A School’s Memory of September 11, 2001

Dear Parents, Staff and Students,

On a sunlit Tuesday morning twenty years ago, I walked into a gathering of parents exchanging heart felt memories of their children’s years of struggling at school. Although Summer Study was over and fall classes had only been in session for several days, fathers and mothers spoke about “hope and positive change” for their children. They seemed to sense that the disappointment and frustration of the past would be replaced in time with bright possibilities for the future.

New Parent Coffee 2001 was well underway that morning on the big veranda next to the schoolyard. Teachers, alumni, first year parents, student ambassadors and friends mingled warmly as if they were family. The excitement and pleasure that optimism and new beginnings bring to life were unmistakable. First time families felt they could walk away from the old stories as other parents had, to write fresh new chapters in their children’s lives and in their own.

Several minutes before 9:00 am, I quietly asked for the crowd’s attention and as the conversation slowly tumbled away, I let everyone know that we were needed at home because the World Trade Center in New York City was under threat of attack. The message was processed in disbelief as people realized there was something more to hear and understand.

That tragic day, two thousand, nine hundred and seventy seven innocent souls from seventy-eight countries, aged two to eighty-five became the collateral sacrifice of madness – a senseless, militant extremism perpetrated by nineteen radicalized young men who lost their own once promising lives in the pursuit of purgatory, in the service and honor of nothing.

And among the four-hundred and three First Responders in New York City whose heroism will never be adequately known or written, there was a highly decorated, forty-four year old Port Authority police officer named John “Jay” Lennon who lost his life. On that same day, a shy, little ten-year old boy and outstanding student of The Lewis School, Chris Lennon lost his beloved father to the destructive power of ignorance, hatred and revenge.

His peers described Officer Lennon as “very caring, very conscientious, a guy who never had a complaint against him and never went sick”. In an interview for The New York Times, Lennon’s father fondly recalled that his son had been “leery of heights” all of his life, and often called for his father’s help when home roofing repair was needed. “One day”, he said, “I opened The Daily News and there he was rappelling off The Brooklyn Bridge to grab and save a person who was desperate and needed his help, he was like that”.

“As a member of the Port Authority’s Emergency Service and Rescue Unit for twenty-one years, Officer Lennon had often been cited for bravery in the line of duty during his career. He had kept faith with the need to find and identify the victims of the terrorist bombing at World Trade in 1993. He worked for months to help retrieve loved ones from the rubble, restoring them to their families so that ‘they might have the dignity of closure, time and place for grief and remembrance’.

Officer Lennon and the Port Authority policemen who lost their lives that morning were reputed to know “every inch of the 117 miles of corridors at WTC”. On September 11, 2001, John could have remained at home out of harm’s way, it was his day off, but when he heard the news, he immediately left for New York City to help. On the day of the attacks, his twelve-year old daughter Katie was watching an interview with a survivor on television news. The man reported that he and many others owed their lives to an “Officer John Lennon” who had led them out of the fire and ash to the safety of the street. When the gentleman turned to thank him, Officer Lennon had disappeared back into the smoke and the chaos. Minutes later the tower collapsed.

Chris Lennon graduated with distinction from The Lewis School and earned a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice. At age 27, Chris followed in the footsteps of a hero, his father, and was installed as a police officer in his father’s original unit. According to a reporter for The Jersey Journal, “emotions ran high” when representatives of the New York Port Authority Police Department and Patricia Lennon, his remarkable mother were asked to come forward. Without Chris and those in attendance knowing, and in honor of Officer Lennon’s memory, it was arranged that his son’s badge would read the same as his father’s – number 1170.

On Thursday evening, July 19, 2018, when Patricia Lennon, mother of Christopher, and teenage sweetheart and wife of John, pinned her son’s badge to his lapel and embraced him, the ignorance, hatred and revenge of a few on September 11, 2001 “came face to face” and paled in the presence and the continuum of the greatest powers on earth, goodness, integrity, courage and love.

In Memory of the Heroic Sacrifices Made for Each of Us, Then and Now,

Marsha Gaynor Lewis
For The Lewis School, Saturday, September 11, 2021

53 Bayard Lane
Princeton, NJ 08540

Voice: (609) 924-8120
Fax: (609) 924-5512

© 2021 The Lewis School of Princeton