By Conor Burns ‘22
This past September marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Killing 2,977 people, the attacks were commemorated nationwide via ceremonies and services, one of which was attended by President Joseph Biden at the National September 11th Memorial in Lower Manhattan. In addition to the colossal death toll, an estimated 24,000 first responders have been diagnosed with cancer as a direct result of helping with the rescue and cleanup operations.
The attacks hold great significance to the Chaminade community due to the tragic loss of several alumni and parents in the attacks.
September 11, 2001 started off as just another school day. Fr. Garrett Long, S.M. ‘62 recalls, “I was in my office when I went to get some coffee and a donut, and I saw on the TV that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I went up to the rooftop and from there could see the tower burning in the distance.”
When the news of the crash broke, school administrators quickly ushered students whose parents worked in the Twin Towers down to the library to inform them of the situation. Over the course of the day, some were relieved to hear that their parents made it out safely. Others were not so fortunate, but remained hopeful as the search and rescue operations continued.
In the days immediately following the attacks, Chaminade struggled to get back in the rhythm of the school year. A prevailing sense of shock and sadness for the lives that were lost cast its shadow over the school. “It was very sad in the days after 9/11,” Fr. Garrett recounts. “You still had people who weren’t sure whether their mother or father survived or if they died. We tried to get back into regular business as much as possible, but it was very difficult.”
The aftermath of the attacks also brought out the best in some. Fr. Garrett explains, “The alumni association came together and offered scholarships to children of the deceased alumni. They’ve all passed through the school now, as the last ones were in utero when 9/11 happened. After the attacks, the guidance counselors also talked to the kids who had lost their fathers and helped them out.”
The post-attack atmosphere was marked not only by a sense of solidarity and shared loss, but by a collective concern as well.
As Fr. Garrett recounts, “We had a memorial Mass in November when, about a week before Veterans Day, there was another plane crash in the Rockaways that killed everybody on board and some on the ground where it landed. We were very afraid that it was going to be another terrorist attack, but it happened to be an accident. That was on November 12th.”
This Memorial Mass, according to Fr. Garrett, marked the beginning of Chaminade’s long-standing tradition of memorializing members of the student body’s recently deceased family members.
Despite the great tragedy, Fr. Garrett still believes that we, especially as Catholics, can learn something from the September 11th attacks. “We shouldn’t take anything for granted,” he affirms. “Those fathers who lost their lives just went to work on a regular day and never came back. We should avoid the demonization of other people and try to get people to love each other as much as possible to avoid this.”