NROTC Steps Up to Honor the Victims and Heroes of 9/11
By Kelly Saavedra
Gesling Stadium glistened under a bright sun and clear, blue sky on the morning of Sept. 11. Company Commander Hailey McDonald and 35 of her fellow midshipmen from the Steel City Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) gathered near the 20-yard line, gearing up for a Saturday morning workout designed to honor the victims and heroes who died in the terrorist attacks on this day 20 years ago.
The workout began at 8:46 a.m., marking the time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and consisted of climbing the stadium steps 17 times, which is roughly the equivalent of climbing all 110 stories of the World Trade Center and enough to ensure one step was climbed for each of the 2,996 people who died in the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field 75 miles south of Pittsburgh.
The stair climbing was broken into four segments. Midshipmen shared stories between each segment about some of the many heroic acts that took place on that day.
“Running the steps was important to me because there were individuals that day who sacrificed themselves in order to save others,” McDonald said. “Firefighters continued to climb stairs in the North Tower even after the South Tower fell, knowing that they would likely lose their lives in the process. These heroes consciously chose to put others before themselves, in a life-or-death situation, and so the least we could do to honor them was climb stairs and reflect on that day.”
"We have to do everything we can to never forget."
— Andrew Butler
As the stories of that day were read aloud, McDonald said she could not help but think of the families and friends of those who were lost and the countless individuals who have had to grieve the loss of loved ones for two decades because of the evil acts of others.
“I thought of final phone calls and final goodbyes, none of which should have taken place on that day,” she said.
McDonald was inspired to serve by her grandfather, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. His stories of selflessness and struggle on behalf of the country drove her to want to give back in any way she could for the freedoms she has in thanks to those who served before her.
While she was climbing the steps, McDonald says she mostly felt grateful for the sacrifices of the heroes on 9/11 and those who have served the United States in any capacity.
“Not only did they save lives, but they set an unparalleled example of selflessness for future generations to aspire to,” she said. “I am grateful to be an American, and this feeling was even more profound while I was climbing.”
Andrew Butler, a senior at Carnegie Mellon and platoon commander, was surprised at how difficult it was to climb the stadium steps 17 times.
“It was hard. I was tired. The whole company was tired. But we knew that was nothing compared to what the heroes went through 20 years ago,” Butler said.
“We knew we had to push on to honor the heroes and victims as best as we could. The speeches and stairs were a small gesture, but I know we had to, and continue to have to, do everything we can to never forget.”