Two classes, 60 years apart, reflect on Pearl Harbor, 9/11

Jason Koski/University Photography
From left, Aliza Wasserman ’05, Mark Eskenazi ’05, Jack Rogers ’45 and Thelma Hunter ’45 share memories of their freshman year at Cornell.

They graduated from Cornell 60 years apart, but the Classes of 1945 and 2005 share the experience of being Cornell freshmen during historic events that shook the nation: the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, and the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of both classes shared memories of those world-changing events during a June 5 Reunion Weekend panel discussion, moderated by University Archivist Elaine Engst. The discussion concluded with audience members of all ages chiming in with their own remembrances.

Thelma Hunter '45 recalls her “naiveté” when, standing in Sage Hall, she first heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I thought, hmm, I heard bomb, that's bad, by the Japanese, that's bad, but where is Pearl Harbor?” Hunter said.

In an age without the Internet or 24-hour television coverage, the news spread verbally, Hunter said, and the magnitude of the event became all too clear when she saw it in print.

On campus, she recalled, the male population “almost dissolved overnight” as men signed up for military service.

Jack Rogers '45 was one of those to enlist. A civil engineering major at Cornell, he remembers the isolationism he and others felt about the war in Europe before Pearl Harbor - and how all that changed overnight. “Everybody that I knew was signing up, and I expected to get called up right away,” Rogers said. He was deferred long enough to complete his sophomore year and eventually served in a field artillery unit.

Maxine Katz Morse and Elaine Engst
Jason Koski/University Photography
Maxine Katz Morse of the Class of ’45, left, and University Archivist Elaine Engst look over memorabilia from Pearl Harbor Day.

Sixty years later, Mark Eskenazi '05 was a Cornell freshman, in his second week of classes in the ILR School. Walking to Economics 101, his friend told him about planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. That night, what seemed like 100 people gathered in Clara Dickson Hall, where Eskenazi lived, to watch President George Bush address the nation.

In the aftermath, Eskenazi remembers debate on campus about the U.S. response to the attacks and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a freshman from Long Island, Aliza Wasserman's memories of 9/11 focus mostly on her father, who worked in the World Trade Center at the time. He was half an hour late to work that day because he had voted in a Democratic primary. He was one of the survivors who fled on foot uptown, away from the crumbling buildings.

There were mobs of people outside the campus store watching television news coverage of the attacks, Wasserman recalled. A “collective mourning period” followed, and after that, political activity on campus and beyond in response to the wars that ensued.

The Reunion event featured a display of memorabilia from Pearl Harbor Day, including the Dec. 7, 1941, front page of The Cornell Daily Sun.

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