Every September, as the first signs of fall creep in, Durango resident Rebecca Marchand’s husband is heavier on her mind than usual.
Alfred Marchand was 44 when he died aboard United Airlines Flight 175, the aircraft that hit the World Trade Center’s South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001. It was the second jet to crash into the towers – just 18 minutes earlier, American Airlines Flight 11 had slammed into the North Tower.
He was among 2,977 people who were killed that day when 19 terrorists hijacked four airliners, two of which were flown into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one that crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when passengers tried to overtake the hijackers.
Alfred, known as “Al,” was a United Airlines flight attendant, retired police officer in New Mexico, father, stepfather and husband. He was a man who joked with strangers that his job was to turn the light on for the K-Mart “blue light specials,” and with a straight face would recite the story told in the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song to his kids.
“He was such a clown,” Rebecca said. “He was always laughing.”
The two met when Rebecca was 17, living in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and a detective came to her door to question her about a neighbor who was in trouble. Al was with the detective as a trainee. Because Rebecca was a minor, her mother was livid that the two police officers had spoken to her daughter.
“She made a big deal of that, and every time I heard his name, I just thought, ‘Ew, he’s a cop,’” Marchand said. But Al was a regular at a local restaurant where she waited tables, and through his “patient persistence,” they eventually married.
Early on Sept. 11, 15 years ago, Rebecca was in Boston, visiting Al, who was scheduled to work Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles. Rebecca was flying too, back to New Mexico. When the couple said goodbye that morning, they didn’t realize it was for the last time.
Rebecca was waiting for her connecting flight to take off from Denver, when a kid sitting next to her read from his palm pilot that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“I’m a small-town girl from New Mexico,” said Rebecca, who later moved to Durango. “I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was. It wasn’t until I heard the term ‘terrorism’ on the radio the next day that I realized he had been murdered; it wasn’t just a plane crash. Terrorism? I knew what it was, but we didn’t use that term in our country. It didn’t seem real.”
Fifteen years later, Rebecca said it’s no easier to remember that day.
“You think they’re going to get easier,” Rebecca said of the anniversaries. “But when the fall weather starts to set in, we start to struggle. You know it’s going to be televised.”
Al’s death changed not only her world but the worlds of her two sons, Dakota and Trae, and Al’s son, Josh. Rebecca said Al was a “great stepfather,” teaching her boys one of his favorite hobbies: how to waterski barefoot.
“He was a lovely man. I wish everyone could have known him,” Rebecca said. “But the motto is: Never forget. It’s America’s story, and it was everyone’s tragedy.”