9/11 survivor recalls the horror

By Carlos E. Medina Ocala Star Banner

Valecia Parker was sitting in her cubicle in the Pentagon 13 years ago when she thought an earthquake had hit.

That was the last thing she remembers from the day American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Her memories don’t start again until two days later when she awoke to her new reality.

She suffered a serious brain injury as well as burns and torn ligaments.

“I went from being 48 to being 2. I had to relearn everything: Going to the bathroom, eating, walking, talking. Everything,” Parker said.

On Thursday, Parker shared her story with about 100 people who attended the Field of Flags remembrance event at Highlands Memorial Park. The event featured 3,000 flags in a field that were planted in the shape of the World Trade Center towers, which were attacked first on September 11. The number of flags represented those killed in the attacks, including those aboard one jetliner that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.

Parker spent more than three years in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Today, she shows no obvious signs from her ordeal and has regained all her faculties.

“I have two burns on my body. I call them my beauty marks,” she said.

Parker, who was on the second floor in the center ring of the five-ringed building, was fortunate.

“The outside ring is the ‘E’ ring, then the ‘D’ ring and so on. I was in the ‘C’ ring and the damage made it to the ‘B’ ring,” Parker said. “The people sitting to my right and to my left were burned to a crisp sitting in the chairs.”

All 64 passengers in the plane were killed as were 125 others in the Pentagon.

“If you wonder why I’m still here. I used to do that, too, but I don’t anymore, because I know God has a plan for me and it was not that I should go on September 11, 2001,” she said.

Still, the days and weeks leading up to each 9/11 anniversary are difficult for her.

“I have a hard time even seeing the images on television,” she said.

Others at the remembrance recalled their experiences on the day of the attacks.

“Our son called us from Michigan and said, ‘Do you see what’s going on on the television?’ I turned it on and I didn’t believe it was actually happening,” said Georgina Wagner.

John Bateman, a seventh-grader from Fort King Middle School, wasn’t born yet when the attacks happened, but he had one of several art projects from middle school students depicting the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks.

“I learned it was a very tragic day. I’ve learned a lot about it at school and from my parents,” he said.

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