Road Trip Dad – Remembering 9/11 – Again and Again
Dan Witmer | September 9, 2019
Author's Note: The following piece is another update of a previous Road Trip Dad article dated 9/10/12, the first year of RTD’s existence. The older RTD articles are no longer available in the archives, so I’m guessing – and hoping – I have readers today that I didn’t have seven years ago. Please forgive me for revisiting this piece, but these stories need to be told and re-told...

Tomorrow marks the eighteenth anniversary of the day we all remember – September 11, 2001. Unlike that memorable, horrible day, it falls on a Wednesday this year. Despite the near-decade-and-a-half that has passed, like many other people, I remember that 9/11/01 like it was yesterday…

I was teaching  Lord of the Flies  to a class of English 12 seniors at Hannibal High School – just the third day of class for our alternating day schedule – when the late Jack Tyrie, a history teacher across the hall and a fellow Long Island native/Oswego State alum, poked his head into my classroom doorway and said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” A few minutes later, he came back and told me about the second plane. Talk about making literature relevant – we had just been talking about world war, evacuations, plane crashes, and the fate of thousands of children thrust into chaos when the adult world goes to war…

I remember some things so clearly from that day – like being incensed that I had lunch duty that year, stuck in the cafeteria where kids were asking questions I couldn’t answer, knowing that other teachers were glued to the TVs in the faculty room… and coming home after school and sitting down in front of my own television and watching the day’s stories unfold before finally shutting it off in the wee hours of the morning and going to bed. Brian and Eric were 11 and 9, old enough to see adults scared, but too young to really understand the enormity of it all.

It seems that everyone knew someone who was lost that day, but I learned very quickly that one of my Oswego State lacrosse alums – Dan Rossiter ’96 – had survived the day’s devastation. He was working for The Oppenheimer Fund in Tower 2, the South Tower, when Flight 11 first hit North Tower 1. His company told all of its employees to evacuate the building, and he was just getting to the street when his Tower was hit by Flight 175; it would collapse less than an hour later. He fled the scene, scared for his life, but we were all so grateful to hear that he had survived the day. I made a road trip down to Manhattan to visit him about three months later, in December 2001, when he invited me down for a Ranger/Islander game at Madison Square Garden, and the next morning I asked him to take me down to Ground Zero.

I will never forget the smell and the smoke of the scene, nor the memorials that still adorned the fences and plywood barriers. Dan said that this was only the second time he’d been back down there…

I learned later that one of my Lynbrook HS Class of ’78 classmates, Aram Iskendarian, had perished in the Towers’ 9/11 collapse. Aram had been in the 4-H club my parents supervised; he had played street hockey with me in middle school. His Dad had served on the School Board along with my Dad. Aram had married his high school sweetheart, and they had four children.

I also learned that LHS alum Dennis Buckley had also died that day. Dennis had graduated from LHS in 1981 with my younger brother John; after graduation he played lacrosse at Nassau Community College and went on to play at the University of Maryland. Dennis was on the 104th floor of the North Tower when it took the first hit. He left behind three daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6 at the time.

Much has been written about the many, many lacrosse people lost that day. There’s something to the stereotypical former lacrosse player/college grad, and many worked in the Wall Street area. Just last year I learned that two other LHS lacrosse players died that day when the Towers were hit: Glen Wall ’80 and Mort Frank ’87. Glen was a younger brother of one of my teammates and played basketball and lacrosse at Johns Hopkins. Mort went to either Drexel or Syracuse (reports differed).

ESPN produced a short film called  The Man in the Red Bandana, the beautifully haunting story of Welles Crowther, a Boston College alum who saved lives while sacrificing his own that fateful morning. It became my own annual 9/11 tradition to show that 13-minute film to my Hannibal HS students in all grade levels, and even the ones who had seen it a year or two before sat silently as the story unfolded in front of them. Narrated by actor Edward Burns, it is timeless, sad, and inspirational. Here’s the link:

Editor's Note: At the time of the original article, a short film was available at YouTube. ESPN's parent company, Disney, has since produced a feature length documentary and requires you to pay to watch it. They do have a link to the film, a preview of it, and an article on Welles Remy Crowther, the man in the red bandana, here -

https://www.maninredbandana.com/

YouTube says it’s received more than a million views; I encourage you to tell others about it if you agree that it’s worth sharing, and I think you will. I’ve heard in recent years that there’s a full-length documentary in the works, and this past year there’s been a full-length book by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, as well as a young reader’s edition, and Welles’ sister has written a children’s picture book, too – all with the same title.

