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Westlake library brings together three people who witnessed the 9/11 tragedy in 2001.

WESTLAKE, Ohio – The Westlake Porter Public Library invited guests to view a video about 9/11 at the AMC movie theater in Rocky River on Sept. 6. Approximately 40 people attended.

The video highlighted what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but it was done in still photos rather than the violent action we all witnessed over and over on the day it actually happened and many days forward. The technique of stills provided a measure of relief.

Special guests, though, spoke of how they witnessed the horror of that day in 2001.

Mark Bobal, a civilian with the Coast Guard today: 9th Coast Guard District Prevention Division, Passenger Vessel Safety Specialist Retired Commander at East 9th Street. He said he was stationed back then in New York with the U.S. Coast Guard as they took care of the maritime area. “I was coordinating on Staten Island,” he said.

Bobal said all went into action after the towers came down. They began closing waterways.

“It seemed like a small plane that hit the first tower,” he said, “until we saw the angle of the two planes. We watched people jump to their deaths and we knew rescues couldn’t be done due to the level of smoke. So, we put 60 marine inspectors in place to allow them to carry up to 150 people (on any boats) that normally held about an average of 75. We went with whatever the captain was comfortable with. This was after the buildings came down. About 9:50 a.m. for the south tower.

“It was noted,” said Bobal, “as the largest peacetime evacuation since Dunkirk. Sidenote: Dunkirk was a French port that had British and Allied forces that were losing the WWII battle and had to be evacuated to Britain. The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers took about a week in June 1940.

Bobal noted he used to do rooftop rescues in the past but “the buildings back then were not shaking.”

“We got down to the trade center about 5 p.m.,” said Bobal. “I was the head liaison for the Coast Guard. We started to set up a new office of emergency management in a school. We were talking to the city (of New York) then. The city wanted to use barges to begin hauling debris. So, we did emergency dredging and the next day we were able to move what they called ‘center evidence’ to the Staten Island dump.”

During the next three weeks, Bobal and others were working 12 hours a day. “By mid-December, we were on eight-hour shifts at a new Office of Emergency Management at Pier 92. Then we went back to our regular jobs. The waterways opened up and we went back to ship inspections. But then we heard rumors.”

After hearing rumors of all kinds, Bobal said the 60 inspectors went back to emergency management and all kept going on adrenalin.

“We came together as a city, the city of New York,” he said, “and everyone worked together–all the entities, city, county and state. There was no turf protection. At the time we thought there would be survivors (from the attack). But only 10 stories were remaining.

Years later, Bobal asked himself, “Where did it all go–100 stories a quarter mile up in the air.” Didn’t we all wonder the same thing?

Today, Mark Bobal lives in Westlake.

Mark McGinley of Chagrin Falls also spoke to the audience in the theater after watching the 9/11 video.

“Our first indication that something happened was when the first plane hit tower one on the north side. We saw the largest fire ball you can imagine exploding out of the back side of the tower.

“Our trading floor, number 55, filled with jet fuel fumes. We headed for the stairs, climbing down, floor by floor until we reached floor 25 when we heard a PA announcement. “This is an isolated situation in tower one. It is safe to go back into the building.”

“Did not turn back, McGinley said, “Though some folks went back to other floors. While we were at floor 25, the second plane hit our tower, the south tower. We got bounced around in the stairwell like ping pong balls.

“We thought that was the end as we heard bending, screeching steel. So, we got up and made sure everyone was okay and then kept going down. It was then we saw firemen heading upstairs. Now instead of going down two at a time we could only go one at a time, while we made room for the firefighters.

“At the lobby we exited the building to witness people jumping down out of the flames of tower one. We also witnessed a smoldering jet engine the size of an automobile embedded in the sidewalk.

“Our first plan was to head to the Staten Island Ferry. As we made our way, people were running all over the streets from office buildings along the way.

“Then we heard about a bomb threat that was in the stock exchange, so we had to take a different route. We found a landline at a dry-cleaning store. Inside was a man who called his wife in Staten Island for us and gave all of our six phone numbers to her. She called all the families to inform them we all were alive.

“As we approached the ferry, we found we couldn’t get on because it was closed. So, we scrambled up onto the east side highway, joining all the other people trying to get out.

“We got off at Avenue A and found a workman with a van. We gave him all of our money,” Bobal admitted, “and he drove us to midtown, a location where we could begin to move on back to our homes and families.”

Caroline Kwan Brosnan wasn’t able to get back to us for this story, but the history of her friend is still reflected in the Westlake Porter Public Library.

On Sept. 10, 2022, Library Director Andrew Mangels and Mayor Dennis Clough unveiled a wall installation featuring a piece of steel from the twin towers. The steel fragment was gifted to the library, which already had one remembrance wall. The new one is in the library’s front lobby.

About 50 people attended the unveiling, and many eyes were filled with tears.

The wall also features information and a photo of Westlake resident Christina Ryook, a World Trade Center victim.

The other wall is “Christina’s Corner” in the Youth Services Department, which honors Westlake resident Christina Ryook, who died in the towers in 2001. She is also remembered, with her photo, on the new wall. Many members of her family attended the unveiling.

Both walls will always remind people, as will the reminiscences of Mark Bobal and Mark McGinley of the message that Americans will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.

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