This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks that shook the country. Though many of this year’s first-year students were only 3 or 4 years old on that tragic day in 2001, the memory of those events lives on at Lehigh.
On Sunday, Student Senate hosted the third annual flag memorial on the UC Front Lawn to honor the lives lost on Sept. 11. Members of the Lehigh community reflected on the tragedy using the hashtag #LUremembers.
Professors and faculty members who worked on campus during the attacks reflected on their experience and on the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere on campus.
Professor Frank Gunter from the department of economics, a marine veteran who has taught at Lehigh since the mid-1980s, recalled the atmosphere on campus 15 years ago.
“Lehigh’s first reaction was the right one,” he said, remarking on the fact that Lehigh continued business as usual with classes. He recalled being commended by one of his students for not altering the scheduled lecture due to the events of the day.
Lloyd Steffen, the university chaplain, led a service in Packer Memorial Church on the night of the attacks. He said the main emphasis of his speech that night was a commentary to encourage the Lehigh community not to listen to media stereotypes. The attacks were not exemplary of the Islamic tradition, he said, urging people in attendance not to draw hasty conclusions — a message that still rings true today.
Steffen explained the aftermath of the attacks instilled a community-wide sense of worry, and people were in shock.
“We didn’t know a lot,” he said. “We did know there were Lehigh alumni and friends of Lehigh working (in New York City), and we were worried.”
Bill Hunter, the director of fellowship advising and UN programs and former director of the Global Union, said Sept. 11 is the decisive moment for his generation, the moment they will always remember.
On Sept. 11, the International Office of Students and Scholars and the Global Union had an international picnic planned. After the attacks in the morning, Hunter said he had a discussion with his bosses and the president of the Global Union because they didn’t want to have a celebration on such a day.
“We decided to get the community together in a way to just let people express their emotions and seek support if they needed it,” he said.
Hunter said they decided to host the picnic anyway, and they did so to bring people together in spite of the rhetoric in the media. It was a solemn and somber scene, he said.
“There weren’t any party games, it wasn’t like that,” Hunter said. “There were a lot of hugs, a lot of tears.”
At one point, while cooking burgers, the cookout caused a fire alarm to go off in one of the buildings next door. Hunter said the fire department came rapidly.
“They were afraid of the smoke and a large foreign community, and I think that was just the fear of the moment,” he said, “but after they realized we came together just to express emotions, they quickly joined us and stayed for a little bit.”
Steffen said although there is now less pain because over time our community has moved away from the immediacy of the attacks, the losses experienced as a result of Sept. 11 still have an impact on our society.
“(Sept. 11) is very much in our political consciousness and our national story,” he said, likening the attacks to other national tragedies like Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
One of the most obvious examples of the attacks’ impact on the Lehigh community is the tree garden and walkway next to the Alumni Memorial building, which is dedicated to the eight alumni and four parents of alumni who were lost on that tragic day.
Gunter said following the attacks on Sept. 11, he witnessed an immediate increase in Lehigh students’ solemnity. Being located only 90 miles from New York City and having so many students from that area made the attacks hit very close to home, he said. Gunter said he was called back into service to train marines and sailors the day following the attacks.
Hunter said since the attacks, he’s taken students from all around the world to the Sept. 11 memorial reflecting pool in remembrance of the tragedy.
Steffen said learning about the attacks of Sept. 11, watching TV programs and reading books is how young people can make sure those lost are never forgotten.
“You don’t understand the country if you don’t know about (Sept. 11),” he said.