Nick Fitzpatrick was busy building a gumball machine in 7th grade shop class when an anxious teacher wheeled a television into the room and turned on the news to scenes of a single burning tower.
“I knew something bad was happening by how shocked and anxious my teacher was,” he says. “But even after the second plane, I didn’t understand the impact until I was older,” says Fitzpatrick, 24, who transferred to UWM after earning an associates in Fire Fighting from Fox Valley Technical College.
Ryan Hooper was home sick from 5th grade that same morning, watching cartoons from an easy chair and sipping hot chocolate in his family’s hunting trophy filled living room. News footage of a smoking tower interrupted his show and he screamed for his parents.
“We were glued to Fox News for the next three hours. We were in shock,” says Hooper. With his mother and father, they watched as the second plane struck. “There was a lot of anger and my father was speaking in mostly expletives,” says Hooper, who comes from a military family. “I always wanted to serve, but 9/11 strengthened my resolve.” Now at 22-years-old and as a medically retired veteran, Hooper studies to be a social worker at UWM.
Hundreds of American flags dotted the grass around UWM’s campus last week to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, and after 12 years the events of that day have become more history than memories for incoming students.
Some interviewed students harbor strong feelings about the day, while others see it as any other tragedy from a history book. It seems that despite how old students were 12 years ago, how impassioned they are about the anniversary has more to do with their experiences since and ideas of patriotism.
In interviews it also that what students felt 12 years ago, and now, stems mostly from the reactions of those around them, chiefly their parents.
“I didn’t think much of it back then,” says freshman Ryan Evans, 18, who was in first grade in 2001. “My mom was worried, but I didn’t understand,” says Evans who did not learn of 9/11 until returning home that day.
Other older UWM students, such as Kira Koenig, 24, share similar memories. “I didn’t understand the impact then…My parents didn’t talk about it much,” says Koenig who watched the towers burn during lunch in 7th grade. “It was clearly a great tragedy and brought the country together, but the wars that came out of it are terrible,” says Koenig.
Some students who remember that day vividly, such as Gabe Tausher who served in the Marines three years, were disappointed in UWM’s observance of the anniversary. “It wasn’t even acknowledged,” says Tausher, who thinks that UWM should observe a campus-wide moment of silence. “I don’t care if you believe the government did it or Al-Qaeda. The fact is people still died.”
Tausher says that 9/11 was a deciding factor in joining the military, and watched the second plane’s impact on Fox News in his 5th grade classroom.
Other students said that UWM’s observance was adequate or had no opinion. Hooper shared similar views to Tausher. “That was one of the few times that all Americans were on the same page,” says Hooper wearing his Army unit’s t-shirt. “I don’t expect everyone to get an American flag tattooed on their chest, just to stop and remember a day which led to so much.”