Point Park professor who served as first responder with Flight 93 rescue team reflects

Written By Kumar Simms, Copy Editor

As the United States commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the first responders and their families continue to suffer from the lasting effects of the attacks.

In remembrance of the 9/11 attacks and their profound impact, Public Administration Professor Robert Skertich shared his experience as a Flight 93 response team member in Shanksville, Pennsylvania during the attacks.

“I actually have many memorable emotions,” Skertich said. “I know that from those who witnessed the attacks. Some can’t remember all of it and some remember vividly, and some still carry the weighing effects of its emotional toll.”

He added that seeing the families of the passengers and crew on Flight 93 still stayed with him. Public servicemen like Robert Skertich and the rescue team he was with were in direct contact with the loved ones of those lost.

“The first group of family members arrived at the crash site,” Skertich said. “In their distress, several went out of their way to acknowledge and thank us for what we were doing. The best you can do is whisper ‘you’re welcome’ while choking back tears.”
George W. Bush was the president at the time of the 9/11 attacks. This past weekend, he was one of the speakers at an observance ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“In these memories, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 must always have an honored place,” Bush said. “Here the intended targets became the instruments of rescue, and many who are now alive owe a vast, unconscious debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field.”
At the time, American patriotism was at an all-time high, according to Skertich:

“American flags were selling out at the stores. During that time, Americans had felt that they were the safest country and had the highest of national securities. It began to be impossible to conceive that anything could endanger us directly.”

However, in the aftermath of 9/11, government officials inside national security headed up online networks and used other methods to track such terrorist individuals through the USA PATRIOT Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This broadened government oversight of the public over the course of 20 years. In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former intelligence worker with the NSA, leaked documents revealing how much government surveillance was being conducted on U.S. citizens following 9/11.

“The attack definitely had a genuine impact on the lives of Americans through the Civil Liberties Act,” Skertich said. “I had many friends immediately affected by this, and their privacy was less private from the government.”

In addition, those who went through this painful moment in US history have watched life forever change right in front of their eyes.
“9/11 changed many things about various roles in public safety,” Skertich said. “Also, there are constant reminders of first responders dying from delayed health effects from working the events, mainly the World Trade Center.”

Gordon Felt, who lost his brother Edward on Sept. 11, 2001 when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, said that the sacrifice should be remembered.

“As a country, we shouldn’t seek to move on but rather dedicate ourselves to moving forward, honoring and remembering the sacrifices made on Sept. 11,” he said.

“Overall, this brings a significant point that in the wake of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary we should bring a spirit of togetherness,” Skertich said. “Because what has actually happened in the 20 years since well what’s happened in the emergence of its dreadful memory is unfortunate. Yet, there are the stories it holds that need to be shared. Those who’ve lived through this event and realize its significance can shed light on how grateful they are and how much of a miracle it was that some survived.”