USF event on Friday focused on personal reflections and remembering those who died in the attacks.
USF.edu News Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 10, 2010) – Ricardo Torres, a USF sophomore majoring in international studies, was in ninth grade on Sept. 11, 2001. He was home from school that day nursing a broken leg and recalls vividly the mesmerizing images that flashed across his television screen.
Living in New Mexico at the time, far from New York, Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania countryside, the day’s tragedies, nonetheless, touched his life in a profound way – and became one of the reasons why today he is a cadet in the Air Force ROTC with his sights set on a military career.
“The American dream needs to be defended,” he said. “Our health and happiness come at a cost, and I want to help pay that price.”
Torres was among the crowd of University of South Florida students, faculty, staff, members of the military, and guests who withstood the midday summer sun, beads of perspiration mingling with tears of sadness, to attend a 9/11 Remembrance Service that was held outside the Marshall Student Center. He joined students like Morgan Howell, a first-year criminology major, who was compelled to participate in honor and remembrance of those who perished that day.
Following the presentation of the colors and the singing of the national anthem, the service included personal testimonies and reflections by guest speakers Juan Antonio Rivera and Roger Picard, who were both first responders in the aftermath of the attack in New York City.
Rivera, a USF student and employee in USF’s Office of Veterans Services, served 14 years of active duty and in the reserve component of the Army National Guard. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was employed as a police officer in Carteret, N.J. He shared with the audience how he grew up in New Jersey in the shadow of the New York City skyline, taking the magnificent backdrop for granted as he played baseball in its shadow, until the day he saw the billowing smoke from the Twin Towers.
Assigned immediately to security detail at an area oil refinery, which he patrolled for 12 hours, upon completion of his assignment, Rivera volunteered for additional service. “It was a no brainer,” he said. He then spent the night of the attack providing perimeter security near the George Washington Bridge, volunteering on numerous subsequent occasions during the weeks that followed, including service at Ground Zero.
“It’s so important that we continue to tell the stories of that day so that people never forget,” said Rivera, referring to the theme for the service, “Never Forget.” “We owe it to the 2,819 people who perished that day. Sharing my story is the least I can do to help keep their memories and that day alive.”
Picard, a lieutenant with Tampa Fire Rescue, has more than 30 years of service as a firefighter and paramedic and has received Tampa Fire Rescue’s Firefighter of the Year award. As a member of the Federal Disaster Search and Rescue team, he has been deployed with his search dogs following Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Katrina, and most recently the earthquake in Haiti.
Speaking at the USF service, Picard related how his heart began to race when he saw on television the second hijacked airliner hit the south tower of the World Trade Center because he knew he would be deployed.
Picard and his yellow Labrador retriever, Jessie, left Tampa immediately, but it would take several days before busses could transport them and the rest of the team to New York.
“As soon as we got off the bus, I heard children whispering to their moms, ‘Look, it’s the search and rescue dogs. They’re here. It’s going to be okay.”
But it wasn’t okay, he said, despite endless days of searching using the most sophisticated equipment and acoustical devices, despite crawling on their hands and knees with buckets and shovels, and despite every expectation that they would find survivors.
Nine years later, now with a black lab named Party Girl in full uniform laying quietly by his side, and after suffering from persistent bronchitis for over a year following his deployment at Ground Zero, Picard shared with the USF crowd how he manages the memories of that time in his life.
“I try to focus on the things that went right that day,” he said, citing the fact that the Twin Towers stood for 102 minutes after they were hit and that all the aircraft around the country that day landed safely. “And I have locked up a lot of the things that I saw and heard during that time in a place next to my heart, and that’s where they stay.”
Sponsored by the Offices of Veteran Services and Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Student Involvement, the solemn event was hosted by Student Government President Cesar Hernandez, who opened the service by recalling his own memories from that day. A student at Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, he was in anatomy class when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
“There was so much confusion,” he said. “No one had any answers. And no one knew how to comfort each other.”
And while Hernandez said he could still recall the smell of ash and smoke, he added that “the day we forget what happened and lose our gratitude for what we have, it can be taken away from us.”
The service included remarks by USF President Judy Genshaft and USF Vice President for Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall, who led guests in a moment of silence.
“It’s a day that symbolizes the bonds of humanity,” said Genshaft, noting that through higher education people can achieve greater mutual understanding and respect “to ensure something like this never happens again.”
“Remembering is about acting,” said Meningall. “So the question is what will you do as a result of remembering the sacrifice of so many people?”
Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.