Monthly Archives: September 2011

How 9/11 Changed Us: Matthew Ridout

A third of USA Today‘s stories of individuals since 9/11.  

Matthew Ridout watched the 9/11 attacks at his high school in southern Virginia.

Matthew Ridout: A conversion and a calling

A young man watches the 9/11 attacks on TV at his high school in southern Virginia and is determined afterward to serve in the military and to learn more about the attackers’ culture and creed. Those impulses propel him through the decade, taking him in unexpected vocational and spiritual directions.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Matthew Ridout, a junior at Thomas DaleHigh School in Chester, Va., watches the 9/11 attacks on TV. Students in his classroom, which lacks cable, take apart a spiral notebook and make an antenna.

9.14.2001: Thomas Dale students observe a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks. Teachers and students weep openly as God Bless America plays over the public address system. Ridout, who has always dreamed of a military career, is both appalled and intrigued by the attacks. He wants to learn more about why those men committed such a crime, and what they believe.

10.5.2001: Ridout is at football practice two days before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. His teammates are confident the U.S. will “kick ass” and be done in a few months. Ridout hopes they’re right.

1.30.2002: Ridout has visited a Marines recruiter to discuss enlisting after graduation. Although his family wants Ridout to go to college, the 9/11 attacks have made him feel it’s more important than ever to participate in the national defense. The attacks also have aroused his interest in Arab culture and Islam — in part because he wants to be an intelligence officer.

3.13.2003: Ridout worries about the impending invasion of Iraq. He believes Americans are blindly following the president into an unnecessary war in the name of patriotism. “Iraq will be our next Vietnam,” he tells a friend at track practice. His pal disagrees: “We’re going to be in and out.” After the invasion, Ridout decides to put off joining the military. He enters Roanoke College in Salem, Va., where he hopes to learn more about Islam.

1.12.2004: Start of second semester at Roanoke College. Ridout is enrolled inIntroduction to Islam.” As a Christian growing up in the Bible Belt, he knows almost nothing about Islam. But he thinks it might prepare him for a career as an intelligence officer.

4.19.2004: Last day of classes. Ridout completes course work for “Intro to Islam,” which has been a revelation. He’s attracted to what he sees as Islam’s focus on peace, tolerance and justice. He’s surprised by how much Islam has in common with Christianity, yet finds it free of some Christian doctrines he can’t accept. He wants to learn more.

10.4.2005: The beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Ridout’s first as a Muslim. He formally converted in his dorm room one day in March, reciting the Islamic profession of faith: “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.”

9.13.2006: Ridout is disappointed by his campus’s tepid response to the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He helped organize remembrance ceremonies, but only a few people showed up.

5.5.2007: Ridout graduates with plans to work for Habitat for Humanity in Columbia, S.C. There, for the first time, he’ll begin attending Friday prayers at a mosque.

12.1.2008: On his 24th birthday, Ridout reports for boot camp at the Navy’s Great Lakes training center near Chicago. He has joined the Navy Reserve, realizing a longtime goal of serving in the military. He hopes the flexibility of the Reserve will allow him to continue his study of religion.

9.13.2010: Ridout begins classes at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. He is pursuing a master’s degree in religious studies and hopes eventually to get his doctorate and teach college. He feels his conversion to Islam led to a deeper curiosity about religion.

10.15.2010: Ridout learns from a fellow Navy reservist that another unit will go to Afghanistan next year. He is asked whether he knows anyone in his own unit who would want to volunteer. He says yes: “Me!” Although he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he thinks intervention in Afghanistan — where Osama bin Laden was based — is justified. Ridout has been in the Reserve for two years and hasn’t experienced discrimination because of his Muslim faith. But most who meet him — a white man from the Bible Belt — don’t suspect what his religion is.

