Time can be in short supply on a college campus, but displays set up at two West suburban schools gave students pause Monday for a somber moment of remembrance.
The fields of small flags at Wheaton and North Central colleges honored each victim of the Sept. 11 attacks as the country marks their 16th anniversary.
Set up as part of the national 9/11: Never Forget Project sponsored by chapters of the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom, the flag displays serve as "a visual remembrance for everyone who died," said Justus Hanson, a Wheaton College junior and president of the school's Young Americans for Freedom club.
Each field contains 2,977 flags -- one to represent each victim who lost his or her life when terrorists turned planes into weapons and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania.
Hanson said the work of sticking each flag into the grass, some of them arranged to spell "9-11," made the human devastation seem more real -- especially to students like him who were toddlers or babies when the attacks occurred.
"It really puts it into perspective," he said.
Last year, club member Cameron Van Beek helped Wheaton College start its participation in the Never Forget Project, joining more than 200 campuses across the country that set up American flag memorials or host moments of silence. Walking past the flags after a chapel service Monday, he said the site is a good place for students to offer prayers and a way to reassure victims' families that their loved ones are not forgotten.
The Wheaton College display graced a campus with ties to the attacks through alumnus Todd Beamer, who died on United Flight 93. Before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, Beamer could be heard saying, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll," as he and other passengers thwarted attempts to steer the aircraft toward Washington, D.C.
Beamer's son, Dave Beamer, now attends Wheaton College and plays on the football team.
The college has honored the late Beamer, as well as alumi Jeffrey Mladenik and Jason Oswald, who also died in the attacks, with a bench on campus and a plaque inside the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.