Two decades after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, most of the members of West Virginia University’s Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC standing vigil in shifts for 24 hours, as is tradition, to mark the 9/11 anniversary at the downtown campus memorial site will have no personal memories of that day.
Scott Kendrick, a senior global supply chain management student and Air Force ROTC cadet from Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of them.
He was four years old when 19 al-Qaeda militants hijacked four planes that crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York, New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the deadliest terrorist attacks ever on American soil.
“For my generation, we’ve never been in a state of non-crisis,” Kendrick said.
At the time of the attacks, one of his fellow cadets, Emily Zirkelbach, a second-year communications and journalism student most recently from Dallas, Texas, had not been born yet.
Now age 19, her 9/11 experience is limited to news footage showing “all the smoke and everything coming from the building – especially the footage of people jumping from the buildings. That also really sticks out,” she said.
In contrast to the terror of that day, what WVU has planned for the 20th anniversary is more reflective.
Following an opening ceremony with President Gordon Gee at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 10, a vigil will run from 12 p.m. that day to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, near Wise Library.
“Particularly, as a generation born after these shocking attacks grows to adulthood, the continued remembrance of this anniversary serves as a poignant reminder of the vigilance required to keep our nation safe,” said U.S. Army Major David Sherck, chair and professor of military science, one of the vigil organizers.
“Our future leaders stand vigil as a visual representation of our military’s commitment to safeguarding our nation and ties their future service to our remembrance of the past.”
As a cadet, Kendrick was part of the 2019 9/11 vigil at WVU. The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.
“It’s a quiet time of reflection and there are very few times throughout my day, my week, even month that I’ll have the opportunity to walk quietly for a half hour to just kind of embrace that silence and reflect on something that truly is important and will shape my life for the next – at least – decade,” Kendrick said.
“It just seems appropriate. It seems necessary.”
It was Sept. 11, 2002, the year after the attacks, when students placed the permanent bronze plaque at the campus vigil site with the inscription, “We Remember: The spirit of those lost on September 11, 2001, lives in each of us,” alongside a tree.
Among the thousands of people killed at the World Trade Center were Jim Samuel, an alum and employee of Carr Futures, and Chris Gray, a former Mountaineer quarterback from 1988-1991, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.
Gray’s brother, Tim, was scheduled to attend the Sept. 11 Mountaineer football home opener against LIU at Milan Puskar Stadium where a tribute to Gray was planned.
Before the 5 p.m. kickoff, members of the ‘Gathering of Mountain Eagles,’ veterans wounded or injured while serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam, were to be honored along with their family members.
Recognition was planned as well for first responders who regularly work WVU football games.
This year’s anniversary on campus will also include activities tied to the National Day of Service and Remembrance, being organized through the WVU Center for Community Engagement.
WVU Libraries are participating in “September 11, 2001: The Day That Changed the World,” a downloadable educational exhibition presenting the history of 9/11, its origins and its ongoing implications. Made up of a series of posters, the exhibition can be viewed in person at the Evansdale Library through the fall semester.
Twenty years after the attacks, “Watching what is happening in the Middle East currently, I think understanding how we’ve gotten to this point is just as important as understanding that what happened 20 years ago can happen today and, at some point in time, will most likely happen again,” Kendrick said.
“Understanding how to respond to that appropriately and responsibly is absolutely critical.”
The goal for Zirkelbach is to become a public affairs officer in the U.S. Air Force.
Of Sept. 11, “It definitely does play a role because people see that and they realize that our country could come under attack at any given point if we don’t protect it,” she said.