The Wabash College Community's
response to the tragedies
of 9/11/01

Notes from essays,
e-mails and letters


Fall/Winter 2001


Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave,
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1928

Dean of Students Tom Bambrey ’68 read St. Vincent Millay’s poem to hundreds of students and members of the College community during a special Chapel called by President Andy Ford two days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

“Something deep inside me urged me, demanded me, to call this community together,” Ford told those gathered. “I knew that we would have to work to keep from retreating into ourselves and into our own little worlds. We’d need to work at pulling ourselves away from the riveting images on our televisions—images that immobilize us and tempt us to cry out in despair at such carnage. We’d need to work at making sure we are not alone, and that our neighbors, and classmates, and friends are not alone, worried, confused, angry, fearful.

“Alone, we hoard gasoline and stockpile groceries,” Ford said. “Together, we help one another and care for one another.”

“We now know that physical structures thought to be unshakable can come crashing down. We wonder if our social structures will collapse as unexpectedly,” Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler ’75 said.

“Naturally we seek simple explanations and sure-fire resolution to these events of unimaginable horror. And just as naturally, we find none."

“We can take comfort in being at Wabash College in this troubled time,” Ditzler reassured students. “While we know that life is complicated, and that life’s problems are difficult, we also know that lasting solutions, when they eventually come, will come through the sort of work we do so well at this College.
That work continued, even immediately following the tragedies.

“TERRORISTS WANT TO DISRUPT OUR LIVES. I URGE YOU TO DENY TERRORISTS THIS VICTORY,” Ford had said in an all-campus email September 11. “Let's continue going to classes, continue teaching, continue working, and maintain our community. These terrorist acts illustrate the need for people who think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. Let's stay at this most important work together.”

While focusing on classwork was difficult for professors and students alike, the classroom was a sanctuary for some.

“Keeping classes open was not completely in vain,” visiting history professor John Aden ’92 said. “It helped us to further reflect on the incalculable value of human life, but it also served a cathartic function. Moreover, since both my classes were dealing with Classical History [of Islam], open classes afforded me a rare teaching opportunity to infuse the classroom environment with more hard historical fact concerning the sectarian and bitterly contentious debates that have characterized this religion since the death of the Prophet Muhammad.”

“In my case, not holding classes would have been far worse, particularly as the mindsets of our younger or more impressionable students would have lapsed into essentialistic interpretation without the benefit of other informed perspectives.”

“The American foreign policy class became a discussion of terrorism, its varieties, its occurrences in the last few decades,” said Political Science Department Chair Melissa Butler. “We discussed how this attack might change the whole context of American foreign policy, and what possible options for response might be.”
The day before one of her classes had been reading a passage in Aristotle: “Of those who attempt assassination they are the most dangerous, and require to be most carefully watched, who do not care to survive, if they effect their purpose… As Heracleitus says, 'It is difficult to fight against anger; for a man will buy revenge with his soul.'”

Philosophy and religion professor Steve Webb’s freshmen in his “Christianity in the New Millennium” tutorial had been scheduled to discuss the question of what defines a generation.

“The previous week we had been talking about the fact that there were no defining moments, in terms of some political or military or even cultural event, that have marked and unified this current generation of student, giving them a cause or a common experience,” Webb ’83 said. “When I walked into class, one student said, ‘Well, I guess we have our defining moment now.’"

MANY STAFF MEMBERS AND BACHELOR EDITOR JACOB PACTOR ’04 WORKED THE phones and e-mail to get news of the many alumni who work in or near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Remarkably, no Wabash men were killed during the attacks, though one was injured, and many were directly affected.
David Patel ’97 had worked for Paine Webber on one of the World Trade Center’s top floors until last summer, when he took a job with Merrill Lynch in an adjacent building. Well within view of the tragedy, he saw the second plane hit the towers and people falling from the upper floors. Patel’s building was evacuated and he escaped through the smoke, fumes, and dust of the fallen towers.

“I used to work on the 104th floor,” Patel said the day after the attacks. “My friends and co-workers still do. I'm totally shocked. I think as many as 13 of my buddies may be dead.”

Bill Wheeler ’83 was touched by the tragedy in a different way. As a chief financial officer for Metropolitan Life Insurance’s group insurance business providing coverage for many of the companies in the World Trade Center, his task was supervising an estimate of claims the company would need to pay out.

“This is one of the things you have to do in the insurance business,” Wheeler said, able to see the dust and smoke from the WTC from his own building but finding it difficult for the scale of the tragedy to sink in. “I’m coming up with a pretty big number.”

