PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINCETON ATHLETICS

Remembering Princeton's John Schroeder, 20 Years After 9/11


Bill Tierney is telling a story. In his stories he is never the protagonist, and his antagonists are almost always referred to by one single word: knucklehead. Instead, he is the narrator of his stories, and a great narrator at that, partly because he has such great stories to tell.

He’s gone back to the fall of 1988 for this particular story. This is before he was a Hall-of-Fame coach, before he won his six NCAA men’s lacrosse championships as Princeton’s head coach and then added a seventh at Denver. In the moment that this story occurred, he was starting fall practice for Year 2 at Princeton, after he had gone 2-13 in Year 1. He also was just starting to work with a recruiting class that he famously told would win an NCAA championship before they graduated, and then they went out together and made that happen.

“So we didn’t have our own locker room back then,” he says. “We used the football locker room in the spring, and in the fall, we didn’t have anything. Instead, we set up something temporary in Dillon Gym in a basement. I had written all of the names of the players on masking tape and put them on the temporary lockers.”

Now he’s laughing.

“And a few weeks later, some knucklehead had come in and put another piece of tape on one locker. And it said ‘Stinky.’ I guess his locker stunk.”

Ed Calkins was one of the freshmen that year. He too laughs when he tells the story. 

“He’d been there for like 10 minutes and one of the seniors gave him the nickname,” he says, chuckling at the memory. “From then on he wore that nickname like a badge of honor. He’d introduce himself as ‘Stinky.’ It had nothing to do with personal hygiene.”

“And so from that day forward,” Tierney says, still laughing, “he was known only as ‘Stinky.’ Nobody ever called him ‘John.’ They called him ‘Stinky’ until …”

Then his voice trails off. Now he’s not laughing. Ed Calkins, too, stops laughing when he gets to this part.

“Awful,” Calkins says. It’s the only word he can think of in the moment. “Just awful.”

“Um,” Tierney says. His voice has gone flat. “You know …” 

When he is in his role as the narrator of his stories, his words move at a brisk pace. Now he’s come to a complete stop, as if maybe he can change what happened simply by pausing here. There is no changing it, though. The awfulness that Ed Calkins could himself barely mention is unchangeable, and so it is that Tierney has no choice but to finish his sentence.

“… until,” he finally says, “the day he died.”

That day was Sept. 11, 2001. Stinky was three months past his 31st birthday.

***

Jack Schroeder is waiting outside the front door of his house out in Suffolk County, on Long Island. He lives in a community surrounded by a golf course, which is the way he likes it. Golf is one of his favorite pastimes. He is dressed as if he just came off the last green, wearing shorts and a purple and black striped golf shirt with an “NBC Sports” logo on it. 

His silver hair and quiet demeanor suggest the grandfather that he is, but don’t be fooled. He’s a tough guy, Jack Schroeder. He fought in the Vietnam War as a First Lieutenant with the 82nd Airborne Division, something he downplays by saying “They would shoot at us, but it was like anything else. You had a job to do. And I wasn’t in a forward combat unit.” When he left the Army, he was a Captain. Before him, his father had celebrated his own 27th birthday by landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Jack Schroeder was a three-sport athlete at Clarke High School on Long Island, playing football, basketball and baseball. He played football at UMass, where he earned three varsity letters as a quarterback and defensive back. While there, he picked up a second sport that he had never before played, lacrosse, and he would also letter as a defenseman for another Hall-of-Fame coach, Dick Garber, before graduating in 1965. 

Jack married a woman everyone called Nonie, and they bought a house in Commack, a “starter house,” he calls it. They ended up staying for decades, raising their four children in that house while he spent his career as a teacher and lacrosse coach on Long Island. 

A history major in college, he started out teaching and starting the lacrosse program at Holy Family High School on Long Island after he was discharged and left West Point. In 1972, he went to Berner High School in Massapequa, again teaching and serving as head lacrosse coach. While there he even coached against Tierney when he was at Levittown Memorial. When Berner closed in 1987, he stayed on teaching in Massapequa while becoming an assistant coach at St. Anthony’s, where he stayed through 1996. 

When Nonie was pregnant with their first child, Jack hadn’t yet started down that career path. Instead, he was stationed at West Point, where among his other duties he coached the Cadets’ “B” football team. One day his team played a game on Princeton’s campus against the Tiger junior varsity, and he marveled at the recently completed multipurpose arena called Jadwin Gym.

