Seventeen years ago, under a startling blue sky, three thousand people lost their lives in the first major international terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The nation has never forgotten them, or the first responders who rushed to the scene that tragic day – many of whom have since died from diseases related to 9/11 and the plumes of acrid smoke that hung around the World Trade Center site for days on end.
On Tuesday, the SUNY Broome campus gathered to remember the events of 9/11 and offer its gratitude to the police officers, firefighters and other first responders who respond to disasters, even at the risk of their own lives.
The campus stood with bowed heads as bagpiper Ken Roe of the Edward P. Maloney Memorial Pipe Band played “Amazing Grace.” Some of today’s students are too young to remember 9/11 – many of the college’s Early College and Fast Forward students weren’t even born yet, SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm noted – but all were touched by the events that happened then and since.
Pearl Harbor led to the nation’s involvement in World War II, and 9/11 similarly led to war in Afghanistan, with the goal of eliminating the terrorist training camps there, and later in Iraq.
“Seventeen years later, we still have troops in Afghanistan. Our global War on Terror has not yet abated,” Dr. Drumm said. “We continue to be deeply grateful to all of our servicemen and women, who risk their lives every day to fight terrorism in our increasingly volatile world.”
Lives forever changed
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar, a SUNY Broome alumnus, offered up the story of one man who lost his life in the attack on the Pentagon: Lieutenant Commander Patrick Murphy. Murphy had served in the Navy on nuclear submarines. At the time of the attack, he was a naval reserve officer; a three-week assignment with the Navy Command Center landed him in the Pentagon on 9/11.
Earlier in the day, he called his brother, asking him “to get something out of the car because he was donating it to the Salvation Army,” Garnar said. The call was cut off. It was the last time he spoke to his family.
Patrick Murphy was 38 years old and left behind a loving wife and two boys – Mitchell, then 6 years old, and 3-year-old Casey. Years later, Mitch became one of Garnar’s students.
“I remember teaching American history and talking about Sept. 11. For Mitch, it was very different; that day has defined his life,” Garnar said. “Every year on this day, think about what Mitch thinks about: Losing his father at (age) 6.”
It’s important to remember those who lost their lives in the attacks, Garnar noted, but it’s also important to remember the families who will never see their loved ones again.
The nation remembers 9/11 for many reasons – to honor those who were lost, and the sacrifices made by the first-responders and the troops, President Drumm said. But this shared memory isn’t a call to be afraid, or to live in fear of people different from us.
According to Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, we currently have fewer wars and less violent crime world-wide than at any point in our history. This may seem hard to believe, given the news cycle, but it’s statistically true, Dr. Drumm said.
Professor Pinker and other scholars attribute the decline in violence and war to a number of different factors, including the rise of democracy around the world, a rising commitment to civil rights – and increasing literacy and access to education.
“That’s very encouraging – but it also challenges us. Democracy and civil rights are fragile, and so is access to education. All of them take commitment on our part as citizens and as Americans,” Dr. Drumm said. “We must be cautious of stoking divisions, and feeding the tribalism and hate that has caused so much of the violence throughout human history.”
As a college president, Dr. Drumm said he was encouraged that many young people today are stepping up and dedicating their lives to the wellbeing and safety of their fellow citizens as first responders. The college’s programs in criminal justice, firefighting and paramedics are among the college’s largest – and actually among the largest among community college’s nationwide. Every spring, they train to respond to the disasters of the future at the college’s Mock Environmental Disaster Drill, a massive undertaking that typically involves 17 different departments across campus.
“Once again, I would like to thank everyone – our campus community and our honored guests – for coming out on this day to honor our fallen. The price of freedom is never free,” Dr. Drumm said.