SCA Reflects on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, SCA shares a collection of unique perspectives.

Most are tied to Richard Guadagno, who in 2001 was manager of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and among the courageous passengers on United Flight 93. Since 2015, the Guadagno family has generously funded Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellowships at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA and at Humboldt Bay NWR. These positions keep Richard’s memory alive and continue his life’s work, and below we hear from many Guadagno Fellows, including one who will be on-site this Saturday for the annual observance at the Flight 93 Memorial.

SCA also offers thoughts from one of our colleagues, Trisha Malizia, who was in New York City two decades ago.

Most of us have memories of that fateful day. These reflections offer hope for the days to come.

Daniel Freed, Quakertown, PA; active Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellow, Flight 93 National Memorial

I’m probably a bit older than your average SCA intern, so I do have a memory of September 11, 2001. I was 11 years old and can still remember watching the news as the Twin Towers burned and eventually tragically collapsed. However, although I understood what was going on, I did not have an emotional understanding of the events. The emotional impact of September 11 hit me when I was much older.   

Being at Flight 93 National Memorial has given me such an incredible appreciation for the fact that September 11 was a tragedy that impacted individual families and still impacts them to this day. When watching videos of the World Trade Center collapsing or the gaping hole in the Pentagon, I think that it is easy to get lost in the magnitude of the event and forget about the humanity and individual people who were affected. There were “only” 40 passengers and crew on board Flight 93 (losing one life due to terrorism is a horrible tragedy, but mercifully the casualty count in rural Pennsylvania was far lower than in New York or Washington). Because of this, Flight 93 National Memorial is able to really focus on the stories of who these 40 amazing people were. 

When people talk about September 11, they almost always use the phrases “Never Forget” or “Always Remember.” It is certainly true that we never want to forget what happened on that horrible day, but I always try to encourage visitors to the memorial to “never forget” who the people were. The lives of the passengers and crew on board Flight 93 aren’t defined by 81 minutes in a plane over Pennsylvania.  Although you can’t tell their stories without mentioning September 11, 2001, these individuals are so much more than just 40 people who lost their lives in a terrorist attack. They are people who had hopes, dreams, fears, and friends and family who loved them very dearly. 

Richard Guadagno wasn’t just some guy who died in a plane crash—he was a tireless steward of the environment, a devoted friend, son, and brother, and a man of many talents and passions. Richard lived an amazing life and touched so many people with his actions. The fact that his family continues to fund internships in Richard’s memory is proof that he was an incredible man. He had an extremely positive impact on the world during his lifetime and, even in death, his work lives on through SCA. The more I learn about Richard Guadagno, the more I realize that it is a tremendous honor to be the Richard J. Guadagno Fellow at Flight 93. He dedicated his life to doing the right thing, even if the right thing isn’t always the easy thing. When people talk about “never forgetting,” I believe that Richard Guadagno’s life is absolutely worth never forgetting. 

Because of Richard Guadagno and the opportunity offered by SCA, this 20th anniversary of September 11 has become so much more meaningful to me. I am fortunate enough to be able to work very intimately with the National Park Service during the week of September 11 and also on the anniversary itself. I am involved in putting together a speaker series of September 11 personalities, including local first responders who arrived at the Flight 93 crash site in the first minutes, FAA and NORAD officials who were responsible for defending American airspace on September 11, FBI agents who investigated the crash, and more. I will get to be there on September 11 when families and friends of the passengers and crew come back to the crash site to visit their loved ones. The whole event has become so personal to me and I feel so privileged to be able to witness something so meaningful, historical, and emotional.

Justin Holzer, New York, NY; 2016 Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellow, Flight 93 National Memorial (Pictured above)

When people learn I served at Flight 93 National Memorial as the Richard J. Guadagno Student Conservation Association Fellow in 2016, they often wince at the idea of working near the 9/11 attacks every day. To be sure, the position had the potential to be emotionally intense. However, it was also incredibly rewarding to facilitate meaningful visitor experiences at the memorial.

Among other duties, I presented interpretive talks and assisted in curriculum-based programming. Many hours were spent listening to visitors tell stories about their experiences on 9/11. Indeed, memorialization is an active process that often involves human connection and interaction. For those who have memories of that day, visiting the Memorial was a part of their process to digest the event intellectually and emotionally. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, many are still processing, reliving, and reflecting on its impact on daily life.

On September 11, 2001, I was a middle school student attending a field trip at an outdoor ropes course. Our class arrived in the morning and performed team-building exercises that involved working together to overcome physical obstacles like netting and wooden pallets. While breaking for lunch, an employee of the course told us about the attack on the World Trade Center. Some of the students (including myself) mistakenly thought the employee was simply introducing a scenario for another obstacle. The reality of the situation sunk in as we were boarded onto buses and brought back to school.

Like millions of people watching the attacks unfold, my classmates and I felt many emotions and were mostly confused, nervous, and sad. There was a palpable layer of suspense in the air. The bus driver was listening to the radio as we boarded the vehicle. Rumors and speculation about the scale and impact of the attacks circulated from the media. Some students were crying. Some had blank looks on their faces. Nobody carried on like normal. I struggled to process the meaning of the chaos and what it meant for my life in the present and future.

