Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Twenty years ago, last week, some 2,606 people died when terrorists rammed two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City.
One of them was Leonard Anthony White, a Norfolk native who was on the 110th floor of the second tower when the second plane struck it, killing 640 people in that structure.
Each year, White’s name and those of the other victims of the most vicious attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor are read at the site of the attack by family members or other participants during a Memorial Service in New York.
This year White’s niece April Joyner, who lives in Harlem, read his name during the 20th Anniversary Service.
Recently, two of White’s siblings, Nelson White and Shirley Nottingham, shared their memories with the GUIDE about their brother.
Both say he left his mark on the lives of many family members and friends in Hampton Roads and elsewhere, due to his generosity and love of art and life.
Nottingham said she was the last person to hear his voice.
“My brother and I would talk to each other almost every day,” she told the GUIDE. “He spoke various languages and he would call and say “Bon Jour” or a greeting in another language…he spoke several.”
Nottingham said that tradition was held on the fateful morning of 9-11 twenty years ago.
Leonard Anthony White, his sister said, was a long-time Verizon technician. He had retired, but he continued to troubleshoot for the company for customers.
He usually worked from the company headquarters on the 20th floor of the tower. But on that fateful morning when he called, he was on the 110th floor of the Second Tower of the WTC, she said.
“When he called that morning we were talking as usual,” she recalled. “Then suddenly he said that a plane had just struck the first tower. He then hung up.”
“He called back and as we were talking, he said that he heard an alarm,” she continued. “He said, ‘I hear the alarm we got to get out of here…I will talk to you later.”’
“Those were the last words I heard from him,” Nottingham said. “I will never forget that moment or those words.”
For ten years after that day, Nottingham and various siblings and other relatives joined the thousands at the site of the attack to attend the memorial service.
This year, because she is over 80 and pending knee surgery, as well as the COVID-19 climate, she decided not to attend.
She had planned to attend the memorial last year, but due to the COVID-Pandemic, it was canceled.
At some point, the Memorial Foundation of WTC secured some of her brother’s artwork, notably his collection of giraffes, to put on display at the site. The foundation organized a museum and fashioned several displays to recognize the lives of WTC victims, including Leonard White’s. It is still open although it was closed until recently due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Some man from Kentucky researched and found me,” said Nottingham. “He saw the display. He admired my brother artwork of giraffes and he sent me one he did to honor my brother.”
Nottingham said her brother, who was 57 on the day he died, was a man who appreciated art, the theater, and other cultures.
“Anthony will always be with us,” said Nottingham, a former Norfolk Public Schools educator. “In my home and the home of my family, there are things he gave us which allow us to remember him every day. There is the love and generosity he gave his nieces and nephews especially. Every year at this time, people call and talk about how they remember Anthony.”
Leonard Anthony White was one of six sons, according to Nelson White, an older brother who, like his sister Shirley, lives in Hampton Roads.
He recalls attending only the 10th Anniversary Memorial gathering. He said he did not like the large crowds; more so during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
White said he looks at the past 20 years through the twin lenses of history and politics.
Many of the families of the 9-11 victims would like to see a full report of the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government in the event, including White.
Although much of the content was redacted, still hiding much of the mystery, the White House last weekend released a 16-page report, which only partially answered the conspiracy theories which have been amassed over the years.
The nation’s 20th anniversary of 9-11 coincides with the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan and the return of Taliban control of the government and Al Qaeda taking up position.
Two decades ago Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Ladin plotted the 9-11 attack which struck the WTC, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C..
Another plane, believed bound for the U.S. Capitol, crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers and crew thwarted the hijacking terrorists from commandeering it.
After the attack, the Bush-Chaney administration launched an attack on Afghanistan which dislodged the Taliban-controlled government and disbursed Al Qaeda from Afghanistan.
Thus, the global war on terror began and the plan to bring democracy to the country was launched.
After 20 years in Afghanistan, thousands of American military lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent, the recent exit of U.S. Ambassadors and military personnel from Afghanistan is sparking debate about the effort’s success.
Nelson White said that his brother’s devotion to his family, especially the new generation, his generosity and his love of art and life, will be lasting memories for him and those who knew him.
“We all grew up in Campostella,” said Nelson White. “He was the middle child and the only one who left Norfolk for New York and never looked back. He wanted to explore the world and be himself and live his life. Too bad it ended the way it did.”