2004. 2007. Sometime in the 1990s? These are among the answers I have received in recent years from freshmen and sophomores in a course I teach on American society when I ask them for the year the 9/11 attacks took place. To be fair, some do know the right answer, but it is a bracing, depressing fact that so many do not, and there is little reason to doubt the numbers will continue to dwindle.
So many forces are working to feed this basic historical ignorance about the most important event in American history, of at least the past quarter-century, that it may be impossible to do much to reverse it.
That pessimistic thought notwithstanding, every September, as a regrettably modest contribution to the effort of keeping the memory present in the American consciousness, I write something about that dreadful day and what it means to this country. This year, I give you a few words about a hero of that day and many days afterward, a man — it is to the shame of this entire society to note it — whose name none of my students know, a man I knew as Father Fonzie.
This February, it will be seven years since the passing of Father Alphonse Mascherino, the founder and, for its first dozen years, the chaplain of the Flight 93 Thunder on the Mountain Memorial Chapel in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At his death, he was just a few months shy of his 70th birthday. Far too early, say I.