9/11: The significance of the tragedy, 20 years later
Genevieve Coleman and Dagny Brand | Friday, September 10, 2021
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Observer reached out to many individuals in the tri-campus regarding their experiences with 9/11 and how they believe the campus community can grow stronger from the tragedy of that day.
‘Rarely a day has gone by where I don’t give thought to the day and to the people.’
Ed Zier (ND ‘80) recently wrote “Undaunted”, a book about his personal history with 9/11. He stated that he frequently remembers the day and hopes others will do the same this weekend.
“During those 20 years, rarely a day has gone by where I don’t give thought to the day and to the people,” he said. “This weekend, we reflect on what happened that day: the horror, the sorrow and the unification that followed.”
Zier worked for Baseline Financial Services, which was located on the 77th and 78th floors of Two World Trade Center. Though he was not with his 16 coworkers when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, he was in awe of their courage as they faced unimaginable trauma.
“What amazed me that day was the fortitude and teamwork of my people,” Zier said. “They were all over the floor and somehow found each other. They tried different staircases, and when they finally decided to go down, it was pitch back, and it had dense white smoke and they all went in together.”
Sadly, according to Zier, four of these individuals died when the company’s offices were hit by the plane.
In the days following, Zier was heartened by the resilience of his team as they came together to rebuild the company.
“There was no office to meet at and discuss. We didn’t even see a shell of the building where we used to work — it was just gone,” Zier said. “So, as a team again, we pulled together, and on the Monday following 9/11, we started commuting people [to Philadelphia], and we resurrected the company.”
Four years later, Zier sat and wrote everything he could remember about the events of 9/11 and realized the importance of “this story of sorrow and resolve both.”
Having read many factual books on the event, Zier wanted to share the human perspective of the day.
“One group, how they were impacted, how they were hurt. How did they mourn? How did they dust themselves off?” he said. “It is in these personal stories that we realize the strength of the American people.”
Looking back on the events of 20 years ago, Zier says he has gained lasting knowledge about the United States as a country.
“We, as Americans, no matter who we are, are resolute people and we need to not forget that,” Zier noted.
He also urges the American people to not condemn populations that have become wrongfully implicated in the events of 9/11, such as the Muslim American community, who faced hate crimes at a rate 500% higher than average following the attacks.
“Hate combined with misunderstanding is brutal,” he said.
In reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we remember the horror of hatred and the strength in overcoming adversity. We also remember the first Notre Dame football game after 9/11, when our Band of the Fighting Irish came together with the band from Michigan State University to play an “Amazing Grace” tribute. One of the most tragic events in American history, 9/11 should be remembered as a time of coming together and surviving catastrophe.
‘The minute the second plane hit, everyone knew it wasn’t an accident anymore.’
Justin Patrick (ND ‘95) was teaching at the Naval Academy on the morning of 9/11. His wife Meghan (ND ‘95) was pregnant with the couple’s second child.
“[It was a] bright sunny day,” Patrick said. “Someone from another classroom started saying that one of the towers was burning, so we stopped teaching the kids and turned on the TV. It was so surreal.”
But less than 20 minutes later, Patrick knew that what was happening was not a mistake.
“The minute the second plane hit, everyone knew it wasn’t an accident anymore,” he said.
Amidst the confusion and terror, the two detailed a feeling of uncertainty that spread across the nation.
“We lived on a flight path — airplanes were flying constantly all the time,” Patrick said. “And then it was dead silent.”
As Meghan neared the end of her pregnancy, the military family was shocked at the increase in security at the Naval Academy grounds where they had once felt comfortable.
“I just remember walking into this hospital in labor with my baby, walking past Marines with guns and thinking, ‘What world are we bringing this baby into?’,” Meghan Patrick said.
Her husband questioned how the Naval Academy could continue its mission after the events of 9/11.
“The school teaches people to think about being world citizens,” Patrick said. “What would you fight for? How do we continue that level of messaging and that level of community outreach?”
