September 7, 2021

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”  

The inscription, surrounded by shimmering blue tiles and carefully memorialized debris, hangs on a wall in the heart of the National September 11 Museum. This saying rings true for Americans around the globe; though 20 years have passed, that fateful day in mid-September 2001 left a mark that cannot be hidden. 

When the commercial jets flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Aggieland lost three of its own: Jimmy Nevill Storey ’65, Lee Adler ’84 and Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr. ’92. In 2008, the Freedom From Terrorism Memorial was erected next to the Corps of Cadets Quad in remembrance of the three Aggies who never came home on 9/11 and all the soldiers who lost their lives defending the nation in the aftermath.  

Today, eight Aggies recount how they did their part in a time of crisis, whether by rescuing another through fiery debris, scouting the skies or promoting togetherness in a frightening world. 
 

Ret. Cdr. Brian “Lucky” Riley ’95 

Fighter pilot at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach  

“My wife was nine months pregnant with our first child, who was due on Sept. 10, 2001. My squadron was in a standard aircraft carrier briefing at Virginia Beach on Sept. 11 when our duty officer announced that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We were all watching his TV screen as the second one hit. 

We knew instantly that we were probably under attack. We look around, and I was the most experienced guy in the room. Even though our commanding officer tried to get on base, the entire complex was in lockdown. So, we made the decision. We told our maintenance guys to get the jets ready.  

By the time I put on my flight suit and four planes were ready to go, my commanding officer was running up the stairs. As I descended, he said something that is burned in my brain forever: ‘Here are the rules of engagement for shooting down a civilian airliner.’ 

When I got out to the combat armament loading area, maintenance was still trying to put live warheads on the planes, but I knew we had to get airborne as fast as possible. We had no idea how many planes might be involved or how quickly we’d need to intercept them, so getting in a strategic air position was paramount. We launched entirely unarmed, which sparked a lot of conversation about what we would do if faced with certain scenarios. Air traffic control wouldn’t let us take off until they had verified our identities, asking for our names and Social Security numbers. My flight that day was surreal, because normally, from the time you take off to the time you shut down, there are people talking on all different frequencies. But on Sept. 11, it was silent. Eerily silent. 

When I hear people’s experiences about that day and how shocked, angry and frustrated they were, I’m thankful I had an outlet for it. I wasn’t just sitting there staring at news reports. I ran out the door and got a chance to try and do something about it.” 

Riley’s first son was born on Sept. 20, 2001. In the wake of 9/11, Riley, a Texas A&M philosophy graduate, flew five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Navy Top Gun pilot before retiring at the rank of commander in 2015. After returning to Texas with his wife and four sons, Riley created a fishing rod business called Old 18 and began hosting speaking engagements with his Navy SEAL business partner.  
 

Melinda Murphy ’86 

WB 11 Morning News helicopter reporter in New York City 

“I was a helicopter reporter on Sept. 11, 2001. In the helicopter with me that day were me, army-trained pilot Ray Rivera, photography trainee Brenda Bannon, and photographer Chet Wilson. It was Brenda’s first day on call. We flew the regular morning show, and the towers that morning were bathed in this beautiful crimson light. Chet was coming with me to do a public appearance after the show, so Brenda was manning the camera for the first time if there was breaking news. She was visibly nervous. As we got in the helicopter, I swear Chet reassured her, ‘It’s not like the World Trade Center is going to fall down or anything.’ 

After our segment ended, we were in our post-show meeting at our news studio, surrounded by televisions. We saw a video feed from the Empire State building, showing one of the towers on fire. Chet and I jumped in a cab to meet the helicopter as the story was too big for Brenda to handle. I called my husband, Tom, who worked one block from the World Trade Center. He said, ‘We felt it. It was not a small plane. I’m going to go outside and check it out.’  

I got in the helicopter and as we took off, there was this huge fireball coming out of the South Tower: the second plane had just hit. That’s when we knew it wasn't an accident; it was an attack. Immediately, I was live, describing what I saw.  

