SHEFFIELD, Pa. – Twenty years later, Josh Bulicz sits at a desk in his room at Sheffield Area Middle/Senior High School mere feet away from where he first witnessed the events that would reshape a nation.
On a sunny Tuesday morning in September 2001, Bulicz, then a sophomore, walked into the room two doors down from the one he now occupies as a world history and civics teacher to see the North Tower of the World Trade Center on fire. A classmate told him an airplane had struck the building.
“I remember walking in and the TV was on, and the one tower had already been hit and there was smoke coming out,” Bulicz said. “Somebody came running up to me saying somebody just hit the World Trade Center with a plane. My first response was, ‘Yeah right. You’re just joking.'”
It didn’t take long for Bulicz to witness firsthand that it was no joke.
“We ended up watching it on the TV and we saw the second plane crash into the second tower,” Bulicz said. “And I just remember honestly just being kind of in shock, all day, and I watched. I remember watching.”
Though there were some from Warren County who were on the ground in New York and Washington, most, like Bulicz were watching the events unfold from a distance. Still, the distance didn’t seem long enough to prevent the trauma of the day from reaching to all corners of the country.
“When things are traumatic, they leave that impression on you. And all those feelings, they always come back,” Bulicz said.
As a teacher, Bulicz uses some of those same feelings to help his students understand the impact Sept. 11 had on the country. Especially now, 20 years later, that those students were all born in a post-9/11 world.
“Last year when I actually talked about it, it kind of dawned on me like holy cow, some of these kids weren’t even alive for that,” Bulicz said. “In some of the kids, I don’t think they will have that connection with the emotions because they didn’t experience it.”
Still, Bulicz tries to tie the emotions of the day to what happened after. How the fear led people to sacrifice some personal freedoms for a sense of national security.
“Last year in civics we talked about how 9/11 happened and then people wanted protection,” Bulicz said. “Then it kind of goes into well how much protection, do you want and how much freedom, are you going to give up for it?”
This year’s students are witnessing the end to one of the day’s lasting consequences as the U.S. ended the war in Afghanistan.
“A lot of history comes with cause and effect,” Bulicz said. “The ripple effect, just one action of you throwing a stone into the water causes that ripple and it might not be a serious effect to you but it does affect other people. This is what happened in 2001, and we can trace this all the way back to what’s going on in the present day.”
Perhaps the strongest connection Bulicz can make is to explain that he watched the events unfold in that same building. The same age many of those students are now . . . just two doors away from where they’ll be sitting.