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‘With tears in their eyes, praying for us and our nation’

West Milford. Hilda Sanders Miller recalls the welcome she and her husband received on their trip to Canada in the days after Sept. 11, 2001

| 16 Sep 2021 | 12:40

A couple whose ancestors were among the earliest people to settle throughout West Milford and the surrounding towns woke up in a quaint little Oregon village looking forward to driving through Glacier National Park on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hilda Sanders Miller and her husband Harold Miller had gotten up early to leave a small cabin in a pretty meadow. They had rented it on their way to drive through Glacier National Park Montana en route to Canada. They planned to spend three fall days in Banff, a place they had loved so much in winter. The couple looked forward to a walk on the glacier in Jasper and then enjoying the beauty of Lake Louise.

Hilda said that as she was coming out of the bedroom with suitcases that morning she saw the sun rising over the mountains and was thinking this was such a beautiful place to be at on such a pretty morning. It would be a great day to drive through the park and into Canada. Suddenly an alarming call from Harold startled her.

“Come here quick!” yelled Harold. “Look at this!”

He had the television set on as an airplane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings was being shown. Hilda’s thoughts went back to three years earlier in 1998 when they stood on top of that tower with their son Mitchel and his wife Deborah and nephew Albert and his wife Denise, looking at the skyscrapers of New York City and the Statue of Liberty on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

“While were watching the plane hit the tower we were thinking like the TV reporter and probably everyone else seeing the report that some small plane had a problem and crashed into the building,” Hilda shared. “It did not take long for us to see the second plane crash into the other tower and to hear the reporter saying something in total disbelief.”

She recalled seeing that everyone in the TV newsroom was talking and trying to figure out why two airplanes had done the same thing but then realizing it was an attack. While the TV reporters were getting reports and showing live pictures of the chaos on the street – others were screaming and running from the smoke and debris and fire while the first responders were trying to get into the first building and it fell, and then the second building fell. The frantic voice of someone in the TV studio said that the Pentagon building had been hit by a plane.

‘Such brave heroes’

Then it was reported that a family member had received a cell phone call from someone in a plane traveling over Pennsylvania saying that those in the plane knew the towers were being hit and terrorists had taken over their plane too. Some passengers were going to stop the terrorists from hitting the capitol, Hilda said as she continued her report.

“The brave passengers with the threat of being killed by the terrorists decided to take action and they did, she said. “It was such a solemn moment when it was announced that the plane went down in a Pennsylvania field killing everyone on board. Such brave heroes who probably saved a lot more people’s lives by losing their own.”

She also recalled seeing President George Bush sitting in a classroom full of small children while being briefed that a second plane had hit the other tower and we were being attacked.

“He did not have a look of pain but appeared quite serious probably because he did not want to frighten the children and teacher,” Hilda said. “He certainly handled it well at that moment. I guess a lot of people are still wondering if he should have let the United Nations keep looking for nuclear weapons in Iraq or where they were shipped to be hidden before sending troops there.”

A Canadian welcome, with tears in their eyes

Even though Hilda and Harold were told they would not be able to get into Canada that day – or if they did they wouldn’t be able to leave, they still decided to go to National Glacier Park and continue their trip into Canada as previously planned. The next day, after driving through Glacier National Park and then crossed the border into Canada.

“The most special part of the day was that every Canadian at gas stations and elsewhere who saw our United States license plate the next three days came up to us with tears in their eyes or crying broken-heartedly while hugging and praying for us and our country,” Hilda continued. “Before the day was over the Canadian President called for three minutes of silence for the United States. The next morning everywhere we saw people praying for us and our nation. Unknown to any of us at that time 61 Canadians had died in the falling towers along with the United States citizens and those from other countries.”

“One young man from Canada had saved money over a period of many years to go to New York to stand on top of the World Trade Center,” Hilda had learned. “He was talking to his mother in Canada on his cell phone from the top of the first tower when the plane hit the building.”

She noted that the nation was in too much shock and grief to have a minute of silence for the lost until the day after the Canadians did so, which she said was understandable.

“No one ever knew if there would be more attacks in the country so from shore to shore, north to south, everyone was on alert wondering if another city would be hit,” Hilda said. “That’s why all planes were diverted and grounded that day. I can’t recall how many days there were that flights were not allowed. Very soon after the rules to fly on a commercial flight were put in place and the Homeland Security was started in an all out safety effort.”