5.5.2011: End of second semester at Hartford Seminary, where Ridout has completed a year’s work toward his master’s in religious studies. He hopes to return in 2012 to finish work toward his degree. But he’ll spend the next year with his Navy Reserve military police unit in Afghanistan, where as a petty officer 3rd class he’ll guard detainees — many of them Muslims like himself. He remembers the harm done by U.S. military jailers who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; he says that can’t happen again.

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How 9/11 Changed Us: Welles Crowther

A 2nd of USA Today‘s personal snapshots of life after 9/11.  This one follows the family of a young man who helped many people escape the North Tower before its collapse.  

Welles Crowther: Man with the red bandanna

The family of a man lost in the 9/11 terror attacks wonders how he died, and what he was doing at the end.A red bandanna, which gives rise to a legend, helps answer those questions.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY (<= click for full article)

9.11.2001: Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, is working on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airliner hits the building’s twin. He leaves a reassuring phone message for his mother at home in Nyack, N.Y. After that, nothing. His parents are left to wonder: How did he die? What was he doing at the end?

11.1.2001:Ladies’ Home Journal publishes a first-person account by Judy Wein, an AON Corp. vice president who was injured and narrowly escaped from the south tower on Sept. 11. She writes: “A man with a red handkerchief over his face seemed to appear out of nowhere and pointed to the stairs. ‘Anyone who can get up and walk, get up now,’ he urged the other people on the floor.” But she cannot identify the man. Crowther was a volunteer fireman who always carried a red-print bandanna in his back pocket. But his family and friends, who’d have made the connection, don’t see the article.

3.19.2002: Crowther’s remains are found near firefighters and emergency workers killed at a command center in the lobby of the south tower. Notified three days later, his family will note the significance of the date he was found: 19 was his lucky number — the one he wore playing varsity hockey at Nyack High School and lacrosse at Boston College.

5.25.2002: A New York Times article about the upper floors of the Trade Center on Sept. 11 says a “mysterious man appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered with a red handkerchief” to help rescue several women from a dark, smoky stairway. One, Ling Young, says that she was steered toward safety by the man; that he called, “This way to the stairs!”; that he followed her down the stairs, carrying a woman on his back; that when they reached clearer air, he put the woman down and went back up the smoky stairs. But no one can identify the man.

5.26.2002: “Oh my God, Welles, there you are!” Alison Crowther reads the Times story and realizes the unidentified hero was her son, who since elementary school had carried a bandanna — a habit he picked up from his father, Jefferson. She overnights Ling Young, who’s mentioned in the story, a photo of her son. Young confirms that the man, who’d taken off the bandanna to speak to her, was Crowther. “You don’t forget a face like that,” she tells Alison. Two weeks later, the TheJournal News of Rockland County, N.Y., identifies the man in the red bandanna as Crowther. It quotes Young as saying that although he saved others, “he didn’t save himself.”

Spreading word: Jefferson Crowther holds a photo he took of his son, Welles. He says his job is to tell as many people as he can of his son's bravery on Sept. 11.

6.23.2002: Alison and Jefferson Crowther have lunch at home with two women Welles helped, Judy Wein and Ling Young. Young is still in a wheelchair, recovering from burns. They drink water from Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in France, which Alison says helped her deal with despair over the loss of her son.

6.8.2003: Crowther’s parents remove a red bandanna to unveil a bronze plaque dedicated to their son at Empire Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 in Nyack. Crowther joined his father as a volunteer at the fire company when he was 16. Ling Young attends the ceremony. “This brings back memories,” she says. “I’m glad I found him and know who he is.”

12.15.2006: Crowther becomes the first person to be posthumously made an honorary member of the New York Fire Department. “Under the most hellish of situations, he … saved all those lives,” Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta says.

10.20.2007: The annual Red Bandanna Run, a 5K run around the campus of Boston College and the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, raises funds for the Welles Crowther Memorial Trust. Crowther graduated from BC in 1999. There’s also an annual Red Bandanna Skate in his hometown. “When children and adults hear Welles’ story, it changes them,” says his mother, Alison. “It brings such a light into their soul — it’s a beautiful thing for us.”

