Statue of Liberty on September 11, 2001. (Associated Press)
[Author's note: this post is an excerpt from The Gentlemen of Gloucester, a book available here on Amazon.]
On September 11, 2001, Josh West switched on the TV to watch the morning news as he dressed for work. To his astonishment, the World Trade Center was on fire from a jet that had slammed into the North Tower. “What a terrible tragedy,” he sighed, as he carried on with his morning routine. But then, as he left the house, his father shouted out the window that a second plane had just plunged into the other tower. “One plane crash may be an accident,” thought Josh, “but two are an attack!”
Bursting with adrenaline, he tucked a .45 caliber pistol into his belt, threw a 12-gauge shotgun and a Ruger Mini 14 rifle into the trunk of his car, and drove to the Armory with the urgency of a Minuteman rushing to the village green at Lexington or Concord. At the NCO Club, he found other Troopers also arriving—Philadelphia Minutemen, dressed in Brooks Brothers attire, and armed to the teeth! For the rest of the morning, they watched the news and telephoned friends to see what was going on around the country.
West’s cell phone rang with an urgent call from Logan Fenstermacher, an A-Troop NCO who lived out in rural Pennsylvania. Fenstermacher had been stocking military supplies for years, waiting for some catastrophe to occur in which he could put his preparedness to use. Unable to contain his excitement, he shouted, “Lt. West, I just saw the news and am on my way! What should I bring!?” Equally enthused, West roared back, “Glad you called! Get your ass down here and bring everything you got!” Three hours later, Fenstermacher’s van screeched into drill hall, laden with various weapons, equipment, and 11,000 rounds of 5.56 ammunition (for M16 rifles) and 6,000 rounds of 7.62 (for machine guns). The National Guard had not been officially activated, but true to their colonial roots, the First City Troop was armed and ready.
Now everyone braced for what might come next. The common sentiment was, “Is this the beginning of a nation-wide coordinated attack?” Philadelphia had tall buildings too, you know. Maybe not as tall as all those mammoths in Manhattan, but tall enough to be hit by rogue airplanes! News came that Washington, D.C. had also been hit. Some Troopers wondered if the bastards might attack one of Philadelphia’s many icons, like Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell.
Expecting to see large buildings blowing up around him at any minute, one Trooper stood watch on the Armory roof all day with a radio and binoculars. West, who described himself as having been in a state of “hyper-vigilance,” phoned the Philadelphia Parking Authority and demanded that they tow all the cars parked near the Armory to form a cordon on 24th Street. The Parking Authority, equally alarmed, readily agreed. West then insisted that they block off 23rd Street as well, but they told him that to block up two arteries through that section of Rittenhouse would be overdoing it.
At the next Troop business meeting, a charming thing occurred. Captain Eric Guenther stood up and produced a large sheet of paper, the same size as a broad sheet that Trooper Jonathan Dunlap might have had at his print shop in 1776. Printed in florid language, it declared that the Troop would serve the Governor of Pennsylvania however, whenever, and wherever needed. One by one, each man in the room walked up to the Captain’s table and signed the document with all the solemnity of the original Gentlemen of Gloucester who first mustered at Carpenters’ Hall. Guenther then sealed it and sent it to the Adjutant General in Harrisburg.