Freedom From Terrorism Memorial

The Freedom From Terrorism Memorial stands near the Quad on the southside of campus.

Nineteen years ago, a defining feature of the New York skyline fell victim to one of the worst terror attacks in history, killing 2,977 people as the air filled with dust, debris and papers cascading to the ground.

Texas A&M and College Station remember this tragedy on Friday, Sept. 11, in the midst of another unprecedented moment in time where families mourn the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19. From a 9/11 Heroes 5k to memorial yoga and meditation, people across Brazos County are finding ways to honor and remember those who died and who helped save lives on 9/11.

The Young Conservatives of Texas will honor this solemn day of remembrance by placing 2,977 American flags on the Academic Plaza lawn, marking each life lost with a symbol of the freedom the U.S. holds dear, YCT chairman and economics junior Matthew Mikulenka said.

“It’s a somber remembrance, kind of like Silver Taps in a way,” Mikulenka said. “Silver Taps is there to say, you were an Aggie and you are important to us. This is kind of the same thing, saying, you were an American and you believed in American ideals like individualism, freedom and freedom of expression and just being a decent human being.”

For veterans of the resulting wars, this day can bring back both patriotic feelings and dark memories from the battlefield. That is why Warrior Yoga founder and Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Szczepanowski said he is offering a free yoga and meditation class on Saturday, Sept. 12 at his Warrior Ranch to help the community find peace with the past. He asks that individuals RSVP by claiming a ticket so he can ensure participants can maintain social distance.

“We have to remember we’re a community,” Szczepanowski said. “We’re bound by the same stars and that flag. Each part of that fiber represents each one of us. We’re a stitch in that flag, each one of us are. We all have a piece and a place in that flag, and that’s what makes America great. We can embrace that community and make sure that we didn’t forget about you, you have a place to come back to and people to talk to that don’t judge you.”

Szczepanowski said he got trapped in a self-destructive cycle of deployment and competitive triathlons until he discovered yoga and meditation that helped calm his mind and relieved some of the aches of war. After learning the art, he created Warrior Yoga to teach other veterans to become registered yoga teachers so they can heal themselves and others while earning a living.

“When you are able to learn to control your breath, a lot of things start to come into focus,” Szczepanowski said. “I think for me, both emotionally and physically, with the scars of military service and being a combat survivor, I needed something else because when you continue to add something aggressive on top of having this mental block or background, it can lead to a lot of injuries. With yoga, it’s allowed me not only flexibility but the mindset to think things through rationally rather than have irrational thoughts that lead nowhere.”

With many years passing since the planes struck the Twin Towers, Mikulenka said it is more important than ever to remember what happened that day in New York so history isn’t forgotten.

“It’s kind of like the saying ‘History tends to repeat itself,’ and this is a measure by which you can try to stop or thwart that by having people remember,” Mikulenka said. “You should always remember to value your freedom and cherish your life because in the blink of an eye, it could be taken away.”

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