Ken Jones

Ken Jones with his retirement plaque from the Pennsylvania State Police.

When Sahuarita resident Ken Jones looks back at that week, he still remembers the kindness.

The donated raincoats. The family that made and delivered the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The store that donated cell phones so he and others could call home.

"Something bad had happened and everyone wanted to help out in some way," Jones, 62, said.

The bad thing that happened? The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Back on Sept. 11, 2001, Jones was a Pennsylvania State Police trooper. He spent one week at the crash site of Flight 93 providing security and sustenance.

Four terrorists hijacked a flight from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco in order to crash the plane into the Capitol or the White House. Instead, the plane's passengers fought back and the plane crashed in a field just outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a town of less than 300 souls, killing all 44 aboard.

Back in 2001, Jones had a desk job. After 22 years with the state troopers, he had become the guy responsible for making sure the troopers in the southwestern part of the state had enough citations, weapons, ammunition and uniforms.

At around 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 he happened to overhear someone talking on the radio about a White House evacuation. When he asked a fellow trooper what was going on, he was told about the two planes that had been flown into the World Trade Center towers.

He then joined others in watching history unfold on TV. 

"I was angry because our country was being attacked and innocent people were being killed," he said.

After hearing about the attacks in Manhattan and the attack on the Pentagon in Virginia, Jones also learned an airplane had gone down in a field near Shanksville, an hour and a half east of Pittsburgh. Details were sketchy.

"Then, half an hour to an hour later, we got word that a number of us were to get ready and head out that way," Jones said. "Being the quartermaster, I was told there was going to be about 100 troopers heading up that way and to go buy food for them."

Jones headed to the nearest Walmart with a van and loaded up sandwiches, granola bars and cases of water.

"I remember going through the line and some gentleman came up to me and asked me where the party was, and I was wearing a police uniform and I said 'Haven't you been watching the news?'"

Flight 93 crashed shortly after 10 a.m. Jones got to the site around 1:30 p.m. By then, he already knew there were no survivors.

"I went right to the crash site before I was posted," he said. "I saw a couple things that were interesting there. I saw a smoldering fuselage and I saw a lot of intact U.S. mail laying on the ground. The mail had San Francisco addresses with return addresses from New Jersey."

He later learned the mail was collected and delivered.

"You could not actually see where the plane went into the ground except from an aerial view," Jones said. "An aerial view could show the body of the plane and the wings, almost like a shadow on the ground. But from the ground you couldn't see it because basically the plane went into the ground, and all of the debris went up in the air (and) settled back down on top of it. It was as if nothing had been there."

On that day, Jones said there wasn't much time to think about what had happened and what was going on throughout the rest of the country. He and his colleagues just focused on the task at hand — making sure unauthorized people were kept away.

"I didn't feel the historical impact because we were on site and basically we were not watching TV or listening to the radio," he said. "We were basically out in an empty field and posting at various places on the surrounding roads."

Jones stayed at the scene for the next week while FBI agents and crime scene analysts went about their work. While other troopers made sure the media and souvenir hunters were kept contained, Jones kept his colleagues fed and saw to any other needs they had.

There were three small two-lane roads forming a triangle around the field, and two-trooper teams were posted at various points along the roads within site of each other. They worked 12-hour shifts.

At least one "souvenir hound" was arrested at the scene, Jones said.

The troopers spent their downtime at a hotel in nearby Somerset, where they'd catch up on the latest news through loved ones and TV.

"Once we started hearing stories about Todd Beamer and 'Let's roll’ and what the passengers had done on the plane, I started to sense more of the significance," he said.

Beamer was a data software specialist on Flight 93. During the attack, he tried to call his wife, but was routed to GTE phone operator Lisa Jefferson. During his 13-minute conversation with Jefferson, he told her a group was planning to attack the hijackers. His last words were "Are you ready? OK. Let's roll."

Jones said he left the site the day before Todd Beamer's wife, Lisa, came to visit.

He retired from the Pennsylvania State Police in 2004. He began working for Allied Universal Security in 2009. The company, which also provides security for Raytheon, transferred him to Arizona at his request in 2014.  

Jones' wife of 37 years, Sue, said her husband tends not to tell people he was a first responder on Sept. 11, but she is quick to brag about him.

She is proud of his service to his country, although he's paid a price for it. She firmly believes he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She recalls how his symptoms became worse during a bicycle trip to the crash site in 2002. They also had to back out of plans to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City in 2010.

Whenever she mentions her husband is a 9/11 first responder, people immediately assume he responded to the Twin Towers, asking if he suffers lung problems, she said.

"I go, 'No, he was in Shanksville’ and they say, ‘oh, where's that?'" Sue Jones said. "They forget the Pentagon, too."

It saddens her, but Ken Jones said he believes it's simply because there is so much video footage of the New York attacks.

As the years have gone by, Jones said he has continued to watch news coverage about Al-Qaeda and the hunt for the attacks' mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, who was found and killed May 2, 2011.

"I was delighted when he assumed room temperature," he said.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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