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Fifteen years ago, 2,996 people died during the largest terrorist attack on United States soil. Americans memorialize their lives every year to remind the world of terrorism’s destructive powers.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City, N.Y. Minutes later, another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The final plane, commonly known as “Flight 93,” crash-landed into a Pennsylvania field. Many people in the United States, including those on Butler’s campus, were impacted by the tragic event.
Christine Taylor, associate professor of creative media and entertainment, vividly remembers being on Butler’s campus this day. The Fairbanks Center recently opened, and the digital recording studios were not fully operational. After news of the attack, the students and Taylor recognized it would be important to broadcast the event. Despite the fact they were not in a position to record a show, students interviewed staff and other students around campus.
“We really felt that we needed to have a presence from the electronic journalism students,” Taylor said.
The journalism students interviewed other Butler students as well as speaking with Butler University’s president at the time. The show was produced by the students in the Fairbanks broadcast studio.
“That time was connected to Butler for me—connected to those events,” Taylor said. “When I walk into the studio, I still see it in my head.”
Taylor listened to anniversary broadcasts. She said she realizes students in high school now have no real memories of 9/11.
“I think for people my age and older, or even more middle age, it is still pretty prevalent,” Taylor said. “For most of us, that’s when we really started to grasp the idea of terrorism and that it could impact us in the United States.”
In the midst of this devastation, Taylor said she learned a life lesson.
“These things happen,” Taylor said. “Although there are bad people in the world, we do not have to be among them.”
Taylor said she wanted people to remember how the event brought the nation together.
“I think that’s what I want people to touch base with, not the evil part, but the part of compassion,” Taylor said, “Where people did really join together and say, ‘We’re better than this.’”
Elisabeth Giffin, a visiting instructor for critical communication and media studies, was at a different school during the attacks.
She was in sixth grade on 9/11. She was in school on the day of the attack and remembers sitting in front of the only television in the building when the second plane hit live.
“I remember having nightmares months after about buildings falling on my school,” Giffin said. “I was trying to call my mom and say, ‘There’s a building, I don’t know how it got there, but it’s falling on our school,’ then not being able to reach her and her not believing me.”
Giffin said she thinks people should be taught the history of the event and have a general awareness of its effects.
“The idea of memorializing it is important,” Giffin said. “It’s something that happened, and something that brought us together as a nation before dividing us again. We should honor those who sacrificed a lot and lost their lives.”
Some people watched that sacrifice happen on live TV.
Professor of psychology Robert Dale was at home when he turned on his television set and saw the event play out. He said he understood the event’s importance and began to record it on his VCR. Peter Jennings, a reporter for ABC News, covered the World Trade Center when the second tower was hit.
“I remember him staring at the image and not really knowing what to say,” Dale said. “Seeing a very experienced reporter, lost for words at this 100-plus story building collapsing, was never expected. It was completely horrific.”
Dale returned to campus during the day and began to formulate a survey with psychology professor Neil Bohannon for students and staff. The questionnaire asked where they were during the attack and their general reactions.
Dale said he was shocked by the event, but not completely. During his lifetime he had seen the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the reactions from his teachers and parents.
“First of all, I remember being horrified,” Dale said. “Second, realizing that I was witnessing a turning point in history.”
From a psychological point of view, Dale said he related the attack to the natural primate instinct humans inhibit.
“We have great power to be creative and great power to be destructive,” Dale said. “It’s helpful for us to know our limitations. Being aware of our weaknesses helps us manage them. If we deny that they exist, we can be controlled by them.”
Students were too young to have such a nuanced memory of the event, like Dale does. But they remember it from their young perspective.
Senior Nate Dixon was six years old. Junior Dena Cortopassi was five. First-year Mimi Hyre was four. First-years Faith Heminger and Ethan Cunningham were three.
Cortopassi was watching “Dragon Tales” at home with her grandma. Her aunt called to tell them to switch the channel to the news.
