Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Remembering 9/11: Coming full circle at ground zero

Remembering 9/11: Coming full circle at ground zero

  • Updated

Editor’s Note: In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Napa Valley Publishing newspapers asked area residents to submit their memories of the attacks. In honor of the 16th anniversary, we are revisiting some of those powerful essays.

In January of 1970 in New York City, I began what would be a 32-year career in the insurance industry.

I lived in New Jersey and commuted daily by train to New York. The system was called PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) and its New York terminus was on the site of what would become the World Trade Center.

After completing a six-month training program for The Chubb Group, I was assigned to an underwriting team for commercial property. By this time the PATH station had been moved, the building demolished and a giant hole was being dug for the foundation of the twin towers.

My first rookie assignment was to the group that was helping place the necessary construction insurance for the project.

I came to San Francisco in 1972 with Chubb and had a series of different insurance jobs, which culminated in 1979 when I joined a small startup operation that specialized in catastrophic property insurance. During the next 13 years we grew and prospered, and in 1992, we sold our firm to the Aon Corp, headquartered in Chicago.

Their largest office was in New York and they had a total of about 1,200 employees in the twin towers. I visited the World Trade Center many times in the next 10 years and my last visit was in early August 2001 to discuss the end of my employment contract and my retirement.

Every time I entered that complex I remembered my beginnings there and felt a sense of pride about playing a role, though very small, in its construction. It was a beautiful and imposing site. The twin towers fell 31 years, 8 months and 11 days after I started my career. Aon lost 328 employees that day and though I only knew five of them, my heart broke and the tears flowed as I watched that terrible tragedy unfold.

One of my last official acts as an employee of Aon was to authorize payment of $1 million for our firms’ very small portion of the $4.5 billion insurance loss. My 32 years of insurance had begun and ended with the World Trade Center.

As an Air Force veteran and a Vietnam veteran, I grieved for the 3,500 who died that horrible day and consider them comrades in arms. They gave their lives for their country just as surely as any soldier, sailor, Marine or airman. They didn’t sign up to become combatants, but they surely were.

It remains my privilege to honor them all on this the 10th anniversary of the fall of the towers. Just as previous generations never forget December 7, 1941, so shall we all remember September 11, 2001. Freedom Is Not Free.

Jim Barnes is the adjutant of American Legion Post 231, Calistoga. He is a member of the Calistoga City Council.

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

  • Updated

On 9/11, David and I awoke to a glorious salmon-colored sunrise at our favorite high mountain lodge on Tioga Pass — just outside of Yosemite. We were at 10,000 feet elevation watching the vibrant sun shine off the majestic surrounding granite mountains. So close to heaven.

  • Updated

Early in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my sister and I were in an Arlington, Texas, motel bouncing on our suitcases, trying to close them so we could meet our Exit Texas schedule. My brother-in-law phoned, directing us to the television.

  • Updated

I don’t just remember that tragic day on Sept. 11 when trite references to the horror blip by on the news. I remember it every single day of my life, as do countless others — those of us who were in New York, people all over our world.

  • Updated

Visiting our brother and family near New York, that Tuesday morning we first heard about a bombing in the World Trade Center. The reports were confused. Then the tone of reporting changed from total confusion to absolute disbelief as events turned even worse.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News