Skip to main content

UW–Madison remembers Sept. 11 attacks 10 years later

September 9, 2011 By Stacy Forster

Nearly 10 years ago, thousands of UW–Madison students, faculty, staff and community members hungry for a connection to the devastation on the East Coast packed Library Mall in the heart of campus for a vigil to commemorate the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Nearly 10 years ago, thousands of University of Wisconsin–Madison students, faculty, staff and community members hungry for a connection to the devastation on the East Coast packed Library Mall in the heart of campus for a vigil to commemorate the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Many had been watching days earlier as the World Trade Center towers crumbled. Some worried about family, friends and other loved ones who were living in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, and all came together on Library Mall to grieve for the victims.

On Sept. 9, 2011, Vets for Vets, a UW–Madison student organization, displays a series of American flags in the shape of “9/11” on Bascom Hill to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Photos: Bryce Richter

See also: Events of Sept. 11 have lasting influence

Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science, was interim provost at the time, and had to step in to lead the university when suspended air travel left then-Chancellor John Wiley stranded in Los Angeles. He remembers first working to comprehend the attacks, then reacting to worries of students who were concerned about loved ones in New York and D.C., and deciding whether to keep the campus running as usual.

“Over the course of the week we dealt with the shock, fear and sadness that everyone on campus felt as we dealt with campus safety concerns, the desire to honor those killed, whether to have the football game on Saturday and whether to have a special campus event on Friday as called for by President Bush,” Sandefur says. “I remember the deep respect to those who lost their lives along with a strong sense of a united, concerned and determined campus community.”

Joe Elder, professor of sociology and languages and cultures of Asia, delivered a message of peace at the event, calling on those remembering the victims to focus on building institutions that would prevent further terror attacks.

“Perhaps, as an outcome of this tragedy, with the application of reason, patience, wisdom and compassion, we can — with other nations of the world — build cultures and institutions that will prevent a recurrence — not only in the United States — but anywhere in the world — of what happened Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001,” Elder said at what was called a “program for remembrance and reflection.”

Rachel Weiss, senior outreach specialist for the Center for South Asia, was at Library Mall that day and remembers not only the power of Elder’s speech, but the eerie silence of those who were there to hear it.

“I can still remember being among this enormous sea of people,” Weiss says of the event. “Everybody was still in shock and having that moment of shared humanity to acknowledge that this enormous event happened in our nation was breathaking.”

Students who are now enrolled at the university were in grade school or junior high at the time of the attacks.

Johnny Koremenos, now a junior at UW–Madison, was in fifth grade and remembers his dad interrupting him as he was getting ready for school in his Brookfield home to show him what was happening on the morning news.

“I just remember my dad saying, ‘This was no accident, this was definitely an act of terrorism, this was done on purpose,’” Koremenos recalls. “As the details unfolded in the days and weeks after, I remember the fear and panic I saw in my parents.”

This Sunday, Koremenos, now chair of the UW–Madison College Republicans, and other members of the group will plant more than 3,000 American flags on Bascom Hill to urge people on campus to come together and honor the victims.

“Sept. 11 isn’t something that’s on people’s minds as it used to be, and people’s attitudes have changed,” Koremenos says. “It’s important that we stand together to honor the innocent people who lost their lives on 9/11.”

The UW–Madison student group Vets for Vets also displayed a series of American flags in the shape of a “9/11” on Bascom Hill Friday.    

Some UW–Madison experts will be part of discussions about the attacks and their lasting effects on American history, politics and culture.

The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters’ “Perspectives on a Post-9/11 World” is scheduled for Sunday in the lecture hall of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art at the Overture Center, 227 State St.

At 1 p.m., Donald Downs, professor of law, political science and journalism, will join Ambrose-Hesseltine Professor in U.S. Military History John W. Hall to address “The U.S.: At Home and Abroad in a Post-9/11 World,” covering American military operations since Sept. 11.

At 2:45 p.m., Charles Cohen, professor of history and religious studies and director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, and UW Law School professor Asifa Quraishi will join Louise Cainkar of Marquette University for a panel, “Islam and America: Citizenship and Democracy.”