Upon returning home, I spoke with my father who was watching the news. He told me my mother was in her room and upset about the attacks. After all, she was from the New York City area, and this was very real for her. As a child growing up in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York, the city seemed more like a backdrop for movies than a real place. For the rest of day, I watched the news and learned more about the harsh realities of the attack at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and the plane that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Later I would learn about the passengers and crew members of Flight 93 who fought the hijackers to retake control of the plane. Their action caused it to crash in a field and not in a national landmark like the hijackers intended. One of the passengers was identified as Richard J. Guadagno who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and whose legacy is honored with family-endowed SCA fellowships on the east coast and west coast. These are great professional opportunities and I hope they continue for years to come.

In 2021, I am 33 years old and work full-time for the National Park Service at a site unrelated to 9/11. As a kid watching the news on September 11th, however, I could not have imagined that I would someday work at a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives. Fortunately, I have be able to see how meaning and perspective changes as one gets older. I hope to continue to reflect on 9/11 at memorials with other people such as first responders, veterans, families of victims and everyday people and take solace in the fact that humans are much more often good than bad.

Aliya McCarthy, 2016 Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellow, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

My time at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge (HBNWR) has shaped me into becoming the wildlife biologist I am today. I am honored to have held a position in Richard Guadagno’s memory. It offered me an opportunity to engage with the community and be a part of a dialogue for an event that impacted the entire nation.

At HBNWR, I developed a life-long passion for waterfowl ecology and conservation that has currently led me to graduate school and, hopefully afterwards, a chance to return to the refuge where it all began.

SCA member Aliya at Richard Guadagno Memorial

For me, each 9/11 anniversary is a reminder of the hard work and dedication that Richard Guadagno put forward into the refuge and surrounding community. He was truly an inspiration to many and I am hoping to continue following in his footsteps throughout my wildlife career.

Trisha Malizia, Piscataway, NJ; SCA Senior Director of Alumni and Constituent Engagement

April 6, 2019. This date does not seem like it can in any way, shape, or form be part of my 9/11 story, but alas it is. On that date, I went to see Come From Away. This Tony Award-winning musical tells “the remarkable true story of the small town that welcomed the world and what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.”

As a native New Yorker and someone who lived in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, I was hesitant to see the show. As a matter of fact, I had stopped watching any, and all, coverage of the terrorist attack about a day or two after it had taken place. I could not handle the images. I could not unsee the devastating impact this event had on my city, my skyline. I could not unfeel the loss of lives that my hometown of Staten Island suffered nor that of my new family at Columbia University, where I was employed at the time. I could, however, control how much of it I consumed going forward and that is what I did.

After spending time on 9/11 and 9/12 and 9/13 volunteering at Chelsea Piers, moving water and other supplies to the fallen towers, lighting candles at church, and trying to donate blood, I finally escaped the smoke and ash when the bridges opened and I left the city to find solace with college friends on Long Island. That helped, but as we crossed the Triborough Bridge into Queens, what the terrorists stole from us was ever-present. My skyline was gone. The one I saw every day. The buildings I toured as a child when my father’s business associates visited from Nebraska. It seems so small in comparison to what we all lost as a whole, but as someone who believes whole-heatedly New York City is the greatest in the world, it was everything to me.

It took a very long time for me to comprehend the impact this event has had on me. I knew it did, though, every single day still until today. Although I was able to attend a play based wholly on this event without being paralyzed with anxiety and sadness, I did shed many tears throughout those hours in that theater. For the precious lives lost, the pre-9/11 memories shattered, but also in gratitude for what those folks did for us all. Strangers coming together in the worst of times to help each other. The kindness of those Newfoundlanders also epitomizes what New York City is all about and for that I am grateful.

Peter Turcik, Ligonier, PA; 2010 SCA communications/interpretation intern, Flight 93 National Memorial

September 11 was the second day of my freshman year of boarding school in Millbrook, NY, just 90 miles north of New York City. I was out on a nature walk with my biology class, so I did not learn about the terrorist attacks until after everything happened, but we came back to campus and there was a feeling of shock and disbelief among the students and faculty.

Having family in New York City and United Flight 93 crashing 30 miles from my family home in Pennsylvania, I was anxious about my family’s safety, but there was a long line to use the phones at school. My advisor was able to use his home phone to check in, and luckily everyone in my family was safe.

Working at the Flight 93 National Memorial was a life lesson in dedication for me. At the time, almost everyone working at the Memorial lived in the area on 9/11 and as the caretakers of the memory of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, they took it upon themselves to make sure those heroic deeds are remembered for all of history.

Regardless of what each person did for the Memorial, whether it was sorting and cataloging tributes left at the site, giving presentations to educate visitors, or recording and transcribing oral histories of people involved on 9/11, they created a beautiful memory of the passengers and crew, and did so with a passion that inspires me still. In everything I do, I aspire to show the same level of dedication.

Grace O’Hara, the 2020 Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellow at the Flight 93 National Memorial, shared her thoughts last year in this essay, A Somber Anniversary.

Maggie DeLauter, a 2014 SCA intern at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, sponsored by the Guadagno family, was the subject of this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service profile, The Guadagno Legacy: A Seed of Inspiration.

Adam Shaffer served with SCA at the Flight 93 National Memorial in 2005. Today, he is the Memorial’s chief of interpretation. Yet Adam’s ties to the site are far more extensive than that. His father, Terry Shaffer, was the local fire chief 20 years ago and provided federal investigators with vital support. Adam’s mother, Kathie, is the lead oral historian at the Flight 93 Memorial. And Adam himself assisted with the coroner’s sweep of the crash site while still in college. FireRescue1.com recently posted Terry Shaffer’s account of September 11 and its aftermath in a story headlined After the Plane Crash, Just About Every Day Was Flight 93 in One Form or Another.