“I had no idea what anything meant, but I could tell my grandma was very upset by it,” Cortopassi said. “She was telling me that my grandpa used to work in the World Trade Center. She tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Hyre recalls the dark sky when her mom picked her up from preschool. She lived 15 minutes away from the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
“It was just really a sad environment because if you didn’t know someone personally that was affected, you knew someone that did know someone,” Hyre said.
Her friend’s mom was at the Pentagon and survived. She said she realizes now how lucky her friend’s mom was.
Cunningham’s father was in New York City staying at a hotel for a conference.
“If the attack had been seven days later, I’m not sure my dad would be alive,” Cunningham said. “He was supposed to be in one of the World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 18.”
Cunningham now knows how fortunate his father was.
“God watched over my dad and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to push that conference back so that way you’re not there and you can be the good father that you are right now,’” Cunningham said.
Being 3-years-old, Cunningham does not have a strong recollection of what happened. He only remembers bits and pieces, such as his mother calling to ask if he and his grandma were OK and his parents crying when his father came home.
Hyre does not remember much of 9/11, but she said she does remember the heightened security afterwards. Suddenly, she could not walk as close to the White House as she could before.
Dixon said he remembers watching the news with his parents, only knowing something terrible had happened.
Heminger said she remembers her frazzled and panicked mother picking her and her brother up from daycare.
Cortopassi said she remembers being very confused when afternoon kindergarten class was cancelled. When her older brother and sister came home from school, they may not have known what a terrorist attack was, but they knew America was attacked and understood how horrible it was.
“I think because I noticed how much it affected my family members, and how upset they were…it made it stick in my memory,” Cortopassi said.
Today, high school freshmen are the oldest generation who were not alive for 9/11 — when the Towers crumbled, when the plane struck the Pentagon, when the passengers of Flight 93 stopped the third plane from reaching its destination.
“If you haven’t lived in it, you can’t completely relate to what it was like but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you,” Dixon said. “It’s as much as part of my history as it is anybody else’s history before or after me.”
Being from Chappaqua, New York about an hour from New York City, Cunningham’s history classes emphasized 9/11. His teachers explained why it happened at a basic level — that there was a group of people who did not agree with American ideals.
Cunningham said before 9/11, New Yorkers viewed themselves as “bigger, bolder and badder” than everybody else.
“I think New Yorkers have grown a little more humble ever since 9/11,” Cunningham said. “The whole country showed we’ll be united no matter where you attack, what you attack, why you attack. We’ll stand together. I think New Yorkers have appreciated that.”
In elementary school, Heminger said she always stood for the moment of silence for the Fallen Heros, but she never knew what it actually meant until roughly 5th or 6th grade. Even then, she said the teachers only told her what happened and not why it happened.
Heminger, who is an elementary education major, may teach about 9/11 to kids as young as five years old.
“It’s a very dark subject and hard for kids to wrap their heads around,” Heminger said. “It is a tragic event but they need to have this feeling of security that they’re safe where they are.”
She said 9/11 is important to teach in schools because it should not be forgotten. Not because it was so tragic, but because there is so much America and other countries can learn from it.
“It’s kind of like figuring out what can we do to make ourselves better so it doesn’t remain a tragedy,” Heminger said. “This is what we need to do to rise above that Ground Zero.”
No matter how it is remembered, that day will never be forgotten.
Sept. 11, 2001. The World Trade Center fell. The Pentagon collapsed. Planes crashed.
Rubble and debris shattered an illusion of what was safe.
Fifteen years pass, and memories vary by how each individual remembers 9/11. Memories of students sent out for interviews, trying to grasp the tumultuous emotions on campus.
A reporter lost for words as he stared at the collapsed towers. Dragon Tales cut short, suddenly switched to smoke and fire. The dark sky.
But on the fallen rubble and debris, in the smoke with the dark sky as the background, three firefighters raise the American flag.