UD Remembers 9/11

Remembering 9/11 

Sept. 10, 2002--For most of us, the memory of Sept. 11 is still vivid. It is embedded in the moment that morning when we learned a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.

Some UD faculty, staff and students here share their memories.

Zaki Abdelhamid, graduate student, Professional Theater Training Program

I arrived at the Hartshorn building at around 9 a.m. Several of my fellow students were gathered around the computer looking at images of the first tower in flames. Although the images were shocking, it didn't affect me in the way it did an hour later. After all, I didn't know what had really happened.

An hour later I went to the Scrounge, and stared at the big screen TV with horror. When I saw the towers collapse, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I broke down feeling pain in my heart, a pain I've never felt before.

You see, I'm from the Middle East. I moved to the U.S. in 1994, and of all the horrors I've seen, nothing affected me like this.

I felt angry, very angry that someone attacked the country that gave me a second chance on life.

I love America, and I'm very proud to be a part of this beautiful country, but then the thought hit—What have we done? What horrors did we unleash on others to make them hate us so much. Thoughts of Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam and countless others raced through my mind. And then the phrase "ENOUGH, NO MORE!" The phrase kept running through my head and torturing me.

This incident made me take a vow of nonviolence. We are all God's children.

Ralph J. Begleiter, Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence

At about 9:50 a.m., I took a call in my office from one of my best students, Lion Gardner (a second-year grad student who has since graduated). 

He asked if I had my TV on. 

I didn't. 

He told me to turn it on. His tone of voice was stern and fearful as he virtually ORDERED me to turn on the TV. So I did. Of course, the set stayed on most of the day. And I began a videotape recording immediately. 

Soon, a small crowd of faculty and staff gathered around the TV sets in the communication department.

While watching the attacks unfold, I clearly remember having three distinct emotions.

First, having witnessed and reported on several previous incidents of terrorism since 1981, I felt the same flush of despair and horror most people around the world must have felt on Sept. 11. 

The pit of my stomach ached with the pain of this incident, even as my journalist's mind began calculating potential likely casualties, likely suspects and likely U.S. reaction. Instinctively, I began thinking of the “sources” I would be telephoning if I were still at CNN, to help uncover the details and aftermath of this attack.

Second, I thought of my friends and colleagues at CNN, other networks, The New York Times and other news organizations in New York and Washington. I knew many of them would be rushing to lower Manhattan and to the Pentagon to cover the story. And even before the towers fell, I know I imagined that some of my friends might be injured—or worse—in their attempts to get close to the unfolding story. 

As I watched the south tower collapse, that fear became almost palpable for me; the faces of my journalist colleagues in New York and Washington swam through my head amid the smoke and debris of the television scenes. I knew that although the world was seeing only distant shots of the Trade Center and Pentagon at first, there would be photographers, producers, reporters, crews and couriers literally rushing into the face of disaster. Journalists, after all, like firefighters, police and health care workers, are usually among the “first responders” to events like these.

Furthermore, one of my closest broadcast news friends, a colleague with who I have worked in Washington since the mid-1970s, was now CNN's Pentagon correspondent. I knew he was very likely in the Pentagon building when it was struck. Initially, I didn't know exactly where the plane had hit the building, but I knew exactly where my colleague's office is. And I thought immediately of his wife and two children who are also among my family's closest friends.

It took several days before I satisfied myself that no one I knew among the journalism community of New York and Washington had suffered serious injury or death. But those were nightmare days.

Third, as I stood in my UD office, absorbing the terrible scenes on TV, I thought repeatedly—and sometimes even asked aloud of no one in particular around me—”What the hell am I doing HERE, at a university, as this event unfolds?” I should be rushing to help explain it to the world, I thought aloud, to cover the unfolding events and analyze them against the backdrop of previous terrorism for a television audience. I genuinely and seriously questioned, for the first time since joining the UD faculty, whether I had made a huge mistake forsaking my broadcast journalism career for academic life.

My first class of the day began at 11a.m. 

A faculty colleague wondered whether we should go to class, but I had no doubt I would be there, my videotape in hand and decades of reporting on terrorism in my head. I invited her class to join mine. 

