On September 11 2021, I attended the 20th anniversary ceremony at the Flight 93 Memorial. Family members of the passengers and the former Architect of the Capitol took turns reading the names of the heroes that day, and remarks were made by Captain David Kurtz of the USS Somerset, (named in honor of Somerset County, Pennsylvania where the plane went down), US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Former President George W. Bush, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Gordon Felt, brother of passenger Edward Felt. Their speeches paid tribute to those who on that day sacrificed their lives so that others may live and also warned about how risks to our nation not only come from the outside but also from within.
Even now, twenty years later, the memory of the day itself is clear in my mind. I started work at Eastern in 1999 and was on campus the day of the attacks.
I was working at the circulation desk in the library at the time. Around 9 a.m. my supervisor’s wife called and asked to speak to her husband. I overheard him ask something about a bomb. After he hung up, he walked over to me and said, “Terrorists just bombed the World Trade Center”. Details were still sketchy and he had thought someone managed to reach the upper floors. I attempted to reach several news websites to find out more, but due to the massive number of people accessing them, all the sites I tried to access were overloaded, and a few of them were down.
Knowing the Walton lounge had a television, I asked my supervisor if I could be excused. When I got there, people were gathered around watching events unfold. Students walking down from the dining commons, unaware of what was going on, were chatting happily with friends and noticed all the distraught people watching the television. Once they realized what happened, the expression on their faces changed. By this time, both towers had been hit. Virtually every channel, both on the radio and television, cancelled their regular programming to run coverage of the attacks.
I returned to the Walton lounge and saw news of the Pentagon being hit coming on CNN’s ticker, and I was there later when the towers fell; a number of students began to hold hands and join each other in prayer and others broke down in tears.
Then came the announcement that classes had been cancelled for the remainder of the day. That night, an impromptu prayer vigil was held on the ball field. University Chaplain, Joe Modica spoke to me recently saying, “Simply, our entire community on the St. Davids campus gathered on the men’s baseball field for prayer and support at around noon after all classes and events were canceled. Hundreds of people gathered with many tears, worries and confusion. We prayed as a large group as well as in smaller groups. It lasted for about an hour (I think)”.
I did not attend the service on campus as I went to my local church instead. At the end of the service the pastor announced that, despite all the day’s events, he would conduct his benediction in the usual manner. His concern about how people may react to him saying “render to no person evil for evil” in light of what happened was understandable.
In the aftermath, Tony Campolo, who had been scheduled to give a Windows on the World presentation that Friday, was forced to reschedule it until the spring semester as he was out of the country and unable to return home due to all civilian air traffic in the country being shut down.
Now, most, if not all of our students were not born yet or were too young to remember that day. It is my hope that these students will now have some insight about how some members of Eastern’s community responded to the day’s events.