‘I frantically began calling every relative I knew’
Saint Mary’s humanistic studies professor Jessalynn Bird noted that she was living in Chicago in September 2001 and was in disbelief when she heard that the World Trade Center was being attacked.
“At the time of the attacks on 9/11, I was trying to write an article and facing writer’s block,” Bird said. “When my partner at the time called from his office that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York, I didn’t believe him at first.”
Bird’s brother and sister-in-law worked in New York at the time, so when she heard the news about the plane collision into the first of the Towers, she thought immediately about the safety of her family.
“When I reluctantly came to the television screen, it was filled with images of one of the World Trade Towers in flames,” said Bird. “My first thought was that my brother often met with clients in the Towers, so I frantically began calling every relative I knew to see if he and his wife — who also worked in New York — were safe.”
According to Bird, she and her family saw the second tower fall while she tried to contact her brother.
“While we were scrabbling for phones and address books, the second tower was also hit, and while making calls, we watched in disbelief as they began to fall,” Bird noted. “We realized, with the second plane, that it was no accident.”
After some time, Bird learned that her family was safe, but like many other Americans, she continued to experience a flood of emotions throughout the day.
“Our feelings were of relief when we found out that our loved ones were safe, disbelief that this was happening, guilt that our friends and family were safe while others’ clearly were not, pride in the heroism of the first responders and fear that the same might happen to Chicago — for example, the Sears or Hancock towers — where my partner taught in the Loop,” Bird said.
Bird also thought about her friends who were Muslims in the aftermath of the attacks and feared for their safety with the rise of Islamophobia.
“After al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks and news of the other hijacked planes and their fates also emerged, I began to worry about my friends who might be targeted by angry and fearful Americans, particularly with the surge of ensuing Islamophobia and violence against individuals and groups labeled as ‘terrorists’, for example, simply because they wore head coverings or worshipped at a mosque,” she said.
Reflecting upon the events of 9/11 with the knowledge of today, Bird hopes the tri-campus thinks more about the impact of discriminating against marginalized groups who are often blamed for catastrophic events like 9/11 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would urge us to learn from both the Islamophobia arising from 9/11 and the anti-Asian hate crimes which proliferated during the COVID crisis,” Bird said. “We need to take the time to come to know people as individuals rather than profiling or discriminating against groups based on fake news, conspiracy theories or prejudice.”
Bird notes that America can still commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 while also avoiding the process of scapegoating certain communities.
“We ought to extend to others the benefit of the doubt and tolerance we wish for ourselves,” Bird noted. “We ought to learn to express genuine grief for those lost and admiration for the heroism of many while refusing to stigmatize a particular religion or culture for the actions of a few individuals.”
‘The fear of not knowing what was happening —and how broad it could reach — was terrifying.’
Saint Mary’s head cross country coach Jackie Bauters (SMC ‘04) clearly recalls her disorientation after hearing the news of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center on the radio.
“I asked what was being broadcast, and she told me a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center,” Bauters said. “My room was on the east side of Le Mans and I raced up the stairs and turned on the TV, where my roommate was just getting up to see the second plane crash into the other tower. And I just felt shock. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing — within no time, everything went crazy.”
As the news quickly spread, Bauters noted the fear of many students within the campus community who could not contact family members from New York.
“All of the cell towers were working overtime and no one could make calls [or] reach families,” she said. “The fear of not knowing what was happening — and how broad it could reach — was terrifying. Classmates had parents or siblings that worked in the towers or in part of the city and could not be reached. My brother was a senior at Notre Dame and I ended up running over just to feel safe — to be with family.”
Recalling the unity found on campus and around the country, Bauters said she was amazed by the positive reaction she experienced.
“The way the campuses and the nation responded was incredible,” Bauters said. “I don’t know if ever there was a time in my life that our country has been as patriotic as after 9/11. The coming together, lifting each other up and working as one America was so strong. The nation was mourning and everyone provided a shoulder to lean on.”
Bauters had a message for both those who lived through 9/11 and those who will learn about it as they grow up.