Quite a few students arrived in class without knowing much of what had been happening. 

In class that day and for many days throughout the semesters, I attempted to help students understand the rich tapestry of terrorism, media issues and politics unfolding before them in real time. (Incidentally, one of the first things I pointed out to my students was the absence of “close-up” pictures, including the absence of pictures of victims leaping in desperation from the upper stories of the World Trade Center buildings. Those pictures, I told students, were surely being taken by my colleagues. But they weren't being shown on the air.)
Very quickly I realized that although I had questioned my decision to leave broadcast news for the classrooms of UD, I had a new audience with whom to work to help understand the seemingly incomprehensible acts which had occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. 

It was easy and useful, I believe, to incorporate the lessons of 9/11 and the war on terrorism into my "Politics and the Media" class for the rest of the semester and to devote the spring semester of my foreign affairs and media speaker series, "Global Agenda," to understanding international terrorism today.

Lynn Berg, graduate student, Professional Theatre Training Program

I had just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed and ready to go to class, when my roommate, Jeff, knocked on the door and said, "Hey, I don't want to worry you guys, but a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." 

I woke up my girlfriend and turned on NBC news and they were showing footage of one of the towers burning. At first I thought it had been a small private plane that had veered off course. I thought it was a pilot accident. Then right before our eyes, we watched as the second plane hit the second tower. All I could say was that I was shocked, and didn't know what was happening and was worried about what was going to happen next. 

When I heard that it might be the work of terrorists, I felt like it was a kind of violation. It frightened me because I knew that our nation was no longer immune from such attacks.

Hilary Christine Brown, freshman, majoring in political science and international relations

I was in my high school public speaking class waiting for the “starting bell” to ring when my teacher ran into the room and turned on the TV without a word.... And then it began.

Our class started watching just as the second plane hit, and by the collapse of the second building, the room was full of people, students and teachers from many classes. 

It was a sad and very flabbergasting sight that seemed to bewilder everyone. We all stood together, not as students and teachers, but as fellow Americans in shock and disbelief, asking ourselves: “Could this really be happening?” When the first building fell, it was like a reality check—everyone gasped and many began to cry. It was a terrible, yet very memorable moment in my life. 

Maxine Colm, vice president for administration

I was in the dental chair in New Jersey and the hygienist rushed in and said a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I leapt out of the chair saying that my son, Mark, worked there and left the office immediately. 

I rushed back to the University and during the trip tried frantically to reach my son by phone and my husband in New Jersey to no avail. By the time I reached the office, I knew the enormity of what had transpired and gratefully, my secretary, Scarlett Hamm was able to get through to my husband. My son had called him as he was evacuating the building to say that he was all right. He reached us later that evening.

To say the least, I was distraught until I finally heard his voice. 

Joan DelFattore, professor of English

I was scheduled to be at the World Trade Center on Sept. 12. On Sept. 11, I worked on a book until around noon and then checked my voice-mail. There was a message from the person I was supposed to have met in New York saying that we obviously wouldn't be going. I tried to call her back to find out what she meant but couldn't get through, and an operator said that the lines were jammed. I asked "Why? Has something happened?" There was a pause, and then she said, "Oh, yeah. Something's happened.

Griffin DuBreuil, graduate student, Professional Theatre Training Program

I was in school walking in to my third period math class just after 10 a.m., when my friend, Harry, who just had a study hall, said, “Hey Griffin, two planes hit the World Trade Centers.”

I turned the on the TV and 10 minutes later my class saw the north tower fall. 

I was in total awe. 

I didn't know what to think because I have a cousin who worked in Manhattan and I didn’t know where he was that day. I absolutely could not believe it.

God bless the innocent men and women who save lives and those who died trying. 

Conrado (Bobby) M. Gempesaw, vice provost for academic and international programs

I was in Minneapolis attending a Kellogg Foundation meeting. The invited speaker was the president and founder of Visa International. While he was speaking, one of the Kellogg staff members came in to the room and announced that the World Trade Center was hit by a plane. At that point, it was very difficult to listen to the speaker since the group was now interested in learning more about what was happening. 

