OSKALOOSA — Fifteen years ago, calamity struck.
New York City, Washington D.C and the fields of Pennsylvania seem far removed from Oskaloosa, Iowa. On Sept. 11, 2001, that gap disappeared and the nation rushed in to help.
“To understand the situation, nobody knew how to respond to something like that because nothing like this had ever happened before,” said Joe Crookham, Musco CEO.
He told a story about the Oklahoma City bombing, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building was destroyed in 1995.
Members of Musco’s mobile crew visited Crookham’s office at that time, saying they wanted to take a truck and provide light for the scene. Crookham agreed, and the crew departed for Oklahoma arriving near evening. They were unable to get close to the scene without aid from an FBI agent. The person from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) who had been managing protested against having a truck that large on the site.
“The FBI guy said, ‘You make room because you need this truck in there,’” Crookham said. “So over the FEMA guy’s objection they went ahead and got the truck set up. That night, the guy who was running the truck was sitting in the truck. There was a knock on the door of the truck and it was the guy from FEMA who objected to us coming in there. He said, ‘You will be here til we’re done, right?’”
“When I saw the first plane hit the building in New York City I immediately thought back to the [Oklahoma City] Murrah Building situation and I checked to find out where we had trucks,” Crookham said.
Musco had been providing lighting for ESPN’s Extreme games in Providence Rhode Island.
“I called the guys who were out there and said, ‘I have no more idea than anybody else does....On the other hand, with what they’ve got down there, I think we can be of some help to them. But I’m not telling you to go. It’s your call whether or not you want to go and feel like it’s appropriate. If you want to, I think our trucks would be very useful.’ The only thing those guys said to me was, ‘Make arrangements for getting us in. We’re on our way.’”
And that was that. They left immediately, abandoning their breakfast and took off for New York.
“I called the Rhode Island Highway patrol to try to get an escort for them. The guy had no idea what I was talking about and I was getting nowhere with them,” Crookham said, then trying the Connecticut highway patrol.
The person who answered the phone had been to the Extreme games that weekend.
“He knew exactly what I was talking about. He said get the trucks to the Connecticut state line. I’ll have a patrol car waiting for them there and provide an escort to New York,” Crookham said. “When our guys said when they got to the Connecticut state line there were police cars waiting for them. They stopped and the only question the [officer] asked was, ‘How fast do the trucks run? I don’t want to outrun you,’” Crookham said.
The trucks were directed to Shea Stadium in the triage area.
After demonstrating the lights once more they were directed to head to Ground Zero.
“They got over to West Avenue and they got stalled in the traffic. They couldn’t get figured out what to do. Brent Jacks, our crew chief, was walking around trying to figure out something and finally went back and sat down in the truck to think it out again,” Crookham said. “There was a knock on the door of the truck. He opened the door of the truck and it was the guy from FEMA from Oklahoma City. What are the odds that he’s going to be there?”
Together, a route was planned and the lighting trucks got to where they were needed around dawn on Sept. 12. They immediately got to work.
Two trucks were sent out from Oskaloosa as well.
“We weren’t quite sure what those trucks would be doing when they left Oskaloosa,” Crookham said.
The crews were told to call the home office once they hit Ohio. Hopefully they would have an answer as to whether they would head toward New York or Washington, D.C. It turned out that D.C. was where they were needed. They would provide light for the Pentagon and would remain there for two weeks. After that, one of the trucks was sent on to New York to provide additional lighting.
“One of the trucks that left here went to the Pentagon and then also was up at Ground Zero. [It] didn’t come back until the following May, so we were there for a long period of time,” Crookham said.
Crew Chief, Brent Jacks, was with the trucks that went to Ground Zero.
“Nothing could have prepared [them] for the zone of destruction,” Jacks commented. “All I could see was smoke. I couldn’t see where I was going. Three truck tires blew during set-up because of all the debris hidden under the dust. There was dust up to our knees. We had to have a Caterpillar move some overturned trucks and cars to clear a space for one of our trucks. It was like a war zone.”
When planes were allowed to fly on Friday of that week, Jeff Rogers, Vice President of Developmental Sales, and Crookham visited the Pentagon to make arrangements before heading to Ground Zero.
“I said to Jeff, ‘Hang on just a second. I want to stop before we walk through the gate where we can still see this area and take a moment just to look at it. We’ve been so busy I just haven’t really digested what we’re looking at around here. We paused for a moment. They had trucks, cranes, food stations, first aid stations, all kinds of things set up inside there. Jeff made the comment to me while we were standing there looking at that, ‘Where but in America could you assemble all of this in just a couple days,’” Crookham said. “America came together on that day and just did amazing things.”
Crookham was amazed by the amount of cooperation when he arrived at Ground Zero.
“There was a large crowd of people just kind of standing around the area with American flags, cheering all the volunteers as they went in and out of the place. Just generally celebrating how everybody was responding to all of this.”
Even after the rain and through the night there were people still packed and waving flags and cheering.
“What an amazing reaction our country had to this sort of thing,” Crookham said.
Flags were very hard to find on Sept. 11.
“The American Legion here gave us flags to put on the two trucks that we took out from here,” Crookham said. “One of those two trucks the flag on that truck flew at the Pentagon and when it went on to New York that flag went with it. We believe it was probably the only flag to fly at both the Pentagon and at Ground Zero. We still have that flag.”
On the morning of Sept. 12 a firefighter came to a Musco employee and said that he would bring a flag if the crew could fly it on the boom of the truck.
“That flag was quite possibly the first flag to fly at Ground Zero and it flew there until the following December,” Crookham said. “Then we decided to bring it home because it has too much historic significance to it....We put the flag on it [the truck] and flew it at the town square on the 10th anniversary of it.”
There was a 9/11 celebration in Oskaloosa ten years later in 2011. There was a football game that evening, and the truck was brought out to the stadium. General Tom Franks was in Oskaloosa and invited all the veterans onto the field with him. The same flag was mounted on the truck for the national anthem.
“It was a totally still night. That flag was pretty dirty, so it was just hanging there like a dirty rope almost along the side of the boom,” Crookham said.
As the high school band director lifted his hands to conduct the national anthem, a breeze came and the flag unfurled. It remained unfurled for the entire song.
“On the final note of the national anthem the wind died down and the flag dropped down alongside the boom again,” Crookham said.
Another story Crookham likes to tell happens around Thanksgiving 2001. Musco employees in Muscatine went to their supervisor and said, “Some of the crew guys have been out there for this whole time are married and have families, and we don’t think it’s right that they have to stay there through the holiday.”
The young, single guys asked to go out to New York and take care of the trucks while they get to come home and be with their families for the holiday.
“It’s just one more example of America, which was just a different place during that time,” Crookham said. “Everybody was working to help everybody else out to try to get the job done....Our guys know how to make it happen, and they cared. They got there and did it.”
“Lots of people showed up to help in lots of ways. The reaction of our guys made me very proud of our team because they didn’t ask how long they had to stay. They didn’t ask anything other than, ‘Let’s figure out how to get in there.’ The fact that they were in the midst of eating breakfast and left it sitting on the table, it’s pretty significant.”
It was just a matter of doing what needed to be done, according to Crookham, and Musco had the chance to be in the midst of America being as fine as it’s ever been.
— Herald staff writer Angie Holland can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.