by Rhonda K. Miller
Three or four days following the September 11 attacks, a commercial jet slowly crept across the sky above the Lansdale, Pa., train station. It was one of the first commercial planes airborne after that dreadful day, and its eerily quiet movement gave the Philadelphia commuters pause. The flight was a reminder that somehow, someway, life would carry on.
As the University commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11, many of us remembered where we were when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were struck, just as our ancestors may have recalled the exact time and location when they heard the nation was at war with itself 150 years ago. Individual grief takes many forms, but collective grief and remembrance provide a chance to bring our reflections together — a time to gather for solace, to celebrate the lives of those lost and find meaning in what can be incomprehensible tragedy.
“There is a human need to make sense of things that seem senseless,” says Alexander Riley, an associate professor of sociology at Bucknell whose research focuses on the tributes left at the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pa. “Memorials are an important space to correctly inform people, to give them a well-rounded view of what happened. Part of our cultural necessity is to respond and provide meaning to catastrophic events.”
Several events marked Bucknell’s commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, says Amy Badal, associate dean of students. A Remembrance Ceremony was held Sunday, Sept. 11, in Trout Auditorium. President John Bravman spoke, along with others, and the Rooke Chapel Choir and Beyond Unison sang. American ﬂag pins were distributed to participants.
Students also sold “Always Remember” t-shirts with profits going to VOICES of September 11th, a nonprofit organization founded by Mary Fetchet P’99, P’04, P’11, whose son Brad Fetchet ’99died in the attacks, Badal says. In addition to Fetchet, four other alumni and one parent (of students and alumni in 2001) were lost during 9/11, including Joseph Berry P’96, P’03; Bonnie Shihadeh Smithwick ’68; Keith Coleman ’90; and Mark McGinly ’97.
The Bucknell Conservatives Club started a tradition of planting American flags honoring the victims of 9/11. Again this year on the 10th anniversary, 2,996 flags stood on the Elaine Langone Center lawn. In the past, flags were sponsored for $1 with proceeds supporting wounded Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan through the Semper Fi Fund.
Last year, the University marked 9/11 by encouraging students to participate in community service projects for a week in honor of those lost. This year, students volunteered at the Red Cross, helping organize emergencies supplies. Members of Lambda Chi fraternity led a project to make fleece blankets for local children in hospitals and shelters.
Russ Dennis ’64, professor emeritus of education and an expert on Bucknell’s history, says the University’s participation in and response to each war has evolved over the years. “During the Civil War, the town and wider community were very involved in supporting students and faculty who were going to war,” says Dennis, whose capstone course “Bucknell of Yesteryear & Today” details information on the Civil War, Spanish-American War and both World Wars. Students and faculty participated in the Civil War on three occasions between 1862 and 1865, according to Dennis’ research. He says, “In September 1862, four students as well as President Justin Rolph Loomis and Professor Charles Sexton James served 12 days during the emergency provoked by the movement of the Army of Northern Virginia toward Pennsylvania, an event which ended with the battle at Antietam.” (Dennis’ entire course is available online at www.bucknell.edu/yesteryear.)
By June 1863, the University temporarily closed as a consequence of Lee’s invasion in Pennsylvania with students and faculty leaving to serve in Company A of the 28th Regiment, P.V., although they did not see action. Four alumni died during the Civil War, including James Potter Gregg 1855, Milton Opp 1858, Andrew Gregg Tucker 1862and Thomas Rishall Orwig 1862, and after the war, a memorial tablet was placed inside what was then known as Commencement Hall (now Buckell Hall) in their honor.
Several Bucknellians faced action during World War I, including Christy Mathewson 1902, Harry “Moose” McCormick 1904 and Dwite Schaffner 1915. They are among the veterans honored by the Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium, which was dedicated in 1924 to those who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and WWI. The stadium’s dedication made special note of those Bucknellians who served on the United States Army Ambulance Service. Bucknell had two units, known as 524 and 525, in France during WWI and 525 was decorated for distinguished service by the French government.
Anyone walking into the lobby of the Kenneth Langone Athletic and Recreation Center (KLARC) will notice the majestic Ramer Schaffner Memorial Hall featuring the bronze busts of 2nd Lt. George H. Ramer ’50 and Schaffner, Bucknell’s two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The busts, donated by Kenneth Langone ’57, were placed in the KLARC lobby in 2003. The memorial details how Ramer gave his life during the Korean War when he was ordered to attack and seize hostile positions, which were vigorously defended by a well-entrenched enemy. Ramer led his men up steep slopes and, although he and his unit were wounded, boldly continued the assault. He carried off the attack single-handedly and ordered his group to withdraw as he fought the enemy to cover his men. He refused aid when his men returned to help him, ordered them to take shelter and manned his post until his position was overrun. He died on site, but his efforts saved the majority of his company.
Schaffner was honored for his efforts during WWI when he led his men in an attack on St. Hubert’s Pavilion through heavy artillery and drove the enemy from a strongly held entrenched position after hand-to-hand fighting. His fortitude and contempt for danger inspired his men, enabling them to hold fast in the face of three determined enemy counterattacks. He was able to fend off enemy soldiers from the American front line, capture an enemy officer and obtain valuable information about the enemy’s strength and position. The information enabled him to maintain an advanced position for his company, despite being surrounded by strong enemy forces. His bravery saved many in his company from death or capture.
The Civil War isn’t the only time Bucknell, as a University, responded to war, Dennis says. “There was a period of time in 1943-44 where the University ran 50 weeks out of the year as part of the war effort,” Dennis says. “Eight-week courses became six-week courses, and faculty worked almost to the point of exhaustion. Bucknell was becoming more of a military-focused institution with the V-12 program and the numbers of male students leaving to serve in the military. As a result, Bucknell nearly turned into a women’s college.”
The WWII Navy College Training Program, known as V-12, was created to commission naval and marine officers for the war. “The trustees looked at it as a heroic effort,” Dennis says. In some ways, the University became a boot camp for the Navy and Marines, while also maintaining its educational traditions. President Arnaud Marts, who also served as the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Council of Defense, established the Freedom Regiments to prepare students in civil defense. He had radio stations along the East Coast broadcast “Bucknell Goes to War,” which told of the many adjustments needed to change a peacetime college into one that fully supported the war effort.
Bucknell was honored for its efforts when the SS Bucknell Victory was launched in 1944, two years following the loss of the University’s first alumnus, pilot Edward Miller ’38. By the war’s end, Bucknell had lost approximately 51 of its men.
During the 1960s, Bucknell, like many universities, experienced conflicting sentiments about the Vietnam War. “Things changed with Vietnam,” says Dennis. “The anti-war stances were heating up, and faculty meetings were contentious with some against the war and some in favor of the war.” It was not an unfamiliar phenomenon elsewhere in the country.
Despite the conflict, the University continued to honor and support those who served in the Vietnam War. In 2005, through the support of Myles ’67(now deceased) and Ben Sampson ’69, the CLIMBucknell Challenge Course was dedicated to A. Robert Toal ’58, Alan Gardner ’62, Guy Creep ’63, Ronald Osborne ’63, Lewis Gaiser ’65, Michael de Magnin ’67, John Duncan ’67, Norman Fine Jr. ’68and Robert Doten ’69, all of whom died during the war.
War-related memorials help visitors fit the war into the narrative of the country, Riley says. “Memorials are an opportunity to give our thanks, and to make sense of human life in the face of death,” he explains. “Memorials say, ‘Here’s what happened and here’s what it means’ — almost the extra story within the stories of who we are in the narrative of American history.”
Rhonda K. Miller is a frequent contributor to Bucknell Magazine.
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