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Campus community shares memories of 9/11

Barry McNamara
Freshmen gathered for a convocation bow their heads as chaplain Kathleen Fannin leads them in prayer
Where were you when the first airliner hit the Twin Towers ten years ago?

Monmouth College’s retired chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Kathleen Fannin, remembers it well.

“I was in Shopko picking up some stuff for Monmouth Christian Fellowship later that night,” she said. “I remember that it was about 9:20 when people first started talking about it. When I got back to campus, it was ‘Where’ve you been? We need you to talk to the freshmen at 11.’”

Since it was a Tuesday during the fall semester, Monmouth College freshmen were scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. in the chapel for their weekly convocation. With very little time to prepare, Fannin gathered her thoughts for a 10-minute talk.

“What do you tell a bunch of brand new freshmen?” she said. “I had to let God take care of that. I remember telling them, ‘Not everybody acts like this. … The world isn’t that kind of place.’”

When President Kennedy was assassinated, Fannin was in high school, and she said the mood of 9/11 was very similar.

“Everybody was really subdued. Everywhere you went on campus that day, if a TV was available, it was on. Everyone was stunned.”

Vice president of student life Jacquelyn Condon remembers addressing the students along with the vice president for academic affairs, Rajkumar Ambrose.

“The Auditorium was filled to capacity that morning with new students and professors who had gathered for the regular Tuesday convocation. The mood was so somber and we struggled to find words of comfort in the face of such a tragedy. Going forward over the days and weeks, the student affairs staff, as well as faculty and staff from across the college, worked to help the student body as best as we all could.”

Condon said that was particularly true of the freshmen that Fannin referred to who had only been away to college for a few short weeks.

Today’s college students were in grade school that fateful day. One of them, Carina Moschello of Sandwich, had relatives who worked in New York City and at the Pentagon.

“I remember being called out of class and not being told why,” she said. “My mom came to pick me up and she had my older sister with her. My mom wasn’t crying yet, but I could tell something was wrong. When we got back to the house, she sat my sister and me down and told us what had happened.”

Moschello’s family is originally from New York and most of them still lived there, including her father.

“Mom explain that my dad rode the subway beneath the Twin Towers every day, that the subways had collapsed, and that no one had heard from him,” Moschello said. “Soon, the footage changed to a picture of the Pentagon. That was when my mom explained that my uncle worked at the Pentagon and still hadn’t been from either. This was when my mom and my sister broke down, while we waited for news. I don’t remember crying, because I don’t really remember understanding how bad it was at the time. Instead, I went next door to an elderly neighbor’s, and she played cards with me so that I wouldn’t have to realize just how bad things were.”

Later that day, Moschello found out that her father had taken a different train to work and that her uncle hadn’t been at work that day.

“My family had been one of the lucky ones,” she said. “When I got older, my dad finally told me that he had helped in the cleanup of the Twin Towers and that it had been gruesome. He works for the New York Transit Authority, and as many city employees as possible were brought in to help, so he was one of the first to begin pulling bodies out of the wreckage. He still has nightmares to this day, and he has what’s known as the ‘9/11 cough,’ because after inhailng all the fumes and ash, his lungs have never been the same.”

Moschello has since visited the Pentagon with her uncle, and reports that the side that was destroyed has not been rebuilt and is kept as a memorial.

“My mom took it the hardest,” Moschello said of 9/11. “She had grown up in Brooklyn and had seen the Twin Towers while they were being built. She had friends that were the first to go in to clean up and friends who lost family. Thankfully, I didn’t lose anyone that day, but I remember the terror that my family went through.”

Faculty member Dick Johnston didn’t lose a family member that day although, like Moschello, there were hours of uncertainty. A childhood friend of his was not as fortunate.

“I walked into McMichael Hall on the morning of 9/11 to teach my economics class, not knowing if either of my two youngest brothers, Mike and Frank, both New York City police officers, were injured or killed in the attack,” said Johnston. “A television was on in the classroom and some of my colleagues were quietly watching the carnage on the screen. Afraid I could not keep my composure, I cancelled class and went home.

It wasn’t until later in the day that heard from family members that his brothers were okay.

“One of my brothers spent weeks doing little more than sifting through the transported rubble in an attempt to find body parts that might help identify victims or personal items that could be given to the families,” Johnston continued. “There is an annual golf outing that serves as a fundraiser for Kevin Bracken, a fireman from my hometown of Central Islip and someone whom I played basketball with, who paid the ultimate price on 9/11.”

A Monmouth College faculty member also had a near miss with that terror.

“My wife was scheduled to fly through Dulles (Washington, D.C.), then on to Los Angeles,” said assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon. “She originally considered the ‘early’ flight (the one that crashed into the Pentagon), but instead reserved the next flight out. She was sitting on a plane in North Carolina bound for Dulles when the “no fly” was announced.”

That twist of fate meant that the Sturgeons’ eighth wedding anniversary did not end in tragedy. They were married on Sept. 11, 1993.

“Sept. 11 of every year reminds me of that empty feeling I had not knowing if my own brothers were killed,” concluded Johnston. “It also reminds me of the despair others, such as the Bracken family, must have felt upon learning their loved ones were not so lucky.”