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CELINA — A Celina native recounted his brush with death on Sept. 11, 2001, as part of a ceremony paying tribute to those who paid the ultimate price that day.
Jerry Winhoven had a first-hand view of the terrorist attack on New York City and the World Trade Center that fateful September morning. Winhoven, who was in one of the towers during the attacks, shared his story as the keynote speaker during a ceremony in memory the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 Sunday afternoon at Lakeshore Park in Celina.
“If it weren’t for the heroic acts of bravery, myself and countless others would not be here today,” Winhoven said. “My story began Sept. 9, 2001, when I arrive in New York City from Dayton, Ohio.”
Winhoven said he was in New York as part of a training program for Morgan Stanley. On that day, Winhoven showed up for his training session excited for his second day of work. Winhoven was in the southeast corner of the south tower checking his e-mail when his life would be changed forever.
“At 8:46 a.m. there was a loud shattered in the conference room I just left,” Winhoven said. “I rushed in to see what happened. I noticed all of our windows had cracked across the middle and one of the windows beside my seat had shattered and fallen out completely.”
Winhoven then looked outside and saw papers flying around and he noted he smelled jet fuel. A security officer told Winhoven and the rest of the people on his floor they had to evacuate the building.
“The stairwell was fairly orderly in the beginning, many of us giving our best guess to what had just happened,” Winhoven said, noting when he reached the 30th floor, he felt an explosion hit the tower. “It seemed to sway a few feet in one direction and then returned back. Many screams from above and below echoed through the stairwell.”
As fast as possible, Winhoven exited the building while at the same time he noticed firefighters rushing upstairs. Once out of the building, Winhoven said he took a quick survey of the damage.
“I saw 20 or 30 doors in front of the south tower,” Winhoven said. “I remember the sigh of relief when I stepped out of the building. This is when a first responder sternly grabbed me with great force, looked me dead in the eye and said run as fast as you can as far as you can right now. I’ll never forget that woman.”
After running for several blocks, Winhoven hailed a cab and returned to his hotel room. He then tried numerous times to get in contact with loved ones back in Ohio.
“After countless times of not being able to get a line out, I finally reached my home office,” Winhoven said. “They were very much worried about me since it had been about an hour since the towers had fallen.”
Winhoven also shared a story about something he first learned about that day during the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Winhoven recounted a conversation his boss had with his mother when one of the towers collapsed.
“She knew I was in New York but she didn’t realize I was in the World Trade Center,” Winhoven said.
“So my mother asked, as they were watching TV at the same time, which building he was in. Doug said, ‘He’s in the building on the left.’ No sooner than he finished his sentence, the one on the left came down.”
Winhoven said his mother dropped the phone and was unable to respond to his boss. Thankfully, Winhoven said he was able to make contact with his family.
“It as good as an hour until my boss could happily report back to my mother that I was OK,” Winhoven said. “I can only imagine how she felt that day. For me, Sept. 11 brought back into focus what is truly important in my life. My family, my friends and this great country and how lucky we are to live in it.”
Winhoven thanked the first responders in New York who helped save his life as well as the ones who serve locally. He also paid tribute to current and past members of the military.
“It is all of you who serve and protect our country that makes it what it is today,” Winhoven said. “It is because each of you put your lives on the line, taking the time away from your own family, to ensure all of us can be with ours. And for that, I say thank you.”
The ceremony also featured comments from Mercer County public safety personnel, Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue, a parade and a performance by the Celina and St. Henry marching bands.