Originally Published: September 7, 2011 10:05 p.m.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Dewey resident Dina Mountcastle suddenly found herself grasping the hands of a complete stranger.
The two women were familiar to each other only because they frequently rode the same subway train to work in the financial district of New York City.
They emerged from their subway stop just as the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
"We didn't know it was a plane," Mountcastle said. "We thought it was a bomb." Then, the second plane hit and "the entire ground shook," she said. "It brought me to my knees. I thought somebody was bombing us. We looked up and thought somebody was attacking us. I never felt so small in my life."
She remembers vividly the towers on fire, having to get out of the way of falling debris and people jumping out of buildings. When she got to her office, she stood with co-workers and watched the towers burn, but "never in a million years did I think they would come down. I remember looking up and thought of two questions: How are they going to put that fire out, and who hates us this much?"
By mid-day and after the rubble blocking the exit from her office had been cleared, Mountcastle walked to her home in Queens, from 12th Street to 59th Street, passing people who were handing out water, clothes and shoes to survivors of the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
It was the "most awesome sense of humanity that I have ever experienced," Mountcastle said.
She will recount her recollections of this American tragedy when she speaks Sunday at Patriot Day, commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, on the courthouse plaza. The event begins at 3 p.m. and concludes at 5 p.m.
Mountcastle was 32 years old at the time of the attacks and, as typical of that age, her focus was on herself. But that quickly changed, she said. "It wasn't about me anymore." The immediate unity among New Yorkers, a metropolis of wide diversity, profoundly affected her, and the change in her "was wanting to go help." And she did for a week, working by day for a small insurance brokerage firm and in a food tent from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., feeding workers as they came off their shifts at the Twin Towers site. "I didn't want to leave. I just wanted to help," she said.
Sunday's commemorative observance and the invitation to speak gave her "the same feeling," Mountcastle said. "What can I do? I just couldn't do enough."
The inspiration for Patriot Day began with event chair Pastor Bob Collins, who heard former President George Bush's senior adviser Karl Rove speak about 9/11 in a Phoenix appearance in November 2010.
"Driving back to Prescott, I could think of nothing else," Collins said. "We have to do something in Prescott," he thought.
"I learned years ago that if you are going to do anything significant in your life" and that "dream may be too large to accomplish by yourself," you reach out for help, he said.
Fr. Walt Crites, who, along with Collins, is a member of the Prescott Ministerial Association, was among "the wonderful people" to serve on the 9/11 committee, he said. "The people in Prescott have been magnificent" in helping coordinate Patriot Day, he added.
Madeline Fowler joined the long list of groups involved in putting on Patriot Day, and her sensitivity to the 9/11 attacks comes from one who, as a child, had to live with daily bombings in her hometown near what is now London's Heathrow Airport during World War II.
Fowler has been pounding the pavement for months, organizing a benefit dinner, passing out flyers and putting up posters about Patriot Day.
"I can't be in their shoes because this was a total surprise in a country that's free and Number 1 in the world," she said, contrasting her childhood experience with the terrorist attacks.
"At least in England, we knew we were at war, with the expectations of something happening," such as the German V-2 rocket that had no sound. "It just exploded," she said, comparing this to the planes diving into the Twin Towers.
Britain's children were not allowed to read newspapers for fear headlines would frighten them, said Fowler, who is now 82, adding she was blown off her bicycle a couple of times by the impact of the rockets.
"It must have been awful" for the people in the towers, she said. "I can just imagine - high in the towers before they imploded. They didn't know it was coming and, all of a sudden, the shock of it."
She has been a part of organizing Patriot Day because "it's my way of giving tribute to people who were so brave. I would do it again and again."
The remembrance begins with a pre-event band ensemble and, besides Mountcastle's talk, includes speeches by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, state Rep. Andy Tobin, and Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall; tributes to all the victims of 9/11 and survivors; and many patriotic songs, concluding with Echo Taps, with dozens of buglers surrounding the courthouse plaza.
"If you come to this, and I hope you do," Collins said, "bring two handkerchiefs - one to have ready when you listen to Dina and one at the conclusion with Echo Taps."