“One of the secretaries in my office has a son who worked at the WTC and is missing. They held a memorial service for him yesterday and over 1,000 people showed up,” Wheeler said. “I'm hearing many stories like this one, where people seem to be looking for an opportunity to get a feel of community.”

MEMBERS OF THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY CAME TOGETHER TO MOURN AND PRAY. Construction workers building the new science center interrupted their labors for a moment of silence and to hoist a flag at half-staff on one of their cranes. They later joined the campus community at Thursday’s chapel service. Regular Wednesday religious services were moved to the chapel to accommodate the larger crowd, and a candlelight vigil was led by religion professor Raymond Williams in front of the chapel on Friday night. Professor Rick Warner hosted Sunday meetings in the Quaker tradition in his home. Muslim students invited fellow students, faculty, and staff to join them for prayers at the campus mosque and were heartened by the support they received.

The College received unexpected national attention the Saturday after the attacks when the Little Giants took on Wheaton at Hollett Little Giant Stadium and became one of the few colleges in the nation to proceed with their football tradition. Ford told the crowd gathered for the College’s Community Day game that the teams were playing not only “to deny terrorists one more victory,” but because athletics are an integral part of Wabash’s work of educating young men, and that work needed to proceed.

Indianapolis Star writer C. Jemal Horton expressed the gratitude many felt during the game, which began with President Ford, flanked by Wheaton and Wabash players, leading a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks.
Horton wrote in his Sunday Star column:

“You still can play the game. You still can cheer. You still can believe. Even during the worst of times. Even while you grieve. The 3,034 fans at Wabash College lived that on Saturday afternoon. They were living witnesses who weren't about to let the shedding of red-white-and-blue blood go unremembered. And that meant everything, since Wabash decided to go against most of sports America and play its college football game with Wheaton College.

“Thank God they decided to play the game. God bless them for playing the game.
In one community, at least, people were able to forge a smile and not feel bad about it. They were able to look around and see people just like themselves—people who had to at least try to see if this day could be an infinitesimal step toward a healing process that could take years.”

During the game, the Sphinx Club collected more than $1,500 in donations for the Red Cross.

IN WASHINGTON, D.C., RETIRED U.S. MARINE COLONEL PAUL MELSHEN ’77, an expert on counter-terrorism who teaches at the National Defense University, was sought out by the media, then more formally by the government. He was named senior counter-terrorism analyst for the newly formed Department of Homeland Defense.

The College brought the expertise of some of its faculty and students to Crawfordsville on October 2, when Wabash hosted a town hall meeting that packed Lovell Lecture Hall. Professors Melissa Butler, Kay Widdows, and David Timmerman brought the perspective of their disciplines, and Alumni Affairs Director and former Air Force Colonel Tom Runge offered the views of a former jet fighter pilot. Muslim student Usman Tahir ’01 explained the tenets of his faith and answered Crawfordsville citizens’ questions about Islam as the College and town struggled to come to terms with the attacks and the new world they have created.

And in a sermon to St. John's Episcopal Church, Wabash Spanish Professor Dan Rogers spoke of William Blake's "Preface to Milton."

"The events of the past month have reminded us of what it's like to live in-between an injustice suffered and God's justice served, and Blake is telling us how to do that—how to pursue justice in an imperfect world. We are, in some sense, destined always to live in-between injustice suffered and God's justice served. I imagine Blake would have seen prayer as the active pursuit of justice, and urged us not to lose heart."

At Ground Zero in Manhattan, Vincent Druding ’99 was among hundreds of men and women volunteers working in the ruins of the World Trade Center, handing down buckets of debris, one by one.

"Twisted red steel. Windows. Carpets. Bits of copy machines, computers, file cabinets, desks," Druding writes in the journal First Things. "And, of course, hidden somewhere within the mountainous piles, the mutilated remains of over 5,000 human beings."

When President Bush arrived at the site on September 14, Druding shook his hand.

"He looked me in the eye for more than a moment to hear me stammer something like, 'God bless you, Mr. President, we're behind you."

"Then on the edge of a mass grave, at the feet of the Commander-in-Chief of the world's mightiest nation, I was overwhelmed with an unexpected sense of fraternity and love of country. Not 50 feet away lay the remains of 5,000 innocent people, and here, at their side, a band of their brothers stood before their leader, united in an unconditional love of justice.

"I really do believe that is what it was."


During chapel period two days after the attacks, President Ford had told students and staff that “the future needs what our community values, cherishes and cultivates.”

Tinged with sorrow, the work of that community—on- and off-campus—continues.

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