“I remember thinking to myself that it would be really great if one day, my unborn child would go to school there,” he says. 

And that’s exactly what would happen. The first-born child would also be named John, and he would indeed grow up to attend Princeton. In fact, he would be a lacrosse player, one of the players in Tierney’s first recruiting class. On the day when that class made Tierney’s prediction that they would win a national championship come true with a 10-9 double-overtime win over Syracuse on Memorial Day 1992, John Schroeder would make one of the biggest plays to make it come true.

Like his father, who is called “Jack” and not “John,” the son also had a nickname of his own. To anyone who knew him, especially at Princeton, he was never “John.” No. 

Everyone called him “Stinky.”

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9/11 Responder Starts Tournament to Honor Fallen
How a Lacrosse Store Provided Safe Haven for 9/11 Grievers
Remembering John Schroeder, 20 Years After 9/11
Abby Bosco Honors Late Father Every 9/11


"There’s always something that tells me that he is there, and that he is okay."


***

Jack Schroeder lives alone these days. Nonie passed away in 1997 from a rare form of cancer. He has three grown children, in order a daughter Amy, a son Matt and a daughter Erin, all of whom were lacrosse players as well. There are also now five grandchildren.

Matt was a goalie at Penn who had the good fortune to be a four-year starter for the Quakers and the bad fortune to do so in the second half of the 1990s, which meant he faced the 1996, 1997 and 1998 Princeton teams that all won the NCAA championship.   

“Jack is a wonderful man,” Calkins says. “He’s a very kind person. He’s a very gracious person.” 

When you walk into his house, you walk through a living room that is stacked with family pictures on the wall on the left, behind the couch. Past the stairway is the kitchen. On the far wall is an American flag, only it’s not exactly an American flag per se. The stars are the same as on a standard flag, but the stripes feature the names of those who were killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. On the bottom it reads “Flag Of Honor” and then “This flag is created from the names of those who perished in the terror attacks of 9/11. Now and forever it represents their immortality. We shall never forget them.”

To glance at this flag is to be reminded of the magnitude of those attacks. Together, all of those names add up to the first casualties in a war in which none of them enlisted. To fit all of those lost into the 13 stripes, the names are printed in a tiny size, in alphabetical order. Each of them had a life and a family and a story of their own. 

There, on the 12th row from the top, on the third line in blue, is the name “Jeffrey H. Schreier.” Jeffrey H. Schreier was the son of Holocaust survivors. He suffered from learning disabilities but overcame them to spend 20 years working in the mailroom at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He was there on the morning of Sept. 11. His remains were never found.

Two names over from Jeffrey H. Schreier is Susan Lee Schuler. She lived in Allentown, N.J., not far from Princeton. She and her husband Jim had a house with a small yard, and Susan loved to work in her garden. She was also a securities consultant by day, and every Tuesday she went into New York for client meetings. She was in one such meeting in the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11.

They all have stories.

The name in between “Jeffrey H. Schreier” and “Susan Lee Schuler” is “John T. Schroeder.” He has a story as well. While there are details that need to be added, you can almost see his entire story through the pictures that hang in his father’s house.

There are pictures of him as a lacrosse player. There are pictures of him with his family, including at his Princeton graduation. In one picture, he is dancing while dressed as an Elvis impersonator. In another he holds a fancy bottle of wine. These pictures suggest a man who was smart, athletic and fun. They speak to how important his family was to him. 

He went to St. Anthony’s himself and played middie on the jayvee team as a freshman. When he reached the varsity the next year, it was as a defenseman. 

“He was always a pretty good athlete,” Jack says of his oldest son in his understated way. “He was one of the best off-ball defenders I’ve ever seen. He was a little too aggressive on the ball sometimes, but off the ball he just had a great sense of where to be. I was so happy when he went to Princeton. I knew Billy was a great coach. And you can’t get into a better school. He was recruited by Notre Dame also, but he had his heart set on Princeton.”

Schroeder was a starter his first two years, including a sophomore year in which he started every game and earned honorable mention All-Ivy League honors. Meanwhile, Tierney improved the Tigers from that 2-13 first year to 6-8 Schroeder’s freshman year and then to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever in Schroeder’s sophomore year, which included the program’s first NCAA win, which came over Johns Hopkins.

