Silent calm came over the crowd at SUNY New Paltz on the afternoon of Sept. 9, as a group of more than 100 people planted nearly 3,000 little American flags into the lawn of the Old Main Quad at SUNY New Paltz. Two campus police officers dressed in gray stood still amidst the sea of red, white and blue as the workers drove each little flagpole into the ground. As the people moved away from their work, the picture of what they were doing and why they were there became clear — each little flag had come together in the shape of the two World Trade Center towers.
Rev. Tobias Anderson, of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Paltz, led the crowd gathered there in a solemn prayer to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The plane hijackings led to much tragedy and mourning throughout the United States and the world, and they helped to define an entire decade. The attacks killed 2,996 people.
Anderson asked his audience to strive to accept each other no matter what religious or philosophical differences drive them apart. “We’re here because we understand on some deeper level that we are connected,” the preacher said.
He also asked the crowd to look beyond the immediate pain of tragedy — a time when people can “see the best of humanity shine forth.”
New Paltz Fire Department Chief Kevin Maguire also spoke during the event, representing all of the small college town’s emergency responders.
Even that day ten years ago behind the country, Maguire said that people should still show support to emergency workers and first responders — who received an outpouring of support after the towers fell. Those people will be the ones gladly risking their lives to save their fellow man should something like Sept. 11 happen again, he said.
“If it happens, I can assure you that the first responders will be there,” the chief said.
James Halpern, a psychology professor and the director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health, spoke during the ceremony as well.
“There were so many more victims than those who died that day,” said Halpern, who went down to ground zero after the attacks and volunteered counseling to the bereaved. “We honor their sacrifices today.
“Not only did those who died suffer at the hands of terrorists, but those who survived were scarred by the loss of those they loved.”
America’s response to that day also racked up more misery — war veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan came back with post-traumatic stress disorder, and both soldiers and civilians were killed overseas, the professor said.
Some of SUNY New Paltz’s youngest scholars were only in grade school when the attacks took place, Halpern reminded the crowd.
Last week’s ceremony was one of several ways the on-campus community marked the anniversary. On Sept. 8, the college’s Honors Center sponsored a panel discussion called “Ten Years On … Reflections on 9/11.” Also on Sunday, Sept. 11 itself, the campus’s bells rang out at 8:46, 9:03, 9:37 and 10:03 a.m. — the times when the jets hit the towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon and when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. ++