When the first tower fell, a huge cloud of dust rolled outward and, from our vantage point, it looked like lower Manhattan was gone. Even though I saw it with my own eyes, I couldn’t really believe what happened. I was sure 10,000 people had died, including my husband and all my co-workers who were on the scene. I gave report after report, crying in between.  I couldn’t call my husband from the chopper so my ground producer, Daniella Carollo, kept trying to call him for me. Over and over, she’d say, ‘I’m so sorry, Melinda. I just can’t get through.’  There was nothing I could do so I kept working, grateful to have a purpose. 

We landed for field twice, the first time around noon. I tried to call my husband myself with no luck, but as I was getting back into the helicopter, my phone rang. It was my sister-in-law, Nathalie. She said, ‘Sis?’ and started to cry. My heart dropped, thinking she was going to tell me that my husband was dead. And then Tom’s voice is in my ear, saying, ‘Hi, Honey.’ I fell to my knees and sobbed. My sister-in-law worked a block away from my husband and the two of them were together the whole time, covered in dust, but safe.  

Because of my crew’s background in firefighting and the military, we were allowed to stay up until 4:45 p.m., sharing our commentary. All other commercial aircraft in the country was grounded at 9:48 a.m. On Thanksgiving, we got permission to fly over Manhattan to film the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Suddenly, while we were in the air, my pilot looked at me and said, ‘They're routing us over Ground Zero.’ None of us were prepared for that emotionally. The rubble was still smoldering, still smoking. It was just awful to see, even months later. Covering 9/11 changed me, but it was just what journalists do. Journalists run to things when everybody else runs away.” 

Murphy graduated from Texas A&M with a journalism degree in 1986. In the years since 9/11, Murphy continued broadcasting, working as a network correspondent for CBS News until she decided to take a break and start a family. Now living in Singapore with her husband and two children, the journalist works as the general manager for the American Association of Singapore and offers media coaching services. 

Morriss Hurt ’00 

Texas A&M graduate working near the Twin Towers 

“It was a beautiful day in New York, and I was still half-asleep, walking to my office from my apartment two or three blocks south of the World Trade Center complex. I was standing under the North Tower at about 8:45 a.m. when I heard a loud explosion. A tourist in front of me looked toward the sound, and his eyes got as big as plates. I followed his gaze and saw a giant fireball shooting out of the North Tower. Glass, concrete, steel and paper shot out as well and were hurtling down toward us. In a matter of seconds, I ran across the street to seek shelter from the falling debris. Car alarms were going off, and stuff was exploding on the ground level. 

For about 45 seconds, the debris rained down. I glanced down and there was a gentleman sitting on the ground with the hair singed off his arms and cuts on his face, clearly in shock. I asked him how he was doing, but he was not responsive, so I grabbed him by the shoulders and guided him to safety. We ran into a police officer and I told him, ‘I think this guy is O.K., but he needs some medical attention. I don’t know where the nearest hospital is but if you point me in the direction, I’ll get him there.’ The police officer responded, ‘I got him. You should get out of here.’ 

In the weeks after, I remember walking from downtown to Midtown and there was not a car on the street. Some folks were still at work, but everyone was just in a state of shock. It was probably four to six months before it felt like New York City was getting back to normal.” 

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business administration in December 2000, Hurt began banking in New York City. Twenty years later, Hurt works as a managing director for EnCap Flatrock Midstream in San Antonio, where he lives with his wife and three sons. 

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Dr. Ray Bowen ’58 

Texas A&M president at the time of the attacks 

“Of course, nobody expected it and we were all in shock. The question was to what extent we should react. Our first response was, ‘Do we need to worry about the Bush Library?’ President Bush drove Iraq out of Kuwait when he was president, so in a Middle East-driven uprising like that was, we wondered if he or his library would be targets. 

Dr. Schuyler House ’01 

Texas A&M Student Body President in 2001 

“That day, I got a phone call from a good friend. He said, ‘Schuyler, turn on the TV. You need to get to campus.’ I switched on the TV and what I saw was unbelievable. I got in my car and rushed to campus. My first stop was the student government office, but there was some sort of instinct for students to gather in the MSC Flag Room. By that time, a staff member had the wherewithal to roll a few big TVs out into the Flag Room. It was absolutely silent. There was a tangible sense of disbelief and shock. The fear and tumult that was to come hadn’t settled in yet. The atmosphere was just still, quiet and scary.  

