(WHTM) — Pennsylvania is the only state to have changed governors as a direct result of the terrorist attacks.
On September 11, 2001, Governor Tom Ridge was home in Erie. Lt. Governor Mark Schweiker was on the opposite end of the state.
“It was a beautiful Tuesday morning traveling east on the Pa. Turnpike,” Schweiker said.
Ridge’s top deputies were on a golf course in Lebanon for an annual outing.
“Across the course, everyone else’s phones were going off. We were trying to reach the governor in Erie and I couldn’t get through,” Chief of Staff Mark Campbell said.
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“Our lives changed and our administration was challenged,” Schweiker said.
But they heard of a plane on the loose over Pennsylvania and feared it could be headed for the state capitol, which was evacuated.
“I ordered the workers home and shortly thereafter maybe the governor got perturbed with me,” Campbell recalled. “I told him what I had done and he said ‘you did what?'”
By mid-afternoon, they had all gathered at PEMA headquarters in Harrisburg and the governor was then flown to Shanksville and the Flight 93 crash scene.
“Upon arriving and looking over the sight all he saw was this large deep scar in the earth, and nothing else,” Campbell said.
But September 11th’s impact on Pa. was only just being felt. In the weeks following, Ridge was whisked to the White House, where President George W. Bush had a job for him.
“I think it was described to him as the ‘White House terrorism czar,” Campbell said.
While still at the White House, Ridge called Chief of Staff Mark Campbell, who still has the notes he furiously jotted down.
“He was gonna be a direct report to the president. He was gonna create a domestic plan, homeland defense needs,” Campbell said.
Before leaving for Washington, D.C., Tom Ridge addressed the Pa. legislature. Campbell noticed him pull a notecard from his jacket and asked him about it afterward.
“I said what was on the notecard that you put down on the podium. he pulled it our and he showed it to me and it said ‘be strong the bastards are watching,'” Campbell said.
Ridge’s departure meant Mark Schweiker must shepherd the state through trying and scary times.
“There might be a change in quarterbacks but not a change in offense. And we did not miss a beat in my estimation and have to acknowledge the legislature as well. They were uniquely supportive in a bipartisan way,” Schweiker said.
Ridge was reorganizing homeland security and merging 22 agencies into one. He too enjoyed legislative cooperation.
“All four leaders were there and said we’re gonna pass this somehow. We’ve gotta do some work. But that has not happened since 9/11. It certainly didn’t happen during the pandemic,” Aide Mark Holman said.
But America was unified then. And Mark Schweiker is deeply touched now. Remembering sacrifices made in those clear blue skies over Pennsylvania.
“Deora Bodley was the youngest passenger that day on Flight 93, her mother has said she took a stand for freedom,” Schweiker said as he choked up. “Forty passengers that day took a stand for freedom.”
Tom Ridge is recuperating at home in Erie from a stroke. But we’re hearing he will have a taped message for the state ahead of the 9/11 anniversary.