September 11 – Some Thoughts

Another September 11th Anniversary; another set of memories.

Its funny how each year this anniversary brings to the surface something different about this day and how it affected me. At the time I was serving as the Alumni Director at Hobart College in Geneva, New York. 1 I remember it so well, a glorious fall day with azure blue skies that soon turned dark as the horrors of the day unfolded.

As I sat there in my office stunned by what I had witnessed on TV when the second tower was hit and later as the two towers fell.  Then,  I was immediate drawn to the task at hand – dealing with other alums who wanted to know if their friends were safe. So I put aside my concerns for my daughter, a William Smith graduate, who worked about a block from the White House and my colleagues and I began the task of compiling a list of alums who worked in the World Trade Center or in its nearby environs.

Those of us who live in New York remember the coverage in subsequent days in the New York Times. For weeks after the event pages of pictures appeared almost daily of those lost. It was spiritually numbing to see those faces cut down in a senseless act of terrorism.

Three of our alums were lost that day, which brings me back to my job.

When I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War I had on a couple of occasions to accompany a chaplain to deliver the news of a loved one lost in the war. This was not the chaplain’s news to deliver it fell on the officer with him to break the news. In the aftermath of the Twin Towers, I now had to confirm the loss of the men that died who were alums.

And more sadly to call the families of those lost and offer condolences on behalf of our College.

In many ways it was much easier to approach a stranger. But to talk to a parent or spouse of a Hobart man who was lost was very hard. These were men who had walked the streets of Geneva, had spent time on the Hobart Quad, who had, like the men of my time, looked at the beauty of Seneca Lake on a crisp fall morning. We were brothers even though we had never met. Now they were gone and the emotions of September 11 were high. What could you say to a parent? How could you convey the deep sense of loss you were feeling for these men and for all the others? Looking back now from 16 years I have little memory of what I said, all I know is that I truly shared their pain and loss.  And in the end, I did what I had to do that day.

Americans measure their lives by events – sometimes happy, sometimes sad. For every joyous occasion there is a counterpoint. September 11 for me will always be such a moment. A time to take stock, to review the past, and remember those who perished- whether they were those lost in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Whether they were the first responder heroes who, like so many military men and women I have known, died doing their duty. They were all Americans, not divided by any causes or politics, but Americans who when they were called did what they had to do. And that is what I think I will remember this year. Not the sadness of September 11, but how the country came together.

And that is a good thing to focus on in these difficult times.


1 Hobart College is the men’s college of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.   William Smith is the women’s college.  For more information on HWS see Wikipedia

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
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2 Responses to September 11 – Some Thoughts

  1. John M. Baxter says:

    That is for sure, John. I thought the tragedy would do much more than it did to make us a more cohesive society.

  2. JB says:

    I believe 3 Hobart alums were there, unfortunately

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