By his junior year, Princeton was flooded with talent all over the field, and his role changed a bit. Instead of a starter on close defense, he became a role player, with some defense, some longstick midfield and some man-down. It was in the last of those situations that he made his biggest contribution to Princeton lacrosse.

“Cuse was on a run,” says Calkins, a middie on that team. “We were up big, and then in a blink we were tied.”

To be exact, Princeton was up 8-2 at one point before the Orange came back. Syracuse would score the next six goals, tying the score at 8-8 in the fourth quarter. Then, with 4:07 to go, Princeton went man down. Schroeder came on the field with that unit.

“They had all the momentum,” Calkins says. “I think we were collectively dealing with the pressure of having lost such a big lead. We were up against a team with an enormous amount of talent.”

Jack Schroeder was at Franklin Field that Memorial Day too, up in the stands. 

“They were coming back,” he says “You knew they would. They had too many great players not to. We needed something to change things. When we went man down, we really needed a stop. John did what he could do so well, make a big off-ball play.”

Schroeder, playing off-ball, stepped into a passing lane to intercept a pass. Then he cleared it. Within 60 seconds, Princeton had a 9-8 lead, and even though Syracuse tied it just before the end of regulation, Schroeder’s play had a huge impact on who won the game, which Princeton did on Andy Moe’s goal off the face-off of the second overtime.

“He helped stabilize the moment,” Calkins says. “When he did, everyone took a deep breath. It was a tremendous play and we all still talk about it. He changed the momentum back in our favor.”

“He made a huge play,” Tierney says. “That’s for sure. He was ready when we needed him to be.”

That was John Schroeder the lacrosse player. What about John Schroeder the person?

“We had some personalities on the team, and he was one of them,” Tierney says. “He had a very dry sense of humor. He was very funny. He was loved deeply by everyone.”

“He had a dry sense of humor,” Calkins says, echoing his coach. “He had a sarcastic sense of humor. He wanted to be around people having fun. He liked to joke around. He brought a lot of levity. We all had a lot of fun together.”

“He was a great kid,” Jack says. “He really was. He was smart, but he didn’t overdo it. He liked to have fun. That’s for sure.”

Like Tierney and Calkins, his thoughts drift away from the conversation, and so he is silent for five seconds or so. 

“He was a great son,” he says next. 

“He represented so much of the best of Princeton lacrosse,” Tierney says. “He was a young man who bought into what we were trying to do. He loved being a part of it. He did whatever we asked him to do.”

“He was a great teammate,” Calkins says. “He was a wonderful big-hearted person. He just loved to be part of the team, and it was a really important part of who he was. To be a Princeton lacrosse player, on a team of guys who loved each other and looked out for each other, he thrived in that environment. Even when he started to play a bit less, he continued to work hard. He was dedicated to his game. He embraced the roles he could play, and he would do anything for the team. He was just a remarkably selfless individual. We were a group of guys who believed in each other and wanted to accomplish great things, and without him, maybe we wouldn’t have.”

After graduating with a history degree a week after the championship game, Schroeder went to work in New York City in finance, like so many other Princeton lacrosse alums. He also continued to play lacrosse, winning national club championships in under-30 and over-30 divisions, to go along with championships at St. Anthony’s and Princeton. 

“He was seven years older than I was,” Matt Schroeder says. “He was the life of the party, that’s for sure. He always made people feel good. He liked to hang out and make people laugh. He wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Hey, look at his nickname. He was also fiercely loyal. If anyone was ever in trouble, he was right there. Anyone needed anything, he was right there.”

For instance, there was a friend of his sister Amy who was teaching and coaching basketball at a small school in New York City. 

“They didn’t have money for uniforms,” Jack says. “So John went out and bought them for them. Just did it. That’s what he did. He finally started to make some real money, and he told his other sister that he would pay for her college tuition at Georgetown. That’s how he was. Whatever he could do to help. I didn’t find out about that until years later.”

John Schroeder started to make what his father calls “real money” when he worked for a company called Harvey, Young and Yurman. After a few years there, he was recommended, along with a few others at the firm, for a job at Fred Alger. He started his new job in June of 2001. His new office was on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Before John made “real money,” he supplemented his income repairing golf clubs. In fact, he had a side business called “King Of Clubs,” and his business card read “Custom Clubmaking, Repairs & Gripping,” along with his name and phone number. He and his father often played together.