The meeting was adjourned and the participants started to make plans to get back home. 

I was scheduled to fly to Salzburg that afternoon. Of course, all flights were canceled. I tried to rent a car, but, could not get one. 

I asked Kellogg staff members if I could ride with them to Michigan and then drive their rented car to Delaware. They agreed, so I was on the road driving for two days and listened to NPR for the latest news updates. My initial reaction at that time was ask the question “why” and a year later, I know there are still a lot of people asking the same question. 

Bernard Herman, director of the Center for American Material Culture Studies and Rosenberg Professor of Art History

I was sitting in my office preparing for a meeting scheduled later in the morning. Eileen Prybolsky, the administrative assistant for the Department of Art History, came to the door and asked, “Did you hear the news about the World Trade Center? A plane just flew into it and it’s burning!”

My first response was that the report was a hoax, but Eileen insisted that I look at CNN online. 

Then the second plane hit! 

We were stunned, and—like everyone else in United States—clueless. The idea that it was an attack still hadn't dawned on me, even after the third plane slammed into the Pentagon. 

By the time the Pentagon was attacked, I was in Dean Huddleston's office. From somewhere he had scouted out a television. We all watched dumbfounded and horrified.

The images that stick with me are the collective disbelief in the dean's office as we watched live footage of people, trapped in the towers, holding hands and leaping to their deaths; the owner of Newark Bagel in front of his shop trying to reach friends or family on his cell phone while students crowded inside to see the television monitors; a young woman standing curbside crying. 

Everything that had seemed so normal now seemed so strange. 

Saul D. Hoffman, chairperson of the Department of Economics

My day swung from incomprehension—literally—to deep personal understanding. I remember Deborah Sharpley, one of our secretaries, rushing in to my office, telling me that a plane had hit the WTC. 

We streamed down to the conference room where we had a TV. We had no sense at all of what it meant. Soon enough, we knew if meant something, but what?

Even then, I had no sense of the enormity of the tragedy. Maybe civil engineers knew at once what this meant for the towers, but I didn't. 

When I returned home, there was an unexpected phone message from a colleague at Georgetown University, someone I knew well enough, but who had no reason to call me. He said that Leslie Whittington, a Georgetown economist who was my coauthor on a textbook, her husband, and her two young daughters, had been killed in the Pentagon plane crash. They were en route to Australia where Leslie was to spend her sabbatical working on our book. The image of Leslie and her husband doing what they must have done to comfort their daughters haunted me for weeks. 

David Hollowell, executive vice president and University treasurer

I was making a presentation to a group of Chilean educators in the Trabant Center when word came that an airplane had struck one of the towers. The first reaction was that it was a terrible accident. It was not until after the presentations that I and others involved in the presentations learned about the other planes and that it was a terrorist attack. I think anger pretty well sums up my reaction. 

Mark Huddleston, dean of the College of Arts & Science

I was sitting at my desk in my office. My first reaction was disbelief, followed in short order by sadness and anger. 

Laura LaPonte and Joanna Siroka, members of the Class of 2002

It was Sept. 11, and I was in the first class of my semester in London, when we were told that the World Trade Center had fallen and our nation had been attacked by terrorists.

First sight of the tragedy brought tears to my eyes and I remember looking over at Joanna [Siroka] who had chosen that day to wear a shirt with the name of her hometown, New York City, glittering across the front.

Initially, we were all angry to be so far from home and out of touch. But, in time and with the kindness of the usually reserved English people, we moved forward with our lives and experiences in Europe. 

Sanford Robbins, director of the Professional Theatre Training Program and chairperson of the Department of Theatre

I was in my car driving to the University listening to Howard Stern on the radio, and I thought it was a hoax in very poor taste. Then listeners began to call in and I realized that something—I was not entirely sure what—was indeed happening. I turned my car around, drove back home and turned on CNN. 

In addition to my work at UD, I work as a consultant and program leader with a company called Landmark Education whose New York offices were located on the 15th floor of the World Trade Center. I felt certain that the 15-20 people I knew and loved there were dead, and I was a bit numb in the face of that. (It turned out that miraculously no one was in the office at the time of the event.) 

