9/11 first responders remembered with stair climb

By Gwyn Skiles and Cameron Krasucki

The University of Illinois ROTC program gathered on Thursday at Memorial Stadium to climb stairs to honor the sacrifice and service of first responders during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

This time, the ROTC invited all students and staff to join them in climbing 1,980 steps that represented the number of steps first responders had to climb to rescue those trapped in the World Trade Center 20 years ago.

Annika Coester, junior in ACES who is in the ROTC, said the physical fatigue after the climb is nothing to complain about.

“We were out on this beautiful Memorial Stadium where it’s like 50-60 degrees out,” Coester said. “But (the 9/11 first responders) were doing this with a lot of gear where it was hot and there was smoke inhalation. So this is nothing compared to what they had to go through, but it’s a little thing we can do to remember that day.”

Most of the students participating had no memory of the tragedy that took place on Sept. 11, beyond what they’ve learned from history classes and the stories their parents told them.

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    “It’s good to see all the young faces here remembering a day 20 years ago that most of you probably don’t remember,” Commanding Officer Capt. David Casteel said in his opening remarks. 

    Kelly Bickhart, freshman in AHS, is not in the ROTC. Even though she wasn’t alive on Sept. 11, she said she came because it was important to her to honor the first responders that served, especially on the 20th anniversary.

    “Twenty years is a long time but also not a long time at all,” Bickhart said. “It’s enough time that I wasn’t alive during 9/11, but I’ve seen the impacts of it and have had family members that knew people that were impacted.”

    Logan Wright, a firefighter stationed in Normal, Illinois came to Memorial Stadium to pay his respects. Wright was in third grade when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. 

    “I think it’s great that (students) are out here paying their respects even though they weren’t here that day,” Wright said. “It just shows the character of everyone out here.”

    The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 sparked the longest war in American history. On Aug. 30, the U.S. departed Afghanistan. 

    In many ways, participants said they feel as if this isn’t just the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, but the end of a 20-year war.

    “I can’t believe that a war that started 20-years ago due to 9/11 has come to an end,” Coester said. “My entire life we’ve had troops in Afghanistan. It’s just crazy to wrap my head around the fact that we’re not a part of that conflict anymore. I’m looking forward to what we do in the future and how we can learn from our past to better defend our country.”

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