Rescue & Recovery: In Their Voices With Philip J. Smith
A special Salute to Service edition of our "In Their Own Voices" series, highlighting Philip J. Smith, an Army personnel officer who was working in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
The Museum is still actively accepting contributions to its collection that honor those killed on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Our staff feels privileged and is committed to learning more about the individual lives of those remembered inside of our Memorial Exhibition. A guest blog post by Curatorial Assistant Dylan Williams highlights newly acquired photographs and stories about Ana Gloria Pocasangre de Barrera, killed on United Flight 175, as shared by her family, with whom the author met in southern California.
On the morning of September 11, Ana Gloria Pocasangre de Barrera found herself running late for her flight out of Boston Logan International Airport. This wasn’t uncommon for Ana Gloria (known as “Gloria” or, more affectionately among family, “Yaya”). She often felt compelled to make one last stop at a store or vendor before her departures in order to bring things home for her family in the city of Soyapango in San Salvador. Ana Gloria was a frequent flyer, working as a courier for years to transport food products and textiles between the United States and San Salvador. On this particular job, she had been paid to help escort an older woman from El Salvador to family living in Massachusetts. This morning’s Los Angeles-bound flight would be the first leg of her return travels. Despite a close call, Ana Gloria arrived just in time to board Flight 175 – the flight that would shortly thereafter be hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Across the country in California, Ana Gloria’s two brothers, Pedro and Wilfredo Pocasangre, became increasingly anxious as more information about the unfolding attacks became public. When news broke that one of the hijacked planes belonged to United Airlines, they began to worry about Ana Gloria, who they knew was en route from Boston and almost exclusively flew on United. Over 22 years later, Pedro still recalls hoping against hopes that his sister had missed her flight. He called the family in Boston that had hired Ana Gloria, and they confirmed that she had made it to her gate in time. Around 11 am PT, Wilfredo called United Airlines and learned that she was in fact onboard Flight 175. He then called their parents, Maria Luisa and Alfredo, back in Soyapango, to relay the world-shattering news that Ana Gloria was gone.
Ana Gloria was considered a pillar of the Pocasangre family and was like a second mother to her five siblings. Born in San Salvador in 1952, her drive to provide for her family and community was evident even at the young age of 12, when she expressed to her parents a desire to begin working. As a young adult, she quickly became a busy and versatile businessperson, opening a popular pupuseria and a Salvadoran restaurant, El Pipirin, near the former U.S. embassy. Ana Gloria later married Ernesto Barrera and lived with him, three of their five children, and two stepchildren from Ernesto’s prior marriage. Two children lived in the U.S. She also began working as a transnational courier, using a travel visa to carry things like quesillo (a soft cheese used in pupusas) to Salvadoran families and businesses in the U.S. Motivated by the economic promises of America, she sometimes made as many as three trips a month, which allowed her to see her children here. Prior to her death, Ana Gloria had expressed that the Boston job would be her last one, as she had almost saved up enough money to establish her own store.
Ana Gloria’s generosity was as limitless as her work ethic. An avid cook, she loved preparing meals for her large family gatherings – something did as recently as July 2001, for her 49th birthday celebration. Her kindness also extended well beyond her immediate family. When her brother Pedro married his wife Maricela in 1988, Ana Gloria represented the family matriarch and patriarch, who were unable to make the trip to the U.S. Pedro and Maricela still recall how warmly Ana Gloria welcomed Maricela as the newest member of the Pocasangre family. Some of their fondest memories from the wedding include Pedro and his sister dancing the night away – another passion in which Ana Gloria often indulged.
Like so many other families who lost a loved one on 9/11, the Pocasangres never received any of Ana Gloria’s remains. In the fall of 2001, her siblings living inthis country were able to organize a memorial mass in Garden Grove, California. Despite not having a body for the service, a church accommodated them due to the incredible circumstances of the attacks. To the surprise of the family, Ana Gloria’s mass was attended by friends and associates from across the U.S. and beyond, demonstrating the admiration and reverence so many had for her. Back in El Salvador, the Pocasangres held another memorial service and placed a headstone with her photo at one of the family’s burial plots. Every September 11th for nearly a decade afterwards, her parents organized an annual mass to remember Ana Gloria at the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Soyapango. Ana Gloria was very religious and strong in faith; in times of difficulty, her family knows that her final moments were spent holding her personal bible that she carried everywhere.
More than 22 years later, the Pocasangres continue to live with the loss of Ana Gloria as they ensure that her legacy lives on. Pedro and Wilfredo Pocasangre traveled to New York City for the first time in 2021, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and attended our milestone commemoration. The following year, they returned with their children and grandchildren as a way of passing down the 9/11 legacy and Ana Gloria's life story. While time has yet to fully heal the wounds inflicted on the Pocasangre family in 2001, they carry with them the irreplaceable memories and important values that Ana Gloria embodied – things that shall never be erased from the memory of time.
By Dylan Williams, Curatorial Assistant