By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Next Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a tragic incident that local students weren’t even alive to witness.
Thomas Franklin, an award-winning photographer and college professor, spoke with Warsaw students during a presentation on Friday, Sept. 3, about Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the challenges that came with taking pictures as the tragedy unfolded.
Franklin is best known for his iconic flag-raising image taken at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center immediately after the attack. This widely recognized photograph was featured on the United States Postal Service’s heroes’ fundraising stamp. Proceeds from these stamps have generated over $10 million for those affected by 9/11.
He spoke with Warsaw Community Schools’ fifth-graders about 9/11 and his experiences as a multimedia journalist during that time. Many children gasped when Franklin recalled the events and the number of people who died or were injured.
“My job that day was to go out and take pictures,” said Franklin. “My brother worked one block away from the World Trade Center. I had nine friends who worked in those buildings. Thankfully, they all survived. But the magnitude of what happened that day was enormous. It’s an event that changed how we live and made us feel significantly less safe.”
Franklin said one of the challenges with photographing images at the World Trade Center during and after its collapse was how to handle his emotions while still doing his job.
“What I saw was unlike anything that I could describe for you with words,” said Franklin. “There was wreckage and destruction that was so massive and wide in scope that it was impossible to even comprehend.”
He recalled the instance where he took a picture of three firefighters raising a flag at Ground Zero amongst the rubble. Franklin said people frequently compare it to a photo from the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II; in that photo, several soldiers are shown raising a flag. He said he took roughly 20 photos of the 9/11 flag-raising and that the one he submitted for publication “spread everywhere.” Franklin’s photo was used in a lot of places to raise money for 9/11 victims.
“It was just a moment in which they (the firefighters) decided to do this and I can only assume they did this to show solidarity, of coming together, of unity,” said Franklin. “In the days and months after 9/11, the country really came together and bonded.”
Franklin emphasized the importance of adaptability, saying that both 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic are ways that people can mark time while recollecting how they made adjustments to their lifestyles.
“For people of my generation, everyone knows where they were,” said Franklin about 9/11. “Your parents, I’m sure, would tell you where they were that day. Now, for you, this is the time period you will remember for the rest of your lives. Think about what you’re dealing with now during the pandemic and how you’re going to adapt and how you’re going to adjust. Years from now, think about how you handled the challenges you faced.”
Through a Q&A session with WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert, Franklin said he took about 2,500 photos during 9/11. Out of the photographs he captured, Franklin kept about 1,000.
He said speaking about 9/11 to others is therapeutic and helpful for him. At the end of the session, Franklin encouraged students to pursue their passions and work hard to reach their goals.
“Every hour you put in is working toward your goal,” said Franklin. “Try to discover your passion.”
Following his discussion with WCS fifth-graders, Franklin met with high school photography and journalism students to share tips and advice for students interested in multimedia communications.
Franklin’s speaking event was made possible through the support of 1st Source Bank and the Esther Pfleiderer Charitable Trust.