September 5, 2012

September 11 Survivor and Historians To Be Among Those at MCCC Memorial

Last year, the tenth anniversary of 9-11 was marked with numerous commemorative events, locally and across the country. Observing the eleventh anniversary of the catastrophic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center is proving to be a quieter affair. But two upcoming programs at Mercer County Community College promise to pay moving tribute to those who died that day.

First, on Tuesday, September 11 at 11 a.m., a ceremony at the Student Center Memorial Garden on the campus in West Windsor will include Sergeant Michael Yeh of the Lawrence Township Police Department, who is also a volunteer firefighter in Princeton Junction. Mr. Yeh will speak about his experiences at Ground Zero as part of the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue Team. Student vocalist Alison Varra will perform as part of the ceremony.

Then on Thursday, September 13 from noon to 2:30 p.m., a panel discussion will include historians, a journalist who covered 9-11, a survivor of the attacks, and two New Jersey residents who lost family members and have devoted their energies since to works that honor their memories. The discussion is the first in a series of programs organized by the New Jersey State Museum to go along with its exhibition, “9/11: Reflections and Memories from New Jersey” currently on extended view at the museum’s main building on West State Street in Trenton.

“The really important speakers in this event are the survivors and the people who lost folks,” said Craig Coenen, a professor of history at MCCC and one of the historians who will take part (the other is Drexel University’s Scott Knowles). “We’ll have Brian Clark, who was working on the 84th floor of the south tower, talking about his remarkable escape. He was a hero, because he rescued someone trapped under the rubble.

“Mike Kelly is a reporter for the Bergen Record, and he’ll talk about his coverage of the attacks. Edie Lutnick, whose brothers worked for Cantor Fitzgerald — one of them died that day; the other was taking his son to his first day of school so wasn’t there when the planes hit — will speak. So will Herb Ouida, whose son Todd, a broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, died. Herb has created Todd Ouida’s Children’s Foundation in his memory.”

Mr. Coenen will speak briefly about putting events in a historical context. “I’ll talk about major events in American history like Pearl Harbor and the Spanish American War, and their impact in shaping our country and shaping our lives,” he said. Mr. Knowles will discuss how 9/11 might be remembered in the year 2051.

A lawyer until turning her attention to the 9/11 community, Ms. Lutnick is the author of a book, An Unbroken Bond. Her parents died young, so Ms. Lutnick raised her younger brother Gary, who was killed in the attack. Her surviving brother Howard is chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost all 658 of its employees who were present in 1 World Trade Center when the plane hit. Since a few days after 9/11, Ms. Lutnick has led The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which has raised and distributed more than 180 million dollars to more than 800 families of the victims. She serves on several 9/11 advisory boards and is a frequent speaker at events related to the attacks.

Herb Ouida was the last person in his family to see his son Todd alive. Both father and son worked at the World Trade Center, but the elder Mr. Ouida, who was on the 77th floor of Tower One, was able to escape. Todd, on floor 105 with the others at Cantor Fitzgerald, was not. Mr. Ouida established the Ouida foundation to honor his son, who overcame crippling anxiety as a child to graduate from the University of Michigan and embark on a successful career.

The corresponding exhibit at the State Museum is the first comprehensive show to tell the story of September 11 from the New Jersey perspective. This month, new artifacts on loan from the National September 11 Memorial Museum, along with recently produced videos and digital materials, will be rotated into the exhibit, which runs through next July.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public. Participants will be able to ask questions of the panelists following the discussion. “We’ll be looking at their stories, and at the bigger picture as well, from a historian’s perspective,” said Mr. Coenen. “Fifty years from now, what will be the real meaning of 9-11? I hope there is something we’ve learned, so that we can make something positive out of a terrible time.”