On Labor Day weekend of 2001, the two wanted to play the famed Bethpage Black course, a public course in Farmingdale, Long Island. There are five 18-hole courses at Bethpage State Park. The easiest is the Yellow course. Then Green. Then Blue. Then Red. Then Black. The black course hosted the 2002 U.S. Open and then again the Open in 2009, as well as the PGA Championship in 2019. When Jack and John Schroeder went to play golf Labor Day weekend in 2001, they found that the Black course was under construction for the 2002 Open.

“You couldn’t make a reservation for a tee time,” Jack says, “so we just had to walk up and get in line. Of course, we wanted to play Bethpage Black, but they were getting it prepped for the Open. Only it was a bit of a rainy day that day. We were supposed to play the Green course, but then John saw some guys going over to the Black course. He went inside, and they said that we could get out there only on that day because they stopped working on it because of the rain. We went back out and played the Black course. We hit the ball all over the place that day.”

He laughs. Then he stops. This has happened with him, just as it did with Tierney and Calkins when they told the story of the nickname. The good memories, the fun times – they all can talk about them only for so long, before reality snaps back in. 

This time it’s a bit different. This time, as Jack pauses, he tears up. A single tear runs down his right cheek and lands on one of the purple stripes on his golf shirt. He starts to speak. First he says this: “I don’t know why I’m crying. I guess it’s better that I am than I’m not.” 

Then he hesitates again. Another tear joins the first. Now there’s a small spot of tears covering one purple and one black stripe. 

“That day,” he says, “was the last time I ever saw him.”








***

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, John Schroeder went to work in the North Tower. First thing that morning, he had a breakfast meeting in the restaurant 14 stories above his office, at Windows On The World.

That day was a Tuesday, the day of the New York State Primary. While John Schroeder was at work early, Jack Schroeder was at his job for the day even earlier. He volunteered as a worker at the polls in Commack, and he reported at 5 am that morning. 

“I took a coffee break at 10 minutes to nine,” Jack says. “I went outside, and it was the absolute most beautiful morning you ever saw. I went back inside, and someone said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. They closed the polls, and I went home and turned on the TV. That’s when the first tower collapsed. I knew it wasn’t good.”

“I was at work in Boston,” Matt Schroeder says. “One of my co-workers came in and said that something had happened. Nobody knew what to think of it. Then the second tower got hit, and everyone knew something was happening. At that point I was in a meeting with a client. I tried to call John. Internally I knew things weren’t good.”

On the Princeton campus, about 50 miles away from the Trade Center, Bill Tierney was in his office, an office that by this time had six NCAA championship trophies in it. More than the trophies, he also had dozens and dozens of former players who worked in New York City in the financial world.

“I was talking to Dave Cottle, who was the Loyola coach at the time,” Tierney says. “He called me and told me about it. I went into total panic mode. We had so many of our guys in New York. All of the guys from the ’90s it seemed were in New York. We started to make phone call after phone call after phone call. Then I got a call. It was one of the ’90s guys. He said Stinky was in the building. Even when I say it now, I get the same feeling I did then. My heart sinks. I get the chills. I feel a sense of denial. Are you sure? Where was he? It can’t be. Have they found his body? You go through all that stuff all over again.”

Ed Calkins was one of the ’90s guys who wasn’t in New York at the time. He was in finance with Goldman Sachs, but he was living and working in London. The morning of Sept. 11 in New York was the early afternoon in London. Calkins was on a conference call with his New York office, when someone said there was a really big fire. 

“They were in 1 New York Plaza,” Calkins says. “They were looking directly at the World Trade Center. We had a TV, and we could see the Trade Center. There was so much confusion. Was it a commuter plane? Everything was deadly silent. We in London saw the second plane go in on TV. My colleagues in New York saw the plane go right by their window. We could hear the screams of terror on the phone. None of us knew Stinky was there. He had just taken that job. None of us knew he was there. It wasn’t until two days later that I got a call from a teammate, Evan Garfein. He called me at 2 am London time. He said Stinky was ‘unaccounted for.’ That’s how he put it. ‘Unaccounted for.’”

Like his college coach, Calkins relives all of the emotions of that moment as he tells the story.

“Unaccounted for,” he says softly. “I was heartbroken.”

