A sea of 2,977 American flags carpeted a patch of grass in the Diag Wednesday, each one planted in remembrance of a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
For the 12th anniversary of the attacks, the University’s chapter of the College Republicans organized the third 9/11: Never Forget Project, a non-partisan memorial in collaboration with Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative-youth political organization that has held similar events at college campuses across the country since 2003.
At the memorial, donations were collected for the Michigan Remembers 9-11 Fund. Pamphlets of President Ronald Reagan’s farewell address were handed out, in addition to copies of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitutions.
LSA senior Russ Hayes, chair of the College Republicans, said while the date means something different to everyone, it resonates with all students.
“We all grew up around it. It’s in the back of our heads,” Hayes said. “It’s just really important to remember the lives lost on that day.”
Some students paused for moments of reflection as they snapped iPhone photos of the flags. Other students, perched idly on benches surrounding the memorial, chatted about the pain of a recent break-up or whether they should drop a class. A man held a piece of cardboard in the Diag with words that told of a 9/11 conspiracy theory. “Bush-Cheney-Israel did 9/11,” he yelled at passersby.
Throughout the day, people shared photos of the Diag memorial on social media sites with tags like “Watching ROTC stand guard around the flag. Never forget. 9/11. #USA #UMich.” Or “9/11. How time has passed. #umich #commemoration.”
Kinesiology freshman Caroline Alford said she was pleased to see her friends at other universities post photos of similar memorials on their campuses. Though she was seven years old at the time of the attacks, she remembers them vividly.
“I just think it’s a nice thing to do, even though we were so little,” Alford said. “A lot of times we forget about the big picture. But on days like today we remember the common bond — that we’re all Americans.”
Beneath the flagpole on the Diag, cadets in the University’s ROTC program held their own tri-service memorial, separate from the College Republicans. In 30-minute shifts throughout the day, cadets stood at modified attention, known as parade rest, holding flags that represented the different branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
In addition to remembering lives lost on 9/11, the ROTC members honored those who have served in wars fought in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s a remembrance of the fact that our nation is the greatest nation in the world,” said LSA senior Hari Vutukuru, a member of Army ROTC. “Normal student life is still thriving, and that’s possible because of our service members.”
As news of U.S. involvement in Syria dominates national and global media coverage, history Prof. Jonathan Marwil, who teaches a course on 9/11, said it adds to people’s perception of the date. Further U.S. involvement in the Middle East could be viewed as an extension of 9/11, even if there is no direct relation, he said.
“They all have a kind of connection, in a fuzzy sort of way, in the American mind, with 9/11,” he said. “We connect what comes afterward with what came before, even though they may have no connection at all.”
Although the attacks still hold deep significance for many Americans, it’s a significance that has faded over time, he said.
“Memories don’t stay sharp unless they have a reason to stay sharp,” Marwil said. “The memory is full of things. And I don’t think 9/11, for the majority of Americans, has a lot of resonance. I wouldn’t say it has none at all. That would be absurd. But I don’t think it has very much.”