8.8.2010: The Welles Crowther Memorial Trust gives $1,000 to send Joshua Colas, a seventh-grader from White Plains, N.Y., to the World Youth Chess Championships in Greece. On Dec. 15, Joshua will take the national seventh-grade title in Orlando. Two days later, he will become the youngest African-American chess grandmaster by defeating Leonardo Martinez at the Marshall Chess Club in New York.

9.12.2010: Musicians from some of New York’s greatest orchestras take the stage at Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack with red bandannas tied around their arms or tucked under their instruments and perform a concert in memory of Crowther. The concert, in its ninth year, aims to help heal painful memories with Bach, Debussy and Schumann … “music with a message of hope,” Alison says.

2.25.2011: Alison and Jefferson Crowther visit a new exhibit in their son’s honor at the preview site for the 9/11 memorial museum in New York. The exhibit features photos of Crowther, a recorded interview with his parents … and one of his signature red-print bandannas.


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How 9/11 Changed Us: Mychal Judge

We’re nearing the 10 year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  I know that it’s hard for many of us to grasp that an entire decade has passed since we stood frozen in front of TVs, watching the horrible events happen over and over on relentless news clips.  When I asked my students last year if they remembered where they were when the attacks happened, I was shocked when a couple answered, “Yeah, but it’s kind of hazy.  I was only 8.”  Even more significantly, my youngest brother was born in a post-9/11 world.  Just as many of my generation will never know what it was like two live during the Cold War, when the geo-political order of the world was one of two super-powers at opposite poles, my brother will never know a world in which we’re not encouraged to live in constant fear, and where the one sole superpower takes a drastic step and implements a policy of preemptive warfare as a defense.   

…But enough of my own blabbing.  The main thing that I wanted to share is a USA Today article that offers an interesting perspective on the look back at the past ten years.  It tells the story of the last decade through the lens of about 15 individuals.  For the next five days I will post one of those stories.  

The first that I would like to share is fittingly enough about Victim 0001.


By Rick Hampton and Martha T. Moore, USA Today

The terrorist attack on America 10 years ago is one of the few events in U.S. history big enough to claim its date as its name. But Sept. 11, 2001, did not change the nation as abruptly as Dec. 7, 1941, or as dramatically as July 4, 1776. This time, there was no declaration of war or independence, just a warning that if we altered our ways, the terrorists would have won.

And so we entered a new era slowly, incrementally. Day by day. Person by person.

A decade later, we can see the changes in our nation by looking at the changes in our people — some who were close to the cataclysm, some far from it.

What follows are the stories of 20 such Americans. They suggest 9/11 was like a rock thrown in a pond, its impact rippling out until all the water is roiled.

Told as a series of snapshots in time, these 20 stories form a pointillist narrative of how America got from then to now, through invasion and investigation, reconstruction, rehabilitation and revival, tightening security at home and constant warfare abroad.

In their tales, we hear an echo of our own concerns about the next terrorist attack, the struggle between liberty and security, the pat-down at the gate.

When the stories begin on 9/11, two of the subjects are still in high school. Another, in his sixth decade, is carried dead from the World Trade Center. In the years that follow, we come to understand a bit of the orphan’s grief, the warrior’s courage, the priest’s faith, the convert’s curiosity, the zealot’s recklessness.

We go on a widow’s first date and share a bereft couple’s surprise that, against all odds, they have something to bury of a lost son.

We learn what motivated the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Afghanistan War, how a fireman who survived Ground Zero enlisted to fight in Iraq and what happened once he got there.

A daughter, in losing her mother, discovers her true calling. One mother fights to clear her son’s name; another discovers that hers was the mysterious “man in the red bandanna” who led fellow office workers to safety at the Trade Center.

The ripples of 9/11 spread far from where the four hijacked planes crashed in New York City and Arlington, Va., and near Shanksville, Pa. They affect the post of poet laureate of the state of New Jersey; the right of a public worker to burn a sacred book; and possibly even the movement to legalize gay marriage.

