Young Americans for Freedom respond
Sixteen years ago, our country was stunned by a series of horrifying terrorist attacks. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two jetliners flew into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth was put down in a field in rural Pennsylvania by heroic passengers.
As in years past, the Notre Dame family united on this anniversary in remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, honoring their memory with a memorial and an evening prayer service. However, unlike in years past, this year’s memorial was met with hostility by an anonymous perpetrator.
In the early hours of last Monday morning Notre Dame’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) set up 2,977 American flags underneath the South Quad flagpole. Each flag represented an American life lost in the attack.
YAF has held this memorial for the past four years as a visual display of loss and an opportunity for the Notre Dame community to remember not only the victims of the attack, but also the heroes who sacrificed everything to save them.
With every passing year, Americans are more and more removed from the events of 9/11. The majority of this year’s freshman class of 2021 was only two or three years old at the time of the attacks. The flag memorial is in part to remind those who might otherwise forget of the horrific significance of that day.
“It’s a cause of concern for us that people aren’t remembering the sacrifices that were made and what has been given up for the United States to maintain our freedoms,” said YAF Chairwoman Clare McKinney.
In the past, YAF’s 9/11 memorial has been embraced without issue by the Notre Dame community as an event for people of all backgrounds to come together in solidarity as Americans and remember the fallen.
This year, however, when Notre Dame’s Young Americans for Freedom arrived in the morning to set up their memorial, they were met with the words “500,000 Iraqis murdered” scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the flagpole.
McKinney responded to what she saw as the lack of regard shown for those personally affected by the terror attacks: “I wasn’t personally affected by the attack, but there are people on campus who were, and that was very offensive to them that a memorial to their loved ones has been desecrated by bringing in a whole different controversial issue.”
When asked what she would say to whomever left the writing at the memorial site, McKinney emphasized that Young Americans for Freedom welcome diverse opinions and debate, but that a memorial event is not the forum for such an argument. YAF also smudged out the writing.
“I know myself and all the other members of YAF are very open to debate, and part of the purpose of our club is to bring together a diversity of ideas and viewpoints. People are more than welcome to talk about the Iraq War, and differences of opinion in U.S. foreign policy, but the memorial was not the time and place to do that. This was an event meant to bring together the community, not to divide us. It was just very sad to see that there was someone trying to make one of the most horrific days in U.S. history fit their own personal narrative,” McKinney said.
Later that evening approximately 200 students and community members met alongside YAF’s memorial under the flagpole. President Emeritus Reverend Edward Malloy, CSC, presided over a prayer service put on by the Faith & Service Department of Student Government, reminiscent of past 9/11 prayer services.
At this year’s service, Fr. Malloy shared a reflection about the events of 9/11 and Notre Dame’s response. The vigil concluded with a silent, candlelit procession to the Grotto where the band led the congregation in the Alma Mater.
Caroline O’Callaghan is a freshman living in Badin and majoring in studio art. Her long-term life goal is to live in a cabin by a beach with a multitude of dogs. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.