Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 is the 20-year anniversary of one of the most significant days in American history. It’s also the first major national remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for a significant portion of the population who are too young to have memories from that day. Most, if not all of Ohio Northern University students fall into that category. But when the nation pauses in collective reverence of the heroism and sacrifice, this generation will mourn just the same.
For their 9/11 experience comes from the stories of almost unimaginable heroism that they have been told their entire lives: the passengers aboard United Flight 93, the 343 New York City firefighters who died when the World Trade Center towers fell, the F-16 pilots who volunteered for an impossible mission that they knew they wouldn’t survive. There are more stories, of course. Everyone who was alive that day has one, even those who were thousands of miles away from New York, Washington D.C., or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The 9/11 attacks were a trauma inflicted on the entire country. It is worth remembering how everyday American citizens acted so selflessly in service of their neighbors in ways large and small.
At Ohio Northern, the community is commemorating 9/11 by honoring the New York City firefighters and first responders at the Ohio Northern Veterans Organization’s third-annual 9/11 Stair Climb at Dial-Roberson stadium. Over the span of four hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., anyone who wants to participate can climb the stadium steps to approximate the 110 flights of stairs in each of the World Trade Center towers that the first responders climbed to save others. To better understand the physical toll faced by those heroes, climbers are encouraged to wear a weighted vest or backpack to simulate the 45 to 75 lbs. of gear the first responders wore when they made their climb.
“This is how we can keep the memories of those we lost that day alive,” says senior accounting major and Ohio Northern Veterans Organization president Cole Mefford. “I grew up learning about 9/11 in school. As a nation, we need to show our gratitude to the first responders who stepped up when we needed them the most.”
The 9/11 Stair Climb began as an ROTC effort, started by Bryce Bouman, BS ’19 in 2018. The following year it was held as a public event by the newly reformed Ohio Northern Veterans Organization. Roughly 100 students attended that climb, including sorority sisters from Delta Zeta and the men’s lacrosse team. For men's lacrosse coach Nat St. Laurent, a U.S. Army veteran, 9/11 was the reason he decided to join the fight against terrorism.
“It was great seeing so many people from the ONU and Ada community at the event and supporting an unbelievable cause,” says St. Laurent.
The 20-year anniversary of 9/11 follows the recent ending to the war in Afghanistan, a war began in retaliation for the events of that day. The world is embroiled in a global pandemic that is somehow at its worst here in America. Culturally and politically our nation looks nothing like the United States of America on September 12, 2001. Perhaps the lessons of 9/11 can rekindle some of that unity that so many gave so much for.
“I hope this event helps people remember the sacrifices and the people and loved ones we lost, and reminds them that we can go through anything if we stand strong,” says Mefford. “I want us to understand that we are stronger together.”