A photo of a spontaneous hug helps decide the 2004 presidential election. A former captive of Muslim terrorists in a distant land lives to see most of her captors destroyed — and to help some of those who survived.

In such a decade, plans often come to naught. A patriotic teenager who wants to learn more about his nation’s attackers ends up accepting their religion. A young woman, moved by 9/11 to enlist in the Army and discover herself, suffers debilitating wounds that make her wonder who she really is.

A Pentagon worker looking forward to an active retirement is so seriously burned that she can neither climb stairs nor lift her 12-pound bowling ball.

This is what it was like in the decade after Sept. 11, the date claimed by catastrophe, the door from then to now.

The Rev. Mychal Judge: Victim 0001

A photographer documents firemen carrying the Rev. Mychal Judge’s body from Ground Zero on 9/11, producing an image that some will call an American Pietà. In death, Judge’s legend grows, new facets of his life emerge, and some call him a saint.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: The Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and New York Fire Department chaplain, rushes to the World Trade Center, where he dies amid falling debris after administrating last rites to a fallen firefighter. He’s listed as Victim 0001, the first recorded fatality in the attacks. A photographer snaps a shot of ash-covered firemen carrying the priest’s body from the wreckage, producing what will prove to be one of the tragedy’s most enduring images.

9.15.2001: Judge’s funeral is held at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi , across the street from a firehouse that lost seven firefighters. Mayor Rudy Giuliani calls Judge a saint. The eulogist, the Rev. Michael Duffy, says Judge used to tell him to ask him what he needed. When Duffy did, he’d reply, “Absolutely nothing. … I am the happiest man on the face of the Earth.”

11.12.2001:New York magazine reports that Judge was gay, although apparently — as a Roman Catholic priest — celibate. New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says, “I actually knew about his homosexuality when I was in the Uniformed Firefighters Association. I kept the secret, but then he told me when I became commissioner five years ago. He and I often laughed about it, because we knew how difficult it would have been for the other firefighters to accept it as easily as I had. I just thought he was a phenomenal, warm, sincere man, and the fact that he was gay just had nothing to do with anything.”

3.16.2002: Judge is grand marshal of the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the first time the honor has been bestowed posthumously. When the lead float honoring Judge arrives at the reviewing stand, President Bush and Mayor Richard Daley stand at attention as a bagpipe band plays Amazing Grace. The crowd then chants, “USA, USA!”

4.15.2002: Burt Kearns, a former tabloid TV producer for A Current Affair and Hard Copy, created a website to advocate for the canonization of Judge. “He died a martyr,” Kearns says. “Everyone I talk to thinks he’s a saint.”

4.26.2002: Speaking at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York, a leader of the Franciscan religious community criticizes the “rush to canonize” Judge. The Rev.John Felice, who accepts a medal awarded to Judge, says: “There is a rush to canonize Mychal these days, and I think it is a mistake. In making saints out of people, we often shove them away from our experience and place them on a pedestal. He was a very human, flawed, complex person, just like the rest of us. His real legacy is to teach us that such is the stuff of greatness.”

6.26.2002: President Bush signs The Mychal Judge Act, marking the first time the federal government has extended equal benefits for same-sex couples. It allows domestic partners of fire and police force members, including chaplains, who are killed in the line of duty to collect their federal death benefit.

2.20.2003: The father of an autistic child says the boy’s condition improved after his parents prayed to Judge. Scott Brown says his 4-year-old son, Matthew, did not speak well, wouldn’t respond to certain noises and could hardly look people in the eye. After the family prayed to Judge that God loosen Matt’s tongue, “the positive outcome … was almost instantaneous,” says Brown, a Newport, R.I., firefighter. “For someone who was so silent and would never make eye contact with you, he’s like a different child. … I can’t help but to say that it is miraculous.”

2.24.2003: Critics of a gay-organized St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens object to organizers claiming Judge as one of their own. Pat Hurley, a Queens resident, tellsNewsday, “I knew a lot of people that knew Father Mychal Judge and they never saw any inkling of his being gay.” Judge was a member of Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics that is not recognized by the church hierarchy.

