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Five years later, campus recalls terror attacks

Kaitlynn Riely | Monday, September 11, 2006

Junior Rachel Cota was fixing her hair on a September morning five years ago when – in an instant – taking a good sophomore yearbook picture didn’t seem so important anymore.

Cota’s mom came into her bathroom to tell her that terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“I remember feeling horrible that I was just straightening my hair and people were losing their lives,” Cota said.

Cota went to school that day, mostly to show that the terrorists had not disrupted her normal routine, but pictures were cancelled.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 19 hijackers crashed four commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a rural field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the attacks, later attributed to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

To commemorate the anniversary of the attacks, Cota said she plans to attend a Sept. 11 memorial service, hosted by the Notre Dame ROTC units, today at 7 a.m. in front of the Hesburgh Library.

Ralph “Lefty” Guillette, 76, a part-time student at Notre Dame, will speak at the ceremony. He plans to discuss leadership in the military based on his experience in the Marine Corps and his combat service in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Guillette said he wants to tell those at the service that the men and women who died on Sept. 11 and those who have died since then in the war on terror – in the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address – “shall not have died in vain.”

Since that day, Cota said, she is more aware of the fragility of life.

“I think one of my biggest fears would be dying in an accident like that and not being able to tell the people I love how much they mean to me,” she said. “… I never end a conversation with someone without saying ‘I love you.'”

Guillette said he loves life and is living out his dream of attending Notre Dame. But he worries that, five years later, people have gone back to normal. He cited his hometown of Burlington, Vt. as an example and said during the months following Sept. 11, about 85 percent of homes displayed flags. Now, only about 20 percent do, he said.

“Freedom is not free but we think it is,” Guillette said. “I think the American public has fallen by the wayside as far as remembering Sept. 11.”

Political science professor David Campbell said Sept. 11 has moved into “the middle of Americans’ minds.”

“Immediately after 9/11, there was a lot of evidence that Americans became more caring and trusting in each other and more involved in their communities,” Campbell said. “But that dissipated after three months.”

While it was a turning point in American history, Americans for the most part have reverted back to pre-Sept. 11 life, Campbell said, pointing out that partisanship is once again a characteristic of American political life.

Junior Evan Williamson said people may not talk about Sept. 11 as much or have big plans to commemorate the anniversary, but that does not mean they have forgotten it.

“I think people are moving on with what’s important,” Williamson said. “You don’t want to forget about it, but you don’t want it to cripple your life.”

Williamson said the terrorist attacks did remove the “aura of invincibility” that Americans may have felt prior to that date.

After the attacks, security concerns were a major fear for many Americans. The Department of Homeland Security was formed and airports strengthened their security measures. Cota said she flies all the time but tries not to worry about the threat of another terror attack.

“I think it would be very easy to become obsessed with worrying,” she said. “I feel like you can live your whole life in fear or you can focus on the good things around you.”

Guillette said he thinks Americans are safer today than they were five years ago. He said he trusts the government and the CIA to uncover terrorist plots and prevent them from happening.

Guillette said people need to practice patience and comply with the new airport safety procedures.

“I think what we are doing at the airports is great,” Guillette said. “It’s better to spend three hours checking in than to check out in the air.”

Campbell said although the government has uprooted the al-Qaeda movement, future terrorist attacks remain a possibility.

“We will always be at risk of a terrorist attack,” Campbell said. “And that could come from al-Qaeda or an affiliate, or it could come from an entirely different group.”

In addition to the ROTC service, University President Father John Jenkins will preside at a 5:15 Mass at the Grotto. At 8:30 p.m., a candlelight prayer vigil will be held on the South Quad at the flagpole. The Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry will sponsor a memorial prayer service at 4:30 p.m. at the Stapleton Lounge.

Guillette said as Americans celebrate the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, they need to stop taking freedom for granted and honor the soldiers, past and present, who have fought for freedom.

“Just say thank you,” he said.

Campbell said Notre Dame students should learn from the example of Americans in the months following the attacks.

“They have a responsibility of remembering that three month period after 9/11 when Americans were brought together,” he said.