By John R. Anderson
Most Auburn students were not yet born when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, into the Pentagon, and into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. Only the oldest sophomores along with juniors and seniors at Auburn High were alive on that tragic day, and they were all still in diapers.
On Thursday, February 18th, an effort was made to educate the students at Auburn Middle School about this tragedy in a very personal way. Auburn teachers Kristin Forgues and Beth Ann Cooksey brought Spencer resident Anne Sweeney to the school to talk about her brother Brian who perished on the second plane that hit the towers. These three women have been best friends since high school, and they collaborated to create “Brian’s Story.” On that cold winter morning, Anne spoke for the first time about her brother, the 911 attacks, and the hardships she and her family endured. Not an easy talk, and she did it three times to reach all the grades.
As the first students filed into the AMS cafetorium, that walked past Brian’s military medals, family photos and the American Flag that had draped his casket. There was also a piece of the World Trade Center, two rusty structural components that were bent and broken by the building collapse.
After history teachers Matthew Watson and Sean Sullivan gave a brief lesson on 911, Anne Sweeney spoke to the young audience. Although her voice cracked with emotion at times, the message was loud and clear. Like many people Anne knew that bad things happen, but they had always occurred somewhere else and to someone else.
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The events of 911 changed her way of thinking. “It wasn’t just an event that affected other people.” Sadly, her older brother, Lt. Brian D. Sweeney (Ret.) was on United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. When he realized the plane had been hijacked, he made two phone calls, the first to his wife, Julie, and the second to his parents. His mother was walking out of her house when the phone rang, but she came back in to pick up the call. After speaking to her son, she turned on the television and witnessed his plane crash.
Lt. Sweeney graduated from David Prouty in 1981, attended Boston University on a full football scholarship, and then entered the U.S. Navy where he graduated at the top of his class from Aviation Officer Candidate School. He fought in the Gulf War and then became a Top Gun pilot and later an instructor. “Moose” served his country proudly until a neck injury forced him to retire.
Lt. Sweeney excelled both academically and athletically, but he also held onto a very close family. His parents, Leonard and Luise, still live in Spencer, and they were visited by hundreds upon hundreds of people after their son passed. Lt. Sweeney made quite an impression on those around him, and he was both well liked and highly respected.
A family death is a very trying time, and Anne Sweeney told her listeners, “It’s not weak to ask for help. We’ve learned the value of family. Tolerance.”
On Monday, we’ll finish this story by taking a look at the Flag For Hope and keeping Lt. Sweeney’s legacy alive.