CLARKSBURG -- Local FBI worker Jay Bolyard first learned he was going to Ground Zero about the time the second jet hit the World Trade Center towers.
"My unit chief ... walked around and started pointing at people," Bolyard told a small crowd gathered at the Harrison County Courthouse for an early 9/11 remembrance. "That night, I had a bag packed and was ready to go."
The Wednesday presentation served as the county's two-year memorial of coordinated terrorist acts that killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. It was primarily attended by area law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency and public-service workers.
Bolyard thought at first that he would be helping at the makeshift morgue. But when the recovery effort yielded few bodies or parts from which the local FBI team could lift prints, he was transferred to a job more in line with his expertise as an information technology specialist.
The Preston County resident was charged with helping New York City turn an old garage into the command center that would eventually serve 750 workers from the FBI and various city, state and federal agencies.
Amid oil stains, folding chairs and wiring suspended from the ceiling, Bolyard led the team that set up the satellite and computer network that allowed the diverse group to share information 24 hours a day.
These were people who wouldn't have even been talking together prior to 9/11, he said.
Proud that he was able to contribute to the recovery in that way, Bolyard said the strongest memories he has of a three-week and a two-week stint at Ground Zero are much more low-tech.
"It was just hitting all of your senses," he said, noting the acidic taste of the air, the smell of burnt steel and destruction so extensive it seems a miracle the debris has been removed even two years later.
Walking through inches of ash everywhere he went was also among his strongest memories.
"It reminded me of baby powder. It would just kind of puff out when you walked."
There were also recovery images, particularly of crushed emergency vehicles and firefighters working on the scene. Bolyard shared several of those more visual memories with a series of still photographs and a video contributed by a New York police officer.
Bolyard said he tried to mentally sort through such experiences on the four-hour helicopter ride back to the FBI's local center. When he arrived, he was greeted by a psychologist who asked if he had changed. At first, he said "no," but later knew differently.
"How could you not be changed?" he asked. "The simple things mean more to me."
At the beginning of the hour-long presentation, Harrison County Commissioner Ron Watson also read a proclamation honoring area emergency responders and asking citizens to observe a moment of silent prayer at noon today in memory of those who died in the attacks.
Steve Glass, an employee of the U.S. Small Business Administration, read a second proclamation echoing the call to silent prayer and asking area federal employees to remember fallen emergency responders by supporting the United Way campaign and directing random acts of kindness toward emergency responders today.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org