As the nation approaches the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Bangor Daily News reached out to a number of Bangor-area students who plan to vote in the coming election for the first time in their lives to talk about how the events of Sept. 11, 2001, have affected them.
The 18- to 21-year-old students were just out of diapers when 19 al-Qaida terrorists attacked the United States 15 years ago by hijacking four commercial airliners to use as weapons.
“I have no recollection about what happened,” Joshua Mack, a first-year math student at the University of Maine in Orono, said Tuesday. “I think it does [influence my life] because I’m a young American.
“It kinda affects it a little bit, showing up when you look at people,” the 18-year-old said.
He said he learned to “never really underestimate anybody” when it comes to the capacity to do harm.
Fifteen years ago this Sunday, the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, en route from Boston to Los Angeles, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:47 a.m.
A second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 175, also flying from Boston’s Logan Airport to Los Angeles, hit the south tower at 9:02 a.m.
A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was flown into the Pentagon at 9:41 a.m. and a fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, went down in a field in Pennsylvania at 10 a.m. after passengers attempted to retake control.
It changed the world for these young college students forever.
“I feel, like, scared,” Julie Levesque, 18, of Lebanon, who is studying pre-pharmacy at Husson University, said about how the events of 9/11 have shaped her world. “You never know when things are going to happen. I feel like everyone is scared.”
She is not alone.
“I guess it kind of scares me to think there is a possibility there could be a terrorist attack at any time,” Chavaleh Winters of Orono, a student at Eastern Maine Community College, said Wednesday.
“It pretty much made everyone aware of terrorists, strangers and people,” Eric Daigle of Derry, New Hampshire, said between video production classes at the New England School of Communications at Husson University.
Levesque, Winters and Daigle said entering places where large groups of people gather puts them and other millennials on high alert.
Bill Gibbons, 18, of Derry, New Hampshire, who is studying civil engineering at Eastern Maine Community College, described his world as “different” since the attacks, and not in a positive way, with all the additional heightened security and distrust in others.
When people are “singled out because of their religion, such as Muslims, it is racism,” Gibbons said. “You’re singling out a big group” of innocent people, he said.
“I feel like there is a lot of hate in the world,” Samiera MacMullen, 20, of Brunswick said standing outside UMaine’s Memorial Union.
One of the most troubling changes MacMullen said she has noticed is the amount of racial tension nowadays, and all of the unease has changed how she perceives the world around her.
“I think that I’m just more aware and I try to be a better person,” the Brunswick native said.
MacMullen said she considers both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor to be similar in historic perspective.
“Both were terrorist attacks, as we know,” she said.
Not all agree with her. Winters said she believes the government had a hand in what happened.
“Part of me thinks it’s kind of a conspiracy,” the 21-year-old said of 9/11, adding that she grew up with a “sense of being skeptical about the government.”
Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, including more than 340 firefighters, 60 police officers and emergency medical technicians, 246 plane passengers and the 19 terrorists.
In the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 2,403 perished, including 2,008 U.S. Navy personnel, 218 U.S. Army soldiers, 109 Marines and 68 civilian residents.
On the historic perspective of the two attacks that happened 60 years apart, the students were split.
“I’d put Pearl Harbor above it even though what happened with 9/11 was horrific,” Mack said. “That sparked a war we were trying to avoid.”
“I consider [9/11] a threat,” he said. “Terrorism is everywhere, not just in America.”
“[9/11] I consider is more of an attack on innocent people,” Gibbons said. “I think 9/11 was completely out of hatred and terror against America. There was no cause behind it. Hatred, mainly.”
The fact the students live with a sense of fear does not surprise Rob Glover, UMaine assistant professor of political science and the Honors Program.
“I don’t think 9/11 was a singular event. It set a climate in our society,” Glover said. “They’ve grown up in an environment inundated with security measures. They’re probably concerned when they enter an airport or a big place with lots of people, where something treacherous could happen.”
Domestic terrorist attacks and a number of school shootings have only added to their tensions, he said.
Only one out of every five Americans, or 19 percent, asked in a November 2015 study released by the Pew Research Center say they trust the government “always or most of the time.”
“That’s really disturbing,” Glover said of the trust numbers. “Strategic use of mistrust … is the undercurrent of our society.”
The sad truth, he said, is that, “It’s really hard to build trust back up.”
Winters said it’s true that millennials are a bit on the paranoid side.
“I’m just more aware of my surroundings and how crazy people are,” Winters said. “At the same time, I don’t want to scare people.”
Friday, Sept. 9 through Sunday, Sept. 11, are National Days of Prayer and Remembrance to honor and remember the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, and their loved ones. President Barack Obama signed a proclamation on Friday declaring the National Days of Prayer and Remembrance.
Gov. Paul LePage has directed that on Sunday, both the U.S. and State of Maine flags will be lowered to half-staff. Flags will fly at half-staff for the entire day.