Michigan World Trade Center survivor: 'Even as we mourned, we Americans rose up'

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

The United States remains resilient 20 years after a series of devastating terror attacks killed thousands and sent shockwaves through the nation, Metro Detroit leaders told somber crowds gathered to remember the 9/11 attacks. 

Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of Anderson Economics Group, who witnessed the attacks firsthand, said Americans immediately volunteered to help clear the wreckage. 

"Even as we mourned, we Americans rose up, volunteered to defend our country here and in faraway nations," said Anderson, who started a fund to remember 9/11 victims with Michigan ties. "We worked to unbury what had been physically destroyed even if it took years. We were saddened, we were shocked, but we did not shrink from confronting the evil that faced us."

World Trade Center terrorist attack survivor Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of Anderson Economics Group LLC and founder of Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund, gives the keynote speech, Saturday afternoon, September 11, 2021, at the Wayne County First Responders Memorial at Hines Park in Plymouth.

Anderson, who spoke Saturday at the Wayne County First Responders Memorial at Hines Park in Plymouth, said he was in the first of the World Trade Center towers to be hit. He felt the plane's impact and heard the second careen overhead. 

More:Keeping victims of 9/11 in our memories: ‘They’re all part of Michigan’

Members of the Plymouth Community Honor Guard stand at ease after retiring the colors, Saturday, September 11, 2021.

The attacks ushered in a new era of security and coordination for first responders from the federal to local levels, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said. But they also ushered in an era of discrimination against Arab Americans, particularly in Dearborn, where Haddad spoke Saturday at a remembrance service outside the Dearborn Police Department.

Dearborn Chief of Police Ronald Haddad speaks during the September 11, 2001, 20th anniversary ceremony outside of the Dearborn Police Department in Dearborn, Michigan, on Sept. 11, 2021.

Residents of Dearborn, a heavily Arab American city, were demonized, he said. 

"That's the danger of bigotry and hatred in our country," he said. "It harms all of us."

Both Anderson and Haddad agreed the path forward from the deadly attacks and the wars that followed requires all Americans, whether they wear uniforms or plainclothes, to join together. Safety and strength is borne from respecting, loving and protecting each other, Haddad said. 

"That will make us a stronger nation," he said. "If we continue to separate one another, then the terrorists have succeeded."

Dearborn Fire Department Lt. Ken Abraham looks on during the September 11, 2001, 20th anniversary ceremony outside of the Dearborn Police Department in Dearborn, Michigan, on Sept. 11, 2021.

More:How 9/11 attacks galvanized Michigan's Arab American, Muslim residents

The crowd that gathered Saturday in front of the Dearborn police station prayed for the families of people killed in the 9/11 attacks and the wars that followed. A pipe and drum corps performed "Amazing Grace." 

Leslie Windless, of Dearborn Heights attended with her 10-year-old daughter, Alayah Windless. Alayah wants to become a police chief someday, and her mother wanted her to understand the gravity of the 9/11 attacks and sacrifices made by the first responders.

"I want her to understand the decision she's making to go into law enforcement," she said. 

Members of the Dearborn Fire Department during the September 11, 2001, 20th anniversary ceremony outside of the Dearborn Police Department in Dearborn, Michigan, on Sept. 11, 2021.

Detroit resident Danelle White brought her 2-year-old son Judiah White to watch the Plymouth service. She is Canadian and a permanent resident of the U.S. She wants her son, who has dual citizenship, to understand patriotism.

The American flag has become a divisive political symbol, she said, but it shouldn't be.

"I'd like it to be everyone's flag," she said. "It should represent everybody."

Dearborn Chief of Police Ronald Haddad speaks during the September 11, 2001, 20th anniversary ceremony outside of the Dearborn Police Department in Dearborn, Michigan, on Sept. 11, 2021.

ckthompson@detroitnews.com