WILLIAMSBURG — The University of the Cumberlands held a 9/11 memorial ceremony on Wednesday in its Patriot Park in front of the Hutton School Business.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Chris Leskiw welcomed guests by saying, “I would like to welcome you this afternoon to this time that we’ve set aside to think about the events of this day 18 years ago. To pause to consider the lives lost, and the moments of incredible self-sacrificing service.”
Senior year student James Yates led the audience in an invocation prayer.
He was followed up by the university’s band playing the "Star-Spangled Banner" where audience members looked on to the American flag lifted in the air by a Williamsburg Fire Department’s engine.
University of the Cumberlands Athletic Director Chris Kraftick introduced the women’s basketball coach, Rick Reeves, who shared with the audience his experiences on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was in a plane that morning,” said Reeves. “I was fortunate enough, I guess, not to be in one of the planes that was hijacked.”
Reeves spoke about his initial love of flying, saying he flew for the first time commercially at 17 years old.
“I always felt safe in a plane," Reeves said. "As a matter of fact, at the University of Florida, we had our own planes and I would sit in the jump-seat up with the pilots in the cockpit. [I was] never even fearful even when we got into a little turbulence.”
Reeves had spent time at Florida as an assistant coach.
Reeves then spoke about his coach tenure at the University of South Mississippi and how 80% of his games and recruiting trips were conducted via planes.
He then started recalling the events of Sept. 11, 2001, by showing the audience both the plane ticket and boarding pass from his flight that day. The flight Reeves was on had left Dallas, Texas, and stopped in Jackson, Mississippi before it was to take off again for Atlanta, Georgia. Reeves said most of the people on his flight were on their way to Boston.
“While we were taking off we knew it was only a 50-minute flight to Atlanta, and that something was wrong. The pilots came out and all they told us was we’re going to land in Atlanta, and everyone is going to have to disembark the plane. Of course all of the folks going to Boston were very upset.”
Reeves recalled how different landing in Atlanta on Sept. 11 was than any of the previous times he had traveled there.
“If you’ve ever flown into Atlanta, you can always look out the window and you could always see planes in the air usually," Reeves said. "They were always in a distance. But that day I guess there were so many planes being told to land that you could literally look out the window and see in the windows of other planes. We were so close as they were just circling the airport waiting for their turn to land. And that was I’ll say, very unnerving.”
Once Reeves was off of the plane he says the airport was nearly empty.
“There wasn’t a soul at any ticket booth anywhere. At that time for some reason the Atlanta airport thought they were a target, as well. So they were getting a lot of people out of the airport.”
Because of the perceived threat to the airport, Reeves recalls seeing police in combat gear, and police dogs canvasing the area.
Reeves still wasn’t aware of what happened that morning when his plane landed. He said he had just walked into a TGI Fridays when the second plane struck the World Trade Center.
He then tried renting a car at the airport, but once he saw the line of nearly 300 people, he knew his chances at getting a rental was slim. Luckily, he was on the executive committee for Women’s Basketball Coaching Association (WBCA) whose headquarters were in Lawrenceville, Georgia right outside of Atlanta. He was able to rent a car at a small rental place beside WBCA’s headquarters. Reeves then drove to the the airport in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Until this day, I don’t why they said that’s the only place I could drive. I couldn’t go all the way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.”
Much like the Atlanta airport, Reeves said Birmingham was a ghost-town too.
The following years for Coach Reeves were difficult.
“From that point on, I’m ashamed to say that I developed an intense fear of flying,” he said. “I would almost have an anxiety attack before I got on a plane.”
Reeve’s admitted that his new-found fear of flying was a factor in his decision to leave South Mississippi and take a coaching job at Gardner-Webb University.
“I knew that was a big league, and I was tired of getting on a plane every time I turned around. From that point on, I wouldn’t sit in a window seat. I would sit on the aisle [side]," Reeves said. "Most of the time I would just try to close my eyes and pray, and not sleep if I could, and not even think about it anymore. Like I said, it just took all the joy of me flying away.”
The tipping point for Reeves happened when the University of Maine contacted him for a coaching job.
“They had already sent me the ticket before I could even really turn them down, and tell them I had no interest. I just couldn’t get on that plane. The fear got to me, and I just couldn’t get on that plane to go visit them.”
Reeves said he did eventually make the trip to Maine on his own expense because he felt bad for having to turn down the original trip.
Since then Reeves said he has turned his trust and faith over to God, and with that has found it easier not to worry about things outside of one's control.
“I will never let anything, or anyone, or any terrorist whether it be domestic or foreign, steal my joy," Reeves said. "I’m going to totally trust the Lord, and believe in the Lord, and everyday I am going to be joyful. Nothing is going to steal my joy. I am grateful today that I can stand here in front of you though, and tell you that I totally have joy everyday, and I totally trust the Lord. I hope you can do that, too.”
Senior student and President of Sigma Beta Delta Molly Lawson then introduced some of the university’s ROTC members who raised the flag as part of the flag ceremony.
Business Club President Mason Kraps then led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a moment of silence.
The university’s marching band then played a rendition of "Taps", and a special performance for the audience.
Event coordinator Agnes Brown-Oliphant closed the ceremony reminding the audience to cherish their lives and to not take things for granted.
“Let us not take for granted our normal routines, and always remember to be grateful for our great nation and freedoms that we have, and the families we have built, and the service men and women who have made those freedoms possible.
“A few years ago we had this program," added Brown-Oliphant. "I started it back up and we had maybe 30 people out in the crowd. Looking out today, it’s raising my emotions up. I really do appreciate everyone taking time to come out, the community, the UC community, everyone.”
The ceremony was then ended by Eddie Ceausu, Student Government Associate Chief of Staff, leading a benediction prayer.