And if you haven’t read about Eamon McEneaney (Cornell ’77), take a few minutes and treat yourself. His is a story that also needs to be told – his work ethic, his sense of humor, his leadership, his talents on the field and off, and his legacy. I was a few years too young to play against Eamon in high school, but my brother Dave was assigned to defend him and came home telling stories of an opponent already creating his own legend.

Eamon was a 1973 Sewanhaka HS grad who went to Cornell. Ivy League freshmen were ineligible to play varsity sports back then, but in his three varsity lacrosse seasons, the Big Red won two national championships (’76 and ’77), went 29 consecutive games undefeated, and Eamon was a named a three-time, first-team All-American, scoring 96 points in 17 games in 1975, 81 points in 16 games in 1976, and 79 points in 13 games in 1977.

Oh, and he also received All-Ivy League honors as a receiver on the Cornell football team, too, and reportedly came close to making the New York Jets’ roster after graduation. Not bad for a 5’10, 155-lb kid from Long Island…

Sixteen years later, on February 26, 1993, he was working for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the North World Trade Tower when a terrorist set off a bomb in the basement parking garage; six people died that day, but Eamon surprised no one when he personally guided some 63 co-workers down 105 flights of stairs to safety, stopping at each landing to make sure that the group was still intact.

Just over eight years later, when terrorists flew Flight 11 into the North Tower at 8:46 AM on September 11, Eamon was a Cantor Fitzgerald vice president, still working on the 105th Floor. No one above the point of impact – Floors 93-99 – survived the attack.

Eamon was a lot of things to a lot of people; he was a father, a husband, a brother, and a son. Besides his deep interests in Van Morrison and Irish history, he took to writing poetry. A collection of his works (A Bend in the Road) was published posthumously in 2004. I finally got around to reading it several years ago, and I was moved by what I read.

One line in particular got my Road Trip Dad attention and made me smile (I can still remember where I was when I read it – in the Tampa International Airport). It’s in the fifth stanza of a poem entitled “We haven’t the time”:

“Where has imagery gone,
no one knows,
No time left for things to be undone.
Time ticks & ticks,
The age of compacted lives,
Let’s not walk down the path of life,
let’s drive.”

To learn more about Eamon, I encourage you to read the following articles; one by  Mike Lupica  of ESPN and  Newsday; another by  Inside Lacrosse’s own  Pete Lasagna; and a third by Brian Delaney, of Lacrosse Magazine.

Other lacrosse people died that day, too – lots of them. Last year, I found a few more stories of 9/11 victims who were former HS and NCAA lacrosse players. Take a look at Wayne Rhatigan’s tribute to his teammate Ron Kloepfer (http://laxmagazine.prestosports.com/pdf/ronnie_kloepfer_nov_dec_11_lm.pdf) and Adam Lucas’s memories of UNC’s Ryan Kohart (http://www.goheels.com/news/2013/9/11/209257098.aspx)...

The terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 took almost 3,000 Americans’ lives, but they also touched the lives of so many others. Five hours away, in Oswego, NY, I was not only shocked and saddened, but also riveted to the stories that emerged…

There are so many tales of tragedy and triumph connected to that day, and over the years I found myself drawn to its many stories of inspiration. I read  Last Man Down, the true account of the FDNY Battalion Chief Richard "Pitch" Picciotto’s survival. I saw the Oliver Stone film  World Trade Center, which depicted the real-life rescue of John McLoughlin (Oswego State ’75) and Will Jimeno. I watched Jack Tyrie (yes, the same Jack Tyrie!) play an NYFD captain in a powerful community stage production of  The Guys. Jack’s character was charged with delivering eulogies for eight of his men lost in the Trade Center collapse (ironically, Jack’s own father was a retired NYC firefighter). In 2011 I saw the film  Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close  and marveled at Max von Sydow’s Academy Award-nominated performance. To say the least, there were – and still are – so many stories to be told.

Editor's Note: 23 members of the NYPD died on 9/11. Since then 241 have died of illnesses related to working at the site in the days after the attack. The FDNY lost 343 members on that day, and recently lost their 200th member from post-attack illnesses.

As a Long Islander who left home for Oswego State in 1978, the events of 9/11 reconnected me with New York City. In the eight months following September 11, I visited Ground Zero three times. The first was with Dan Rossiter. Then, the following March, I guided the Oswego State men’s lacrosse team around Manhattan when we made a long weekend trip to Long Island to play two games at the US Merchant Marine Academy. Two months later, I guided my wife and friends around Ground Zero when we road-tripped down to New Jersey for the NCAA Championship Weekend at Rutgers. Then, more than ever, I felt a connection to the site, to the tragedy, and to the memories of some great people.

Here’s hoping that “Never Forgotten” never, ever, becomes a cliché.

Indeed, “let’s drive.” Carefully, please.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.