Inspired by Childhood Memories to Help

research associate Polar Humenn ’80, G’84 was a small boy, he looked forward to the weekends when he tagged along with his father, who was the chief electrical engineer during the construction of the World Trade Center towers. “I remember standing in the pit, staring at the Hudson Tubes [the original name of the PATH train],” says Humenn, a native New Yorker. “I grew up watching the towers go up. It was like a giant Erector set.”
      Humenn was at a computer conference in Toronto on September 11 when he heard that the towers had been hit by hijacked airplanes. Conference participants made their way to a television set in the hotel bar and watched in disbelief. “They told me the towers had collapsed,” Humenn says. “There was so much smoke that I thought they were just hidden. I didn’t believe they’d come down.”
      After finally accepting that they were gone, he grew restless and longed to return to his hometown and help his fellow New Yorkers. “I couldn’t sit there and watch it over and over,” he says. On Thursday he left the conference, hopped into his truck, and headed for New York City. He swung by Syracuse just long enough to pick up clothes and e-mail some friends, making sure they had safely escaped the disaster. By Thursday night he was in New York and ready to get to work.
      For four days, Humenn volunteered in a warehouse near Pier 40, several blocks from the collapsed buildings. He was part of a supply chain that delivered tools, boots, water, and other goods to the rescue workers at the site. He ate food that was prepared and donated by volunteers, and he slept in empty buses stored in another warehouse. “Oddly, there wasn’t a lot of talk,” he says. Like Humenn, many volunteers at the site couldn’t find the right words to express themselves; instead, they spoke through their actions.
      Humenn says he shared the sentiments of his father, Dick Humenn, who wrote in an e-mail to his son on September 12: “With the death of the World Trade Center yesterday morning, I am overwhelmed with the sense that a part of me also died when the towers and all the people trapped within slipped into oblivion. I cannot yet comprehend that the towers are gone, forever erased from the New York skyline, nor can I even speak about it with anyone, as the words will not come.”
      Volunteering in New York helped Polar Humenn deal with his emotions, he says. But the permanence of his family’s loss—although not as devastating as that of families who lost loved ones—has yet to sink in. “The World Trade Center was my father’s life’s work, and a big part of my childhood,” Humenn says. “I can’t believe it’s all gone.”

—Margaret Costello

U.S. Navy photo by PH2 (AW) Jim Watson

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Main Home Page Contents Chancellor's Message Opening Remarks
Reflections In Memoriam Time of Terror Lessons of Hope
Future Impact Voices

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