Seventeen years ago Tuesdsay, far from Michiana, four planes were used as weapons in the most deadly terror attacks in American history.
Those events touched many lives in the immediate aftermath and the years since. As they become more distant, the concern is raised on how September 11th will be remembered by a younger generation of Americans.
Most high school students in America today do not have a living memory of the September 11 attacks.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was at the ringing of the bell ceremony at St. Patrick’s park this morning. He said the further students get from the memory the more important it is to keep up yearly memorial services.
“More and more people are growing up who don’t have that living memory. You know, one of the reasons theses commemorations are so important is that there’s a whole generation of people for whom this might as well be the Kennedy assassination. It’s a distant historical fact more than it is a memory.”
For a group of students at the University of Notre Dame, keeping that memory alive means planting a flag for each victim.
“We’ll be placing the 2,977 flags around the main flagpole here on South Quad,” said Luke Jones, the president of the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Notre Dame. He said for some students, September 11th is more personal. “So many people on this campus are from New York and New Jersey and the East Coast and they had so many connections to 9/11 and all it takes is for you to stop and talk with people for a minute to realize how deep this event affected people.”
Another local person for whom the events of 9/11 is very personal is Notre Dame’s Vice President for Communication, Paul Browne. At the time of the attacks he was serving with the New York Police Department
He had been assigned to the U.S. Custom’s service, which had its offices in the basement of the World Trade Center. Browne was on his way to work when the planes hit the Towers. When he got there, both Towers were down.
He ended up working search and recovery.
“We were still searching for, hopefully for survivors," Browne recalled. "And searching by hand, we didn’t want to bring in heavy equipment with the thought that heavy equipment would crush the survivors. But there were no survivors to speak of.”
Browne said seeing the flags every year, as the students’ memories get further away from the event, is unifying.
“For those of us who so close to it, you’re obviously never going to forget. So it’s very meaningful to see some young people who have no personal memory of it, commemorate it with us.”
Those commemoration are happening all across the country today including in Elkhart where saplings from the only surviving tree at ground zero are presented to plant at memorials.
The saplings are cared for by high schoolers in Queens. Concord Fire Chief Richard Rochford said sharing his story with the students when he picked up the trees reminded him that the younger generation does not have those memories. He thinks something should be done about that.
“I really would like to see for first responders to go out and they share this story. This story that we did right here should be shared with others that way that memory still stays alive.”
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman was at the ceremony to speak and to receive a tree for his city. He said with 9/11, as with other historic events, it’s up to the older generation to pass it down to the younger, including to his own children.
“That’s one thing my wife and I work hard on is making sure we’ve passed on what we learned from our elders, pass that on to our kids so that they someday can pass it on to their kids as well.”
More remembrance events are happening across Michiana this evening as residents of all ages pause to reflect and share their experiences, 17 years after 19 men and four planes changed America.