The morning they did it, to use an airline pilot’s term, was severe clear — a cloudless sky with seemingly unlimited visibility. No one knew that by morning’s end what had so sickeningly and surreally fell away against that azure backdrop would be melded into our minds.
Like Edvard Munch’s The Scream or those melting watches in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.
Or Picasso’s Guernica. Or disaster movies. Or… All of them, comparisons to the unreal.
Yet the yawning hole in the Pentagon, the still-smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, the gash in Pennsylvania’s countryside and the thousands of flesh-and-blood deaths are all too real.
It is believed no Wichita State graduates were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But members of the WSU community were, as the world was, seared by the reality of what they saw — and what they didn’t.
The morning they did it, WSU’s hallways were almost silent. Many faculty members and students gathered around the TVs in Jabara Hall, in Lindquist Hall, in the Rhatigan Student Center — watching in radical disbelief.
Sunflower photographers captured a few of their stunned expressions, while student reporters took down snatches of their fragmented conversations: “…the flames…,” “I remember when the Challenger…,” “I just can’t believe…,” “…how much hate…, ” “It doesn’t seem real,” “…like a movie.”
WSU President Don Beggs determined that Wichita State would continue classes, saying, “Although this is all on our minds, our purpose is to go on with what we’re here to do.” The university’s Counseling and Testing Center sent counselors to the residence halls.
Jason Bennett, SGA president, spoke with Marilyn Yourdon, director of Student Health Services, about coordinating blood donations. KMUW announcer/producer and affiliate host for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Carla Eckels, who was in Washington, D.C., recorded interviews with people after the attack on the Pentagon and then phoned in her report, which the campus radio station broadcast at 3 p.m. And senior Wendy Baker walked to the Newman Center to pray.
The next day the Sunflower’s banner headline read “Catastrophic.”
In April 1937 German planes, aiding insurgents in the Spanish Civil War, bombed and destroyed the town of Guernica. The indiscriminate killing of civilians aroused world opinion, and the bombing became a symbol of fascist brutality — and inspired one of Picasso’s most powerful paintings.
The morning they did it, Wichitan Bill Moore ’74, managing director of Saber Partners LLC, a corporate financial advisory firm with offices at 44 Wall Street, checked out of the Marriott Hotel in lower Manhattan, at 5 a.m., to catch a flight back to Wichita for an Intrust Bank board meeting.
“My partners, Joe Fichera and Paul Sutherland, were working across the street from the World Trade Center at Merrill Lynch headquarters in the World Financial Center when they heard the first plane hit,” Moore says. “They turned on the TV, thinking accident and small plane, but when they saw, on TV, the second plane hit, they left and went to the north, to where our client was staying, at Embassy Suites. They watched the first tower fall.”
Deciding to evacuate, the three tried to exit from the hotel’s west door, but the smoke and dust were so thick they couldn’t breathe. “They made it out the north door,” Moore continues. “People there were handing out wet towels.” The three, like thousands more, made their way uptown.
Wichitan James Fallis III ’79/92, the U.S. Postal Service’s tax coordinator for the Central Plains, was among a group of postal workers overseeing the service’s conversion to a new Time and Attendance Collection System. They were working in the basement of one of the nation’s busiest post offices: Manhattan’s Morgan Station.
After cell-phone calls alerted them to the attacks on the twin towers and then about the collapse of 2 World Trade Center, the south tower, they left the basement. Fallis went to the station’s timekeeping department, on the seventh floor. “I looked out the window,” he says. “The second tower was burning.” Then he saw 1 WTC, the north tower, go down. “It was unbelievable. Stunning.”
They evacuated the station. “We got our group together and queued up and trudged back to our hotel, which was half a block from Times Square,” he says. “The rescue vehicles were flying down the street.”
It was his first trip to New York City.
New Yorker Peter Gurman ’70, a first vice president with Morgan Stanley (the WTC’s largest tenant with 3,600 employees and 840,000 square feet of office space on floors 43-46, 56, 59-74 of the south tower), got up early to prepare for a business meeting.
“I worked for awhile, then took a shower and turned on the TV,” he says. “I was transfixed — and I thought, ‘This is the second time I’ve dodged this bullet.’” Gurman, who had worked for 15 years in various WTC offices, was in San Francisco. During the 1993 WTC terrorist bombing, he had been in Rhode Island.
“The plane came right through our offices,” he says. “We lost six people. Without the evacuation plan they’d had in place since the first bombing, it would have been far worse. When the first plane hit the north tower, they started evacuating people from tower 2, which was the first to fall.” He pauses. “For four years, I worked in an office that overlooked the harbor — right out over the Statue of Liberty.”
The Scream (1893)
In January 1892 the Norwegian artist Munch described the experience behind what became his most famous work: While walking with two friends at sunset, “the sky turned blood-red. I stopped… looking out across the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and town. My friends walked on. I stood there, trembling with fear. And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature.”
