Wednesday, September 11, 2019

18 Years Later

Today is Day 1 of classes for the fall semester at Princeton.

It's also the last first day of fall classes under the traditional academic calendar, the one with exams after Christmas. He's not sure if the new calendar will mean the fall semester will start earlier next year, but it still will be a radical change for the University, all of whose 90,000-plus alums took their exams after the holidays.

TigerBlog wishes every Princeton student good luck this semester and beyond. He also seconds the advice that women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer offered at freshman athlete orientation Monday morning, when she told the Class of 2023 to dive in academically and athletically and ease in socially. That's about the best advice they're going to get.

On almost any other day, TigerBlog would expand on the first day of classes and freshman athlete orientation. Today is not just any other day though, so "good luck" will have to do.

There are, in fact, two days during the year that are off-limits for the normal subjects. Those two days are the anniversary in February in which TB's colleague Lorin Maurer was killed in a plane crash and today, Sept. 11.

Those two days have much in common.

They were both surreal days, on which time seemed to freeze, so that the emotions of the moment could be properly absorbed for all time. They were both, more than anything else, days of extraordinary shock and sadness.

And they're both days that TB will continue to write about, largely out of respect for those who died on those two days and how he wants to, in his small way, make sure that they are remembered.

When TigerBlog was entering the bios for the freshmen football players, he noticed that there was one player who was born on Sept. 12, 2001, or one day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Within another year, pretty much the entire class will have been born after 9/11, and a few short years after that, no Princeton students will have been alive on the day of those attacks.

Even those who were alive were too young to remember what happened that day. They were infants, babies, toddlers, maybe in preschool, but that's about it.

Each year on this day, TigerBlog will replay the words he's written about 9/11 in the past, because they capture exactly what it is he wants to say:

TigerBlog can remember every detail of that awful day 18 years ago today.

He remembers most of the details of the day after, 18 years ago tomorrow.

He wishes that he could remember the day before, back to Sept. 10, 2001. He wishes he could remember what he was thinking on that day, what his world was like on that day, because that world changed forever on Sept. 11 and has never come back.

Each year since Sept. 11, 2001, TigerBlog has gotten an uneasy feeling in the hours before the next anniversary. This year is no different.

The date is enough to bring it all rushing back.

TigerBlog has gone through this pretty much each year he's been doing this. It's important though. It's important not to let what happened on that day ever fade in importance.

The only day in American history that can compare with Sept. 11, 2001, is Dec. 7, 1941. That's the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II.

Yes, there have been battles in wars that have featured unimaginable death totals. Nearly 10 times more American soldiers were killed in the Battle of Normandy (the entire battle, not just D-Day) in World War II than died on 9/11.

As for 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, though, those were direct attacks on America, not overseas (yes, Hawaii was not yet a state in 1941).

Now, nearly 78 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, the day Dec. 7 still lives, as FDR said it would, in infamy. It just doesn't haunt the national consciousness the way 9/11 does.

Part of that is because the vast majority of Americans who were alive 78 years ago no longer are. The other, though, is that it would take less than four years for the U.S. and its Allies to defeat the Axis powers.

The aftermath of 9/11 has not been anything quite so tidy. There are still military operations as a direct result of 9/11, and even though Al Qaeda never launched another massive attack in this country, the threat is still there.

Like TigerBlog said, the world of Sept. 10 vanished and has never come back. In so many ways.

TigerBlog knows people who saw 9/11 from so many different angles. Everyone has a story to tell from that day.

TB has friends who were on airplanes at the time of the attacks and landed nowhere near New York, as all flights were immediately grounded. They had to try to rent cars to drive home, including one who was on a flight to Newark that landed instead in Nashville, from where he drove home.

He knows another who landed at Newark around the time that the flight that would crash in Pennsylvania after the passengers fought back against the hijackers was leaving and saw the Towers burning as she drove down the New Jersey Turnpike.

He knows another who was unaware of the attacks until, after being told about them, looked out the window at home on Long Island and saw the smoke from the Twin Towers. FatherBlog was in his office in midtown, four or so miles from ground zero.

Princeton had more than its share of graduates, a lot of them athletes, who were in one of the towers at the time.

As for TigerBlog, he was dropping off TigerBlog Jr. at the University League Nursery School, on the far side of the parking lot outside Jadwin. It was the most perfect weather day, crystal clear, sunshine, no humidity, not a cloud to be found.

TB dropped TBJ off at the school, and the woman who was the office manager said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

TigerBlog walked outside, looked up, and thought "how in the world did that happen?" By the time he got to Jadwin, he found out how.

Most of that day was spent huddled around the only television around, the one in the athletic training room in Caldwell Field House. It was a day where people spoke very little, where everyone had dazed looks on their faces.

By mid-afternoon, he went back to get TBJ at the nursery school. He can still see the children, swinging on the swings, playing in a sandbox, oblivious - happily oblivious - to what had happened to the innocence of the world outside that playground.

Later that night, after it was dark, TigerBlog walked outside to the end of his driveway and looked up. There were no planes in the sky. They'd all been grounded. TB remembers it vividly, the sight of the stars, without planes, above a world of confusion, angst, uncertainty, fear.

Those were TB's memories. They come rushing back each year on this day, and they bring with them all of those emotions all over again. It's important that it does. This isn't a day that should ever fade from anyone's memory.

Miss TigerBlog was 1 at the time. She's a Princeton sophomore now. All of those children from the playground have grown up. They need to understand what happened.

The next day, TigerBlog was able to track down former Princeton football captain Dan Swingos, who had been in the second tower but managed to get out. He told TigerBlog a wild story of survival, and luck, one shared by so many others who'd been there at the time.

TigerBlog tells this story each year. He'll continue to do so.

He'll also continue to remember all of the people who were lost that day, the ones who didn't get out, or the ones on the planes.

It's a group that includes John Schroeder, a member of the 1992 men's lacrosse team that won the first of the program's six NCAA championships. He'd been in the World Trade Center and did not get out.

Anytime that TigerBlog has been around the men's lacrosse Class of 1992, no matter what the occasion or celebration, they remember their teammate. They talk about him. They include him in whatever they're doing. They keep his memory alive.

It's been 18 years now.

It seems like yesterday. The memories are vivid, for TigerBlog and everyone else.

And those lost - like John Schroeder - are still missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this important article/blog on 9/11, and reminding everyone of who and what was lost on that tragic day back in 2001. We cannot let people forget. John (aka Stinky) was a great person, and everyone who played with him remembers his great sense of humor, his dedication to his teammates and his love of Princeton lacrosse. He is greatly missed.