There was no way for anyone to know whether John had still been in his meeting at Windows On The World or had gone back downstairs to his office. His floor was pretty much the exact spot where American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 am. Nobody above that floor survived.

Even though there was not yet a positive identification of his body, there was a funeral for John. Matt gave the eulogy.

“I couldn’t,” Jack said. “I’d given one for my wife. I couldn’t give one for my son too.”

It was 16 days after the attacks that there was a memorial service at Ground Zero for the families. 

“The place was still smoldering,” Jack says. “We went in to pay our respects, and the smoke is still coming up. Just about at the time when the person went up to give the benediction, the smoke turned into two towers going straight up. It lasted about a minute. Then the smoke went back to blowing around. The crowd left. I stayed awhile, and a fireman walked out and asked if I’d lost someone. I told him yes, my son. He asked for a picture of him, and I gave him his graduation picture. He took it, and I left. He said maybe it would help with the ID. I didn’t realize it, but that was the day that they actually found John’s remains.”

All of the families had provided DNA samples for those who were, to use Garfein’s words, “unaccounted for.” John’s remains were found on the day of the memorial service. It would be months before they were positively identified.

“It was in March of 2002,” Jack says. “We were going to meet some of his roommates, and the police came to the house and notified me that they’d found his remains. There wasn’t much. There was just one thing – a hip bone.  A piece of a hip bone. 

“That’s all they found.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINCETON ATHLETICS


***

Jack has excused himself several times to go upstairs and retrieve memories of his son. This time, he comes down with a book that has a picture of John on the cover. It’s from a celebration of the NCAA championship, and he’s wearing his No. 14 Princeton Lacrosse pinnie, with his index finger extended upwards. It’s the picture that the Princeton men’s lacrosse Twitter account has tweeted each year on 9/11 to honor his memory.

Above the picture is a two-line heading, in all capital letters: “EXPRESSIONS OF SHARED FRIENDSHIP, TEAMWORK AND LOVE …… THANK YOU!”

It’s a book of emails from John’s Princeton teammates. It runs for 34 pages. Pick any random page, and you’ll see the same message. Who was the author of each particular email? It doesn’t matter. 

Page 34 (sent Nov. 11, 2001): “He was a great man, with all the right values. The world is a worse place without him, but a better place to have had him for 31 years – because he touched us all in a way that made us laugh, smile and remember what is really important.”

Page 12 (sent Sept 17, 2001): “I think what Stinky wanted out of life is the same thing we all do: to be included, to be part of something, to love and be loved, to develop meaningful relationships, to do right by your family. The tragedy of Stinky’s death is not that he did not accomplish what he wanted to in life but that his time to enjoy it was cut short.”

Page 4 (sent Sept. 14, 2001): “There are two images that run through my head over and over. One is of Stinky picking off that pass. It was as if he said ‘I’ll do my job when it’s asked of me. I am part of the greatness that is this team.’ The other is an image of Stinky on Tuesday. This is how I picture it – Stinky was badly injured initially but was capable of escaping from the building. He was on his way down the stairs when he ran into some rescue personnel heading the other direction. He did the right thing and turned back to help. I imagine him carrying a worse-injured person down the stairs, making typically Schroederian sarcastic remarks on the way to help the other person out, when the building collapsed. I agree with you, T, that Stinky is in heaven, probably playing lax, with too many members of our family watching in the stands. When we do gather, Stinky will be there too, and the first and last rounds will be on him.”

Page 7 (sent Sept. 14, 2001): “Seeing him grin ear-to-ear, knowing that he was happy, settled in, and enjoying his life.”

Page 15 (sent Sept. 18, 2001): “The beauty of John, the love of life he had as well as the love of his friends and Princeton lacrosse.”

Page 17 (sent Sept. 18, 2001): “In a nutshell, Stinky was just such a great friend.”

Page 21 (sent Sept. 20, 2001): “I find myself staring at the wall in my office recalling memories of Stinky, most often with a smile.”

These emails speak to the full picture of the man they all called Stinky. They also run the full gamut of emotions. To read them is to laugh and to cry, alternating moment by moment. 

Page 22 tells the story of the time that a group of Princeton men’s lacrosse alums brought a football to the Baltimore Zoo and played an impromptu game of touch: “Go deep, then hang a left at the House of Primates! I believe these were Stinky’s orders when he was quarterback.” 

