There are certain moments in life that one remembers with vivid clarity no matter what amount of time has passed. For those who lived through the attacks on the Twin Towers, the memory is as clear now as ever.
Indeed, Ellen McCloskey, assistant to President Deborah Stanley, said that is difficult for her to believe that 10 years have passed since that tragedy shook America.
On September 11, 2001, news spread quickly on Oswego State’s campus. At 8:50 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first tower of the World Trade Center. Minutes later, at 9:04 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 hit the second tower. Within hours phones were ringing off the hook, McCloskey said. Parents were afraid. Students were shocked. A sense of fear swept across campus.
“But then there was a profound sadness as an American,” she said. “All you wanted to do was hug the people you love.”
People who were in the area at the time can still recall the smells, the sights and the sounds. Dust filled the air. Sirens droned on. People searched for their loved ones. Melanie Trexler, the executive director for the United Way of Greater Oswego County, will never forget the experience. She lived close to the towers. When the first collapsed, she was standing on the roof of her apartment building. Her heart sank when she saw the scene. It was a traumatizing thing to witness, she said.
Before she could do anything, though, she said she needed to make sure her children were safe. She hurried through the city to pick them up from school. Children were crying, Trexler said. Their parents had been in those towers.
Close to her home, a temporary medical station was set up to assist those who were injured in the tragedy. When she returned home, Trexler went down to help. There was nothing for her to do.
“It was a very eerie sensation because no one came….everyone had perished [in the towers]. I get chills just thinking about it.”
The amount of people who were lost was shocking. About 3,000 people are estimated to have died that day.
“What I remember most were those ghostly faces asking, ‘Have you seen someone?’,” Trexler said.
Stanley was in a conference on the Oswego State campus that morning. She was discussing plans to fly in people for an upcoming golf tournament. When she heard the news, she knew that no one was going to be flying anywhere, she said.
Her thoughts switched instantly to the students. She knew that the college has a great population from downstate. This tragedy hit close to home for most. She quickly gathered a group of about 13 people in that first hour after hearing the news. Plans were hatched!
They needed music and a place to gather, Stanley said. Big-screen TV’s were placed in public places to watch news coverage. People consoled each other. Students came together, Stanley said.
“It was very organic what happened. Students naturally gathered [in the quad],” McCloskey said. “[Faculty members] just wanted to be with the students.”
By the time night fell on campus, the quad was full. Each student was given a candle that they lit from the flame of other students. They clutched their candles and bowed their heads. Voices quietly whispered and people stood together. Then Stanley said a few words.
“In your generosity and compassion for those suffering in loss and confusion, share their pain; offer your strength and support, and give comfort and attention,” she said in her speech. “Hold one another close while we grieve for the enormous wound of today.”
About 12 alumni died in the attack.
Professor Donna Steiner, of the creative writing department, who was teaching in Tucson, AZ at the time, recalls how her students felt that day.
“There was so much emotion,” Steiner said. “The students were ready to enlist and go fight this phantom enemy.
When the first tower was hit, Steiner thought it was a freak accident. But when the second tower was hit, her own emotions turned to shock, she said.
“It wasn’t surprising to me that there could be people in this world who hated this country…but as far as cultural experiences go, I don’t think that anything could seem so incomprehensible and, simultaneously, sadly understandable.”
After ten years, people remember the day in different ways. For Oswego State student Seth Wallach, the attack on 9/11 is something that his family rarely ever talks about. Wallach was in school at William E. Deluca Elementary School when students started getting picked up in the middle of the day. No one knew why. When Wallach’s mother picked him up, she explained what happened. Wallach’s father worked in New York City as a product manager for a bank when the event happened. He was close to the towers.
Wallach’s said his biggest fear was that his father was dead. The family waited by the phone, hoping for news. When he finally walked through the door, everyone was overwhelmed with relief. His father, however, couldn’t believe what he had seen.
“He actually had some of the dust on his jacket when he came home,” Wallach said. “He was…in a trance though. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.”
On Sunday, Oswego will hold a “quiet remembrance” of that tragic day, Stanley said. During the National Day of Service and Remembrance, students will be joining in community service projects to honor lives lost. More than 150 freshmen are expected to participate, according to an article on the Oswego website.
Beyond community service and compassion toward others, however, all we can do is “pray that nothing like that happens again,” Trexler said.