After an hour of being glued to the television, I drove back to school and interrupted PTTP classes to assemble all of our students and ensure that they were informed and in communication with one another and me. I then began to contact all of our graduates in New York and to ensure that all were well—a process that wound up taking two weeks. Fortunately, none were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center and all were, at least physically, well. 

Nicole A. Sarrubbo, freshman in the College of Arts & Science

I am from a suburb in Westchester County in New York, and I was in our third period English class when my principal announced that the United States had just been attacked, both in New York City and in Washington, D.C. 

I will never forget the sheer panic that ran through school. Our offices opened up the phones to students to try and contact their family members who worked at the World Trade Center. 

It was so frightening to witness the panic and anguish that so many of my classmates were experiencing as they worried about their families’ safety. 

Harry Shipman, Annie Jump Cannon Professor of Astronomy

I was actually on a plane, in the air, when the Trade Center was hit—though I didn't find out what was going on until hours later. 

I was flying to Chicago for a conference on space science education, planning to get there a day or so early because I wanted to see the largest T. Rex skeleton around.

My plane landed in Chicago around 11 a.m. Central time, and until I got off the plane, I had no idea that anything strange had happened. The pilot just told us that because our gate was occupied we were going to have to use the stairs. 

Once I got in the airport, it was obvious that something was wrong. 

The only plane moving had an Air Canada logo on its tail, and the screens said a lot of flights were canceled. However, the airport authorities had turned off all of the TV sets, which usually carry CNN.

I heard one person at the airport say that the Trade Center had been hit. I really didn't believe this and thought it was some strange rumor. When I got onto the Chicago Transit Authority train that took me to downtown Chicago, I heard a few more people talking about it and then became convinced. I only got some fragmentary glances at TV until late in the afternoon because so many staff had quit the hotel that my room wasn’t ready until 4 p.m. So, I have this funny feeling that I was one of the last people to be fully informed!

I remember wandering around Chicago feeling very depressed and confused. The city was completely shut down. The weirdest thing was that there was not a single plane in the sky. Later, once it became clearer who did it, these feelings turn into shock and, yes, anger at those responsible. 

April Veness, associate professor of geography and human resources, education and public policy

It is not hard at all to remember the details of that morning.

Unlike some of my students and the two teaching assistants in my 11:15 a.m., human geography course, I had not listened to the news before heading to class and knew nothing of the attack on the first tower as I lectured to my class of about 150 students. 

As far as I knew it was an ordinary day with the usual array of attentive and selected sleepy students out in front of me. 

My TAs were there, but neither drew me aside ahead of my lecture to talk about the event. No doubt, they thought I already knew what had happened/was happening and were respectfully stepping back to let me handle it as I saw fit in the classroom. 

For the students in the room who sat through an animated lecture with no reference whatsoever to the shocking events taking place outside the classroom, I am sure that I looked like a person from another planet. Only afterwards did my TAs ask me if I had “heard the news.” 

“What news?” 

“One of the World Trade Towers was attacked.” (We did not yet know of the second attack which happened, I believe, while we were in class).

As we walked away from Kirkbride, and I listened to the tiny bits of information that my TAs had at their disposal, it took all my might to understand the immensity of the event and maintain my ability to put one foot in front of the other. 

Running through my head was the sense that I had just failed to “be there, be aware” for my students. It bothered me a lot that I had not known about the first attack at the time of my lecture, that I stood there in front of those dutiful and possibly numb students for 50 minutes talking about whatever it was that was scheduled. 

On the other hand, I recall vividly my five-minute walk across campus with my TAs. The mere physical presence of these two knowledgeable, strong young men by my side gave me comfort, support, and guidance. I don't think I ever thanked them, or thanked my geography and communications colleagues back on the second floor of Pearson Hall for their presence over the next two shocking hours as more and more news came in.

By the time I headed to my next class at 2 p.m., I was prepared to be a better role model. 

No lecture there. 

Along with the handful of students who attended that class, we talked. We talked about whatever came into our minds, whatever needed to be aired. And we felt. We felt the experience wash over us, felt our vulnerability, felt grateful that there were other people around us and that we had a place to be together—not alone. 

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