The morning they did it, communications major Kristin Schodorf, who was studying abroad in the Semester at Sea program, was halfway around the world. “We were two days off the coast of Japan,” she says. “The day before, a typhoon had been creating 10-foot waves — and rainbows were everywhere. But many people were sea sick, and we had gone to bed worried about the typhoon. About 7 in the morning, my neighbor rushed into the room and screamed there have been terrorist attacks against the United States.”
There was nothing the students could do, except continue their journey. Their first port of call was Japan. Later, Schodorf reports, they saw anti-American riots in India and had to be diverted from Kenya “at the last possible second” because of protesting there.
LaTricia Harper ’95, public information officer for the city of Wichita, was assigned to Mid-Continent Airport to handle the media when the FAA ordered the planes down. Mid-Continent accommodated 22 flights, including an international flight from Israel.
“When I got there,” Harper says, “there was a flood of people. You heard them asking — over telephones and cell phones — where their loved ones were.”
Working nearly around the clock, scores of Wichitans came to the aid of the displaced travelers, and airport personnel began implementing new security measures. “Two days later when planes were finally cleared to fly,” Harper says, “no one complained about security delays. Everyone understood we were under a new situation, a whole new time.”
On Thursday, Ray Wills ’82 went back to work. As a member of the cast of The Producers on Broadway, he performed that night to a sold-out house. “At the curtain call,” he reports, “we all — cast, crew and audience — sang ‘God Bless America.’”
The next day he paid a visit to the theater district’s firehouse. “They had 12 men die on the 11th, a third of their company,” he says. “I went up to each firefighter on duty, shook hands and said ‘Thank you.’ And each one of those tired, shocked, brave, tough, good guys looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You’re welcome.’”
The Persistence of Memory (1931)
With meticulous realism, Dali painted profoundly unpleasant images of things that do not materially exist, like the melting watches in his work that became one of the archetypal images of the 20th century, a work that evokes a sense of time — and space — gone berserk.
Grounded in St. Louis on Sept. 11, Moore wasn’t quite quick enough to nab a rental car. His brother came for him, taking him to his Lebanon, Mo., home until Moore’s wife Shelly arrived by car to bring him home to Wichita. Saber’s offices are now across the river in Jersey City, and Moore, who’s been back to NYC once, says a picture of the city’s old skyline hangs in their conference room.
Fallis flew home on Sept. 21. “One of the saddest things,” he remembers, “is our hotel served as the reception center for the families of one company’s missing employees. The first day, U.S. people were there. The next day, the Europeans came. Then the Australians arrived, and people from Japan and the Far East.”
Gurman flew home to his wife Linda and their 10-year-old son Steven the Saturday after. He remembers that when he first called home on Sept. 11 he urged Linda to make sure Steven made time, even on that day, to go out and play. “What you find here,” Gurman says from NYC, “is that almost everybody lost somebody. We really had to reach down into our depths to find strength. But we’re resilient.”
Schodorf was back in Kansas by mid-December, tired from her travels. “The United States isn’t quite the place I left,” she reports. “And I’m not really the same person who left it, either.”
Harper continues in her work as public information officer, a veteran in a job she’s had now for five months. And Wills continues on Broadway.
On campus, as elsewhere in the world, emotions ran extraordinarily high after Sept. 11. Rumors circulated of international students celebrating the attacks — and of personal attacks, both verbal and physical, against them.
University officials stepped up quickly to stop the untrue stories, and Shahrier Akram, a senior in electrical and computer engineering, and Sainath Ghali, a graduate student in engineering, both shared their feelings of shock and grief in letters that were printed in the Sunflower on Sept. 14.
“It was absolutely nightmarish to watch planes full of passengers crash into the World Trade Center buildings one after the other and then watch these buildings fall apart with people inside them, live, right in front of our eyes,” Akram wrote. “Yes, we are here to better our lives with the good education this country has to offer. And yes, we also uphold the values on which this country’s foundation was based. Our hearts, too, go out to the families and friends of the victims.”
Wichita State came together to hold a candlelight vigil outside Grace Memorial Chapel the Friday after the attacks.
The 9 p.m. ceremony, which had coalesced from multiple efforts by many different campus organizations, drew 1,000 students, faculty and friends who stood with lighted candles — some with American flags — and listened to comments from SGA President Bennett and WSU President Don Beggs, who said, “I believe most of us share a common desire for harmony and peace, but these tragic events of Sept. 11 remind us that there is incredible evil in the world. It stuns us, but we are not powerless in its presence.
Within minutes of the horrendous criminal behavior, there were thousands upon thousands of smaller acts of kindness, generosity, courage and compassion. We look to these good people as our example. I believe their humanity will be a truly enduring message of that day.
Near Ground Zero, among the flowers and candles, there are handwritten notes of remembrance and love. Many of them say, “We will not forget.”
In memory — as if set in bedrock granite — terror, love and now two towers stand.