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9-11 Survivors and Their Families Share Their Experiences with Mercer Students

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9-11 Survivors and Their Families Share Their Experiences with Mercer Students
Six panelists shared their 9-11 experiences at a panel discussion at MCCC, “September 11 as Memory and History” on Thursday, Sept. 13. Pictured on the far right is Mike Kelly, a journalist for The Bergen Record.

Survivors of September 11th, family members of victims, and those who observed the day’s events from afar spoke at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) on Thursday, Sept. 13, as part of a panel discussion, “September 11 as Memory and History.”  The event was co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Museum, in an effort to inform students and the public about the events that took place 11 years ago. 

“Today’s program is to help you think about what 9-11 means and how it has affected and changed lives,” said MCCC President Patricia Donohue.

Anthony Gardner, director of the New Jersey State Museum, spoke briefly about the 9-11 exhibit currently on view at the museum, as well as his personal ties to the tragedy through the loss of his brother, Harvey.  “The courage and compassion he showed in his final hours continue to inspire me,” he said. 

MCCC History Professor Dr. Craig Coenen, the discussion moderator, spoke on the importance of educating today’s youth on 9-11.  “Some of my students were only seven years old when this happened,” he said.  He noted that while the event was a rude awakening to the evil that exists in the world, it was also a time of sacrifice and true heroism for many Americans.  “9-11 gives us hope that Americans can do great things in a time of tragedy.”

Brian Clark was among the speakers who gave insight into what it was like to be at Ground Zero that day.  He was one of only four individuals who survived from above the point of impact in the South Tower.  He helped save another man who was trapped beneath rubble as he descended to the ground floor only four minutes before the building collapsed.  “As a result of that day, I know how precious life is,” he said, noting that he lost 61 of his co-workers that day. 

Herb Ouida worked in the World Trade Center for 30 years prior to the 9-11 attack.  While he was able to make it out safely from the 77th floor, his 25 year-old son, Todd, was on the 105th floor and did not survive.  “As the firefighters passed me on the stairs I told them, ‘Please save the people above me.  Please save my son.’  At his son’s memorial, when loved ones offered to give money in his son’s name, he was inspired to create the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, which helps others like his son, who had suffered from childhood anxiety.

Edith Lutnick, who also lost a family member on 9-11, spoke about how the event inspired her and her brother to co-found the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, a nonprofit charity to address the needs of the victims of terrorism, natural disasters and emergencies.  The charity was named Cantor Fitzgerald after a company that occupied three floors of the World Trade Center, and lost 600 employees in the attack.  “I decided that if anyone was hurting the way I was hurting, I had to find a way to help them,” she said.  In total the foundation has distributed over $180 million to the families of 9-11 victims. 

Thirty-year journalist Mike Kelly spoke about his experiences reporting on 9-11 for The Bergen Record in North Jersey.  “I was frozen by the tragedy,” said Kelly, noting that he had no idea where to begin when he first arrived at Ground Zero, seeing the beams of the towers reduced to “twists of spaghetti.” 

Kelly spent three days talking to victims and their families.  One notable person he met along the way was a police officer named Dorothy, who continued to dig through the rubble with garden tools for days until she was able to retrieve the body of her fellow officer.  “Many angels surfaced through the insurmountable pain of 9-11,” he said, noting that 1,100 bodies were never found, leaving those families without closure. 

Drexel University History Professor Scott Knowles spoke on how 9-11 is remembered today and how it may change in the future.  “History is unpredictable and historical memory is doubly unpredictable,” he said, recounting the many debates that have taken place over how the twin towers would be memorialized for future generations.

Several panelists encouraged those in the audience to learn more about 9-11 by visiting the exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum and speaking to those who knew the victims of the tragedy, as it will continue to serve as an important moment in U.S. history for generations to come. 

Jessica Rohr was one of several Mercer students who attended.  “It was very emotional and moving,” she said.  “It was a different experience to hear first-hand stories of survivors and families of victims, rather than just be told about it on the news.”

For more information about the 9-11 exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum, visit www.statemuseum.nj.gov.

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