In the evening, I got a call about international students fearing potential backlash from people misplacing their own anger and fear. Some other members of student government and I traveled to the off-campus graduate student housing, to reassure them that we would keep them safe. What stuck with me is how truly afraid they were. However, I saw an overwhelmingly positive, supportive response from the student body. And that’s the ethos of Texas A&M: trying to do right by people.  

The period from 1999 to 2001 was one of great growing up for a lot of students, because most of us had never seen and witnessed great tragedy before. We were still reeling from the Bonfire collapse when 9/11 happened. Many of us knew people who served in the military, especially from the Corps of Cadets, thereafter. We were called to think carefully about the decisions being made and the primacy of people’s safety and security. Until tragedy strikes, you live in a sort of innocent space. The attacks made me really grateful for the people around me at the time and ever since.” 

After serving as Texas A&M student body president from 2001 to 2002, House graduated with a degree in industrial engineering. While her husband served in the Navy, House attained her master’s and doctoral degrees. For the moment, House and her family reside in the Netherlands, where she conducts water policy postdoctoral research. 
 

Kourtney (Rodgers) Gruner ’03 

One of the Red, White & Blue Out game organizers at Texas A&M 

“I was watching the news on my computer in the middle of class when I saw the first reports from New York City. Shocked, I raised my hand and said, ‘Everybody needs to know what just happened.’ We all stopped and watched the attacks unfold for the rest of class. I worked in the athletic department ticket office, so I still had to go to work after class. Everybody was in shock. I remember taking the bus around campus and the atmosphere being eerily solemn. We were trying to figure out how this could happen, who did it and why. There were so many unknowns at that point that everybody was mostly speculating while mourning the situation and the loss of life.  

Throughout that day, people were posting on TexAgs.com about how to show support or raise money. In the end, five current students who did not collectively know each other beforehand connected and began preparations for what became known as Red, White & Blue Out. Together, we used our unique skills to plan, promote, design and order the t-shirts, and recruit volunteers to sell them throughout the next 10 days.  

When gameday came, Aggies and visitors alike purchased t-shirts in droves. At one point we ran out of certain colors, but the attendees bought what color shirts we had left. When the game started, somebody ran out and said, ‘Y’all won't believe how it looks out there.’ We all walked out of the tunnel onto the field, and we were overwhelmed with awe. I don’t think we even imagined how much it would take off and how supportive it would look to the nation. I thought we were insane trying to raise money and make an impact, but the result was far beyond what we ever dreamed it would be.” 

Gruner graduated from Texas A&M in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation, park and tourism sciences. In the following years, Gruner married and worked in recruitment, marketing, teaching and hospice care before returning to Aggieland as assistant director of student services in the College of Engineering. She is also pursuing a Ph.D.  
 

Josh Rosinski ’02 

One of the Red, White & Blue Out game organizers at Texas A&M

“I was actually in the hospital the day before the September 11 attacks. Like most people, I just woke up and saw the attacks unfold on TV. Immediately, I wondered where people I knew were. Everybody was in shock and not sure what to think. It was one of those days where you sat at a TV and watched wherever you were. When Bonfire fell, it was a similar kind of day because it was surreal, and you didn’t really know what was going on. It was the same numb feeling. 

I didn’t put it together for a long time that the Bonfire collapse and 9/11 were both within a couple of years at Texas A&M, but they were an eye opening and life-defining set of experiences. Nov. 18, 1999, and Sept. 11, 2001, are dates I will never forget. It was hard to witness both as a college student because you’re technically an adult, but you’re not really, right? You’re just growing up. 

A lot of people wanted to do something to help those in New York. When the other four organizers and I started Red, White & Blue Out, we first got the administration’s approval to organize the event. The fabric and values of Texas A&M took over at that point. Texas A&M has a patriotic background, and the 12th Man will always stand, ready to go when needed. The way current and former students, faculty and the community alike responded showed a common effort to truly help people.” 

Upon his graduation in December 2002, Rosinski began using his petroleum engineering degree in the oil and gas industry. Now, Rosinski lives in Dallas with his wife and three daughters, where he continues his career in the energy business. 

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