“My hope for the 20th anniversary of this tragic event is both a reminder to those that lived through it — we can do big, great things together if we choose to, and to those who weren’t old enough to know what was happening, take the time to honor those who sacrificed their lives that day.”
‘We must be mindful not to repeat the injustices, prejudices and profiling that some American Muslims suffered’
Political science chair Sean Savage was scheduled to teach a class at Saint Mary’s on the day of 9/11. Before his class started, Savage saw a TV broadcast of fire spreading through the World Trade Center.
“At approximately 10:20 a.m, I walked into the mailroom area of the Madeleva building. A TV screen was broadcasting the image of a tall building with black smoke billowing from it,” Savage said. “I went to my office and turned on my TV. At first, I thought that a fire began internally and accidentally within the World Trade Center.”
Thinking back to the state of the world after 9/11, Savage commented on the waves of support and dissent in response to the Patriot Act.
“Most Americans initially supported the USA Patriot Act — the broader discretionary authority of the president to locate and kill terrorists and the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan,” he said. “However, most Americans began to regret and oppose restrictions on and violations of civil liberties and internet privacy, especially toward Muslims living in this country.”
Savage concluded by reminding the tri-campus to be conscious of not perpetuating past practices of discrimination against the Muslim community.
“We must be mindful not to repeat the injustices, prejudices and profiling that some American Muslims have suffered immediately after 9/11,” Savage said. “As we learned from the post-World [War] I and post World [War] II Red Scares, people should not be persecuted for their political beliefs and associations of the past and present.”
‘It’s hard for me to remember the pain of Sept. 11th without also remembering the love and community felt on Sept. 12th.’
Saint Mary’s dean of students and alumna (‘04) Shay Schneider was a first-year at Saint Mary’s College at the time of 9/11. She remembers that she was shocked about the attacks and immediately worried for her sister who was in New York.
“[I was] walking into my McCandless Hall study carrel, being bombarded by more AOL Instant Messenger messages than I could handle — all asking if I had heard from my sister who had moved to [New York] just days before,” Schneider said. “Baffled at this question, I was told by one friend to turn on the TV — and when I did, my heart sank.”
Schneider clearly recalled being in class with other grieving Saint Mary’s students and how being in the College community comforted her.
“I remember feeling weak as I walked to my religious studies class that started at 9:30 — during which classes were canceled,” she said. “I remember sitting in class crying with other classmates — first-years to seniors. That day nothing mattered other than [knowing] we were Saint Mary’s women and we were there for each other.”
Schneider also noted her relief that her sister was safe and the recognition that she was a part of a caring community.
“I remember exactly who was sitting with me as I got the call from my mom that [my sister] Shannon (ND ‘01) was OK,” Schneider said. “I remember standing on South Quad surrounded by the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross community and praying outside of McCandless with Saint Mary’s faculty, staff and students. I remember feeling so small but also feeling calm knowing I was exactly where I needed to be — protected with and by the sisterhood that I had developed in just a few short weeks.”
Schneider admitted that these moments reinforced her sense of belonging at the College.
“I wouldn’t say I had the easiest transition my first year, but I attribute many of these experiences to the moments I saw Saint Mary’s and our tri-campus community as something different and so special,” she said.
Looking back on the time after 9/11, Schneider believes that the country became more unified in the wake of the attacks.
“I like to think the events of that day and the growth that came from it was all for the positive — and our country came together in a big way,” Schneider said. “It’s hard for me to remember the pain of Sept. 11th without also remembering the love and community felt on Sept. 12th.”
Schneider also argues that the events of 9/11 will never be forgotten.
“The significance of 20 years is that we will never forget those days [and] that experience,” Schneider said. “It’s a time burned in our history, where we will have the vivid memories of where we were in those exact moments.”
In terms of commemorating 9/11 as a tri-campus community, Schneider encourages the community to continue growing in unity, like in the days that followed the attacks.
“It’s important to look back and remember where we were, how far we’ve come and to continue to build our nation and individual communities through togetherness, support and love — no matter our differences,” she said.