Remembering Andy O’Grady, former UCLA swimmer who died in the 9/11 attacks

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that saw members of the al-Qaeda terrorist group hijack four commercial airliners. Two of these planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan, another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, while the fourth crashed in a countryside field in Shanksville, Pa. , after the passengers battled the hijackers.

Almost 3,000 people were killed that day, along with 25,000 injured and many more who faced long-term health problems as a result of the crash. Today remains the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.

Among those who died that day was a former UCLA swimmer Andy O’Grady, who was working in his office on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center that day. Managing Director of the investment bank Sandler O’Neill & Partners, his fiancee Rachel Uchitel told the Los Angeles Times that they had just returned from vacation in Greece and it was his second day back at the office, where he had just arrived 45 minutes before the plane hit.

O’Grady won a four-year letter to UCLA and qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in his freshman, runner-up and senior seasons. He was a team captain in 1991 as a senior and remained as a graduate assistant after completing his eligibility.

O’Grady was reported missing after the attacks and presumed dead. His fiancee printed leaflets in hopes of locating him, although dozens of his employees have gone missing and eight have been confirmed dead.

His mother said at the time that he “was a champion of the underdogs”.

O’Grady’s is one of many loss stories that took place on that infamous day in 2001. A tragedy that swept through many corners of the country has left very few parts of the country untouched by mourning.

As we enter the third decade since the events of that day, the conversation about the legacy of September 11 and the longest war in American history that followed has become more complicated. The phrase “Never Forget”, which was reassigned from another of the greatest tragedies in human history, the Holocaust, to become a rallying cry for September 11, is now etched in the memory.

It was never clear what part of that day, or the complex geopolitics that led to it, that we were never meant to forget. As we humanize the loss and memories of people like O’Grady who lost their lives that day, however, we can remember the unity Americans demonstrated that day and the weeks that followed. We cried together, we cried together, we were angry together, and we cried together. In the internet age, the age of mass market news and cable TV, this was perhaps the most singular memory in the history of mankind, plagued by the guilt of catharsis born from the small steps of recovery. From the rebel have emerged interfaith dialogues and the kind of community experiences that can only come from shared euphoria or, in this case, shared trauma.

The world changed that day in a way that will never make us forget the date of September 11, 2001. But to truly remember people like Andy O’Grady who lost their lives that day, we must also remember how we felt about each other following. There was a vulnerability in the human experience in the weeks that followed – a rare time when people let their guard down and were unafraid to express their emotions and fears, and to receive emotions and fears. of others without judgment.

If we can retain a positive side of the horrific events of that day, it should be the memory we strive to never forget.

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