“It was a shock because they told me it was a shock. My mind was thinking about other things. The adults put a feeling of fear in me when all I wanted was for the next recess to come around.”
Derek Nebel, a senior studying mechanical engineering, recounts his memories of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I had no perspective of what was happening or that people were dying,” said Nebel. “My parents didn’t say anything to me about it.”
Nebel is part of a growing population that has little to no memory of what happened that day. This year’s incoming freshmen were in kindergarten and first grade at the time; most have no recollection of the attacks at all. What many do remember though, is how adults at the time tried to shield them from the news.
Nebel sat in Mrs. Slivka’s fourth grade class in Sturgeon Bay the day of the attacks. “Mrs. Slivka seemed ancient at the time. Looking back I’d have to say she was in her mid to late fifties,” Nebel describes.
Their desks were arranged in clusters of four. He remembers looking over two of his classmates at the big box TV in the corner of the room.
“I watched the smoke blow from the towers, but it was only after the first plane hit. Mrs. Slivka turned the TV off and told us we couldn’t watch anymore before we saw the second plane strike.”
It’s not uncommon anymore for incoming college students to have no recollection of the attacks at all. For Nebel, with the little memory he has, he felt the event had no effect on his daily routine at the time.
However, not everyone was able to take such a disconnected approach to the attacks. Also in fourth grade at the time, Autumn Siudzinski, a political science major, remembers the day differently.
“They didn’t tell us anything. They didn’t tell any of the kids in the elementary school what was going on. I found out on the bus after school.”
She remembers feeling upset her teachers at Dickinson Elementary in De Pere chose to not tell the kids what was happening that day.
“We were on the bus on our way home when the radio announcers started talking about the attacks. The bus driver turned the radio off as soon as he found out we didn’t know anything about it,” she added. “A high-schooler came up to the front of the bus to talk to us about it. His name was Sean, he said two planes hit the towers in New York and we should go home and ask out parents.”
Siudzinski says he told them in a very matter-of-fact manner. He was cautious not to say too much but knew it was important to at least let them know this happened.
Siudzinski remembers knowing the event had large-scale implications from the first time she heard about it.
“I knew it was a tragedy. I had no concept of what happened or how big it would turn out to be, but I knew people got hurt.”
Siudzinski and her family had traveled to see her cousin in New York the year before, and she remembers looking at the Twin Towers. At the time of the attacks, her cousin was working in the Trade Center and her grandparents were visiting the city as well.
“Luckily my cousin was at a meeting in a different building at the time, and my grandparents were sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty. But it’s sobering to think they could have been anywhere at the time. They were tourists, they could have just as easily gone to see the World Trade Center.”
Shortly after getting dropped off at home from the bus with her little brother, Siudzinski’s parents came home from work. As a family they went to a local church to light some candles. “Not for anyone in particular, but for everyone,” she says.
“Church was where big life events took place at that age. I knew it was going to be big when we went to church on a weekday night to light candles.”
The two related how they react to tragedy today with what they remember on 9/11.
“I feel pain now for people who lose someone in a tragedy. I lost my grandparents to health problems in high school and a little bit of that feeling comes back when I hear about others losing their loved ones,” says Nebel. “Looking back now, I realize just how many people were feeling what I felt in high school.”
Siudzinski has also recently lost a close relative. She says she knows what loss feels like and tries to reach back in time to 9/11 to try and feel what people were going through then.
“I don’t handle sad news well. I can’t hand violence either. One time I had to step out of a theatre during violent war movie to throw up in the bathroom,” says Siudzinski. “Those are the feelings that come to me when I hear about tragic news. I have a spread out family on both coasts so it’s easy for me to relate to these things and feel pain.”