Middle East and in South America during a coup, but she felt sick to recognize such an attack in her own country.
"When the second one hit, I thought, 'It's finally happened here,'" she said.
Tamara Feist said she remembers looking at her oldest and thinking, "he's going to remember where he was when that happened."
"I'm so grateful that someone does this so we can remember," she said, looking over the 911 intentionally placed American flags.
For Eileen Jenkins, visiting the display on Monday with her two adult children and several grandchildren gave her goosebumps and "it all came flooding back."
She saw the attacks on the TV at home in 2001 and had to force herself to go to work as a nurse at Primary Children's Hospital, keeping tabs on the situation on the radio. Her coworkers were all in shock, too, and everyone was moving in a bit of a haze.
"It was a horrible day for everyone. That's all I can really say," Jenkins explained.
But the flags gave her a chance to talk about that fateful day with her grandchildren, who weren't born yet or weren't old enough to remember, and they told her what they learned about it in school. The children played in the rows and counted the flags, and she thought, "this country is still here."
"It brought back some bad memories, but the flags make it more peaceful and patriotic. We've made it past that, and now the flags give you a kind of peaceful feeling," Jenkins said.
The display is open to the public from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Riverton City Park every day until Sunday, Sept. 13.