Leaning against a wall to catch his breath, Jordan Coffey contemplated Memorial Stadium awash in the quiet slap of shoes on wet stairs.
“This makes you realize the bravery of those first responders who ran into the World Trade Center,” the sophomore mechanical engineering major said. “Walking these stairs on a cool morning and in (shorts and a T-shirt) has put me on my butt. They were in full gear and climbed smoke-filled staircases.
“Their dedication to helping others was incredible, something we should never forget.”
Coffey was one of the more than 200 University of Nebraska–Lincoln ROTC cadets/leaders and Lincoln-area first responders who took part in the annual 9/11 reflection in Memorial Stadium in the early morning of Sept. 11. The event — which doubles as physical training for the ROTC students — gives participants the opportunity to climb 2,000-plus stairs, the same total faced by the first responders who went in to assist after the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s a time that we use to add significance to remembering those who did pass that day,” said Capt. Matt Chase, assistant professor of military science and leader in the university’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. “And, it’s also a reflection so we don’t lose the significance of those events, especially as many of our cadets were babies when it happened.”
Rylee Babish, a sophomore criminal justice major from Ogallala and a member of the Navy ROTC program, is among those cadets who were a year old or younger when the terrorists crashed two airplanes into New York City’s World Trade Center towers. The attack killed nearly 2,800, including 414 firefighters and law enforcement officers.
“I was a year old and know the story of what happened, but I have no memories of 9/11,” Babish said. “When we talk about it, I’m moved by the sacrifice, the way so many people put others first that day. It’s very similar to military service.”
Dave Endicott, a Lincoln firefighter with Fire Station No. 5, said the 9/11 event is a moving experience and something he looks forward to attending. He normally walks the stairs in full firefighting gear at Memorial Stadium and, then again, at a similar observance in Kansas City, but was sidelined by a recent surgery. He attended the 2020 event to support the first responders and ROTC cadets who participated.
“Doing this in full gear, walking those stairs, is completely miserable and uncomfortable on the first few flights,” Endicott said. “But, you get in a rhythm and the suffering fades away.
“As you walk, the stadium is quiet and you can feel the significance in the air. It’s a tremendous opportunity to build camaraderie between first responders and the ROTC students and reflect on shared sacrifice.”