That same email continues on Page 23 and goes on to tell a story of a play John made against Dartmouth as a freshman that was similar to the one he made against Syracuse in the championship game. It describes “the awesome smile that I learned to love barely contained under his helmet.” 

Then the same writer, like everyone who talks about him, is transformed from laughter to tears: “Since getting the confirmation of the situation, I feel like I’ve been walking into walls, missing exits, forgetting things, talking to him – out loud – apologizing that this had to happen and asking his forgiveness that we hadn’t spoken in a long time, hoping he was at peace. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the last few years allowing myself to get too busy and being distracted, not saying thank you enough, not expressing the love and loyalty I feel for all of you and others in my life. I’ll work hard to rectify that – and to honor Stinky by keeping in touch with him too as I know we all will in our prayers and the quiet asides as we encounter life’s future challenges and remember to share them with him in spirit. And while I still don’t plan to make a habit of it, when we are together next, I absolutely will hoist one for No. 14, with real pleasure and real sadness too.”

***

John Schroeder has lived on in the thoughts of his teammates and those who knew him best. The Princeton men’s lacrosse team, beginning in 2007, presents annually the John Schroeder Award. This is its wording:

Awarded annually to a member of the men's lacrosse team who through the embodiment of character and selfless devotion to the team has had the greatest impact on the success of Princeton men's lacrosse. In loving memory of John T. Schroeder, a member of the 1992 NCAA championship team who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It keeps him on the team,” Jack says. 

When it was first awarded, Bill Tierney said this about its namesake: “John possessed a genuine and unique character and heart that is unmatched and unforgettable.”

It’s been 20 years now. Tierney was right: Nobody who knew him has forgotten him. What would his brother want people to know about him?

“One thing I’d want people to know is that he’d still be playing lacrosse today somewhere,” Matt Schroeder says. “If he had a wife and kids or whatever he had going, he’s still be playing lacrosse. It was more than just a game for him. It opened up tremendous doors for him. The most powerful part is that even 20 years later, we can ask anyone he ever interacted with for something we might need, and they just do it no questions asked, for us – and for him.”

Back in 2001, Jack went back to work teaching at an elementary school in Massapequa, but he didn’t last very long after 9/11. 

“I was numb,” he says. “I was teaching. I couldn’t even remember people’s names. I retired the next June.”

He still coached lacrosse at St. Anthony’s after that, and he still works with the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Foundation. He moved into his current home on the golf course. He also stayed close the Princeton men’s lacrosse program. He was in the lockerroom after the Tigers lost the 2002 NCAA championship game, in a season where the team wore No. 14 warm-up shirts and dedicated the year to John’s memory.

“At the memorial service for him in November of 2001,” he says, “Billy brought the whole team out on the bus. None of them knew him of course, but they were all there.”

“I think about him and not just on 9/11,” Tierney says. “I took my Denver team to the 9/11 Memorial when we were in New York once, and I saw John’s name. It’s pretty powerful.”

The NCAA honors men’s lacrosse championship teams on their 25th anniversary at halftime of that year’s championship game. For the 1992 Princeton team, that meant appearing in Foxboro, Mass., in 2017. Matt Schroeder walked out with the team wearing his brother’s No. 14 jersey.

“Our hearts all collectively bleed for Mr. Schroeder,” Calkins says. “He’s always in our thoughts.”

“I made up my mind a long time ago that this is not something to forget,” Jack says. “I watch everything that comes on about that day. I sit there, and I watch it, and I say to myself, ‘why am I doing this?’ when I see the the towers collapse again.

“You want to know why I’m doing it?,” Jack Schroeder says. “I’m looking to see if maybe this time, I will see John.”

Maybe an hour later, Jack is about two miles from his house, in an Italian restaurant, for lunch. He talks about his father, and his own experiences in Vietnam. He mentions how he and Nonie were supposed to be married before he put it off a year to take the post at West Point and how nervous he was to mention it to her at first because he was afraid she wouldn’t like it. He talks about the game he coached against Tierney way back when. He asks about Princeton’s prospects for the coming season. 

He talks about his grandchildren. He talks about how Amy went to Geneseo and played club lacrosse before becoming a speech pathologist. He talks about how Erin went to Georgetown and played there. Now she works in Boston as a nurse practitioner in oncology and women’s health.

He talks about how good a goalie Matt was. He mentions the game between Princeton and Penn Matt’s senior year, when Penn