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Remembering 9/11: Coming full circle at ground zero

Remembering 9/11: Coming full circle at ground zero

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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.

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