4.17.2006: The documentary Saint of 9/11, narrated by actor Ian McKellen, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The subject is Judge. The film begins with an interview in which Judge said, “You wonder what your last hour of life could be. Will I be doing something for someone, trying to save a life?” Shortly before he was killed, Judge administered the church’s last rites to a firefighter. A fellow Franciscan says, “This is how Mychal would have prayed to have the last minutes of his life transpire.”

9.2.2008: A new biography of Judge says he did not reveal his homosexual orientation to firefighters because he felt he had to be whom they needed him to be. “The very fact he could inspire them to believe (in Christ) caused him to fear that if he broke that spell (by revealing his sexual orientation) they would feel betrayed and lose their faith,” writes author Michael Daly, a friend of Judge’s. The book says that in his later years, Judge had a romantic relationship with a male Filipino nurse 30 years his junior. The book also describes Judge’s tense relationship with, and disdain for, New York Cardinal John O’Connor.

4.15.2009: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his first homily after assuming office, mentions Judge in the same sentence as two American saints, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Frances Xavier Cabrini. He says that Christ is alive in the church’s “consecrated religious women and men,” such as Seton, Cabrini and Judge.

5.11.2011: Judge’s 78th birthday. His resting place at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Totowa, N.J., has only a simple horizontal marker, but the grave site stands out from the others in the Franciscan order’s plot. It’s adorned with figurines of fat friars and firemen; rosary beads; flowers real and artificial; and various pins, including one that reads, “Brothers in Faith Shall Do Great Deeds.” The plot is near the cemetery gate on Union Avenue. Less than a mile away, at 486 Union, is the apartment where two of the 9/11 hijackers lived. Their visitors included Mohammed Atta, who piloted a jetliner into the north tower, where Judge died.

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UB: A Financial Aid Debacle

Students at SUNY Buffalo got a rude awakening in the last couple of weeks when they suddenly realized that their financial aid (in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and for TAs in the form of tuition wavers) would NOT be granted in time to pay their UB bills.  Are you confused by that?  Because we sure were.

All of the details are too much for me to type here (especially since I’m already having to fight to keep my eyes open…and it’s only 10:30…yes, I’m an old man), I’ll post the the Spectrum article below.  Even if you don’t have a connection to SUNY Buffalo (which is a New York State university – therefor gets funding from New York tax money), the situation is entertaining enough to read about – simply because it’ll blow your mind how messed up it is.

Financial Aid at UB Changing: Students shell-shocked by financial aid restructuring

by Matthew Parrino, Editor in Chief

Published:  August 31, 2011

Textbooks, rent, food, and transportation are expensive.

So it makes sense that most students return from summer vacation with finances already at the forefront of their mind, but this fall students were hit with a mind-boggling financial aid bombshell.

Financial aid disbursement – including loans – is now being distributed almost three full weeks later than in years past, and the add/drop period has been reduced from two weeks to one.

A total of 21 staff members in the financial aid department – 10 advisors and 11 professional staff members – are responsible for helping roughly 29,000 students figure out their financial aid dilemmas. The Student Response Center (SRC) also offers support but it has been extra busy this semester.

During the week before school started, the SRC recorded its highest call volume in a single day in its history with 10,000+ calls. The most calls recorded prior to that day was about 5,000. It was basically impossible for anybody to get through to get help with financial aid questions.

The changes to the disbursement schedule have been met with anger by many students, according to Jennifer Pollard, interim director of financial aid.

One of the many issues that have faced the financial aid office in the past has been students that have borrowed thousands of dollars in loans and failed to finish the semester. These students end up owing UB for these loans and with the changes it will be more difficult for students who have figured out the system to take advantage of financial aid.

