By Louie Graves
Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, USA — a day that will live in infamy.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, New York City, USA — a day that will live in infamy.
Every year when the anniversary of that latter date passes, a Nashville resident re-lives vivid memories of the terrorist assault and his personal connection to the nation’s recovery.
Bill Hockaday lives in Nashville but is the District Engineer with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, District 7, headquartered in Camden.
He was a Red Cross volunteer who served several weeks in New York in the days immediately following the assault.
Groups of radical Islamists commandeered four U.S. passenger jet airliners.
Two were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center; one was flown into the side of the Pentagon; and one crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought with the terrorists.
The event shook the nation. “It changed the world,” he says, noting that for awhile at least there was an increase in patriotism and some unity between people and groups. There were upwards of 3,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage at the Trade Center.
Just as older generations remember when and what they were doing when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, younger generations remember when and what they were doing when television news reported the airliners crashing into the buildings
Hockaday was at a highway department area meeting at the Carter Day Training Center in Nashville, when someone rushed into the room and breathlessly told of the crashes.
He had a feeling then that he’d go to NYC to serve.
Hockaday became interested in the Red Cross in 1997 when he and other local Search and Rescue Team and Ham Radio club members went to Arkadelphia after that city was struck by a tornado.
He noticed the work of the Red Cross, and even returned to help when invited by a Red Cross official at the scene.
The highway department allows 21 days of leave a year for personnel who use the time to volunteer with the Red Cross. He joined, and over the years he became certified to work with Red Cross projects in damage assessment, shelter operations, feeding operations, and other support areas.
When air travel resumed after 9-11 he flew to New York. “There were only 14 persons on the entire plane,” he remembers.
He joined Red Cross operations already in progress. He and his group stayed in a Times Square hotel, and worked long days feeding other volunteers and supporting groups of workers at the site.
One of his memories was delivering urns of coffee to the office of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
He met only a few Twin Tower survivors, and worked mostly behind the scenes.
He did meet one couple who had been at work in one of the towers but managed to get out. Ironically, the woman’s brother was a fireman who rushed into one of the buildings and perished.
Hockaday’s time in New York wasn’t all work. He got to take in a Yankees game, and go to the top of the Empire State Building.
The flight home to Arkansas was also solemn and quiet, but the aircraft was full.
He says he was happy to have been a Red Cross volunteer, and might consider doing it again after retiring from the highway department.