“We had students who got refunds and then dropped out of school and then owe money,” Pollard said. “Then they would end up in collections and with the Attorney General…We can’t do that. It’s not the way it should be run. We shouldn’t be creating more problems for students with loan debt. That’s the other problem and piece to this: these are loans. So we don’t want to disperse money to students who aren’t eligible for it and then they have debt…It’s not a good practice. We want to make sure we’re working with the students on this.”

Pollard has only been in her position since May and was not aware of any research or statistical data that may or may not have been done to show what percentage of UB students took advantage of the old financial aid system.

The biggest issue about the changes are not so much that they were made as much as the lack of notice given to students.

“I don’t think we anticipated the reaction from students to be as much as it was,” Pollard said. “We knew there would be a reaction because this definitely changes things for a lot of students…Could we have done more, of course – apparently with the response from students we could have done way more.”

To continue reading the rest of the article (including the really good parts – like when Director Pollard says that students use loans to “support their lifestyle” and if they have bills to pay by Sept 1st, even though financial aid isn’t coming until the 9th, they should simply go get a part time job – and not call the Office of Financial Aid), click here
What makes the matters worse – besides Pollard’s insensitive and offensive comments – is the fact that the financial aid funds – some $140 million have already been released to UB.  So that means that it’s sitting in a UB bank account earning interest.  I read one estimate that, depending on which type of Bank of America account it’s in, interest alone could be around $60,000.
But those at the Financial Aid office don’t care.  They have jobs.  And homes.  And money for groceries.
Here is an email that I sent to Ms. Pollard this morning:
Ms Pollard,

I, like most of UB’s students have been trying to stay on top of the new financial aid policies.  Today I read the Spectrum piece on the financial aid changes and gained some insight into why the financial aid disbursement has been pushed back (the faculty senate decision, etc).  I still do not agree with it, but at least there is some explanation.  First, let me say that I may be writing to you, but I know that this is not all your fault, that there are larger powers driving all of this change.  However, as Interim Director, there are some things that you should hear about your comments in the article- from a student’s perspective.  
This argument that UB is holding the financial aid money because some students take the loans and run (and so UB is actually protecting them in the long run, or teaching them some lesson) is bogus .  I’m sure that it does happen, but I would like to see the statistics.  My guess is that an extremely low percentage of students actually do this.  But the student body at large cannot be punished for these people’s crimes.  
Secondly, and what I found must unsettling about the article, were some of your own comments regarding the situation.  Like I said, I know that the situation is larger than yourself (or any one person), but making comments that suggest students take out loans to “support a life style” is simply crass and uninformed.   I am a student who relies on financial aid.  What life style are you referring to exactly?  Having a roof over your head? 
Your comments suggest that students don’t know how to manage their finances well enough – and that these loans are meant to help pay for education “only.”  When someone enters college or grad school, they are pooling all of their resources to be able to do so.  If they have savings and assets of their own that allow them to cover the actual cost of tuition and fees – yet they still take out a loan (or are awarded a scholarship) so that they can actually pay their rent, or have grocery money, they should NOT be met with an institution that tells them, “if you have bills that need to be paid immediately, get a part time job.”  My guess is that many of the students who are getting this aid already have a part time job, yet still depend on the aid (even if they don’t have jobs, they shouldn’t have to!  They are here to focus on their education, and taking out a loan – instead of having a job – allows them to do that).  Even if financial aid money is not applied to tuition itself, paying for rent and groceries is PART OF GETTING AN EDUCATION.  
So, Ms Pollard, I know that you and your staff are frustrated and overwhelmed at the moment.  10,000 calls will do that to you.  But what else was expected?  There are thousands of students that literally depend on that financial aid.  And, of course, you know that.  But your comments in the Spectrum (and I grant that perhaps the editors took them out of context) were insensitive, uninformed, and offensive.  Instead of helping explain the situation, the “we’re actually helping students stay out of debt…they’re just paying for a lifestyle anyway” response by you (and thus your office) has only made matters far worse.  These are real lives we’re talking about here.  Perhaps some type of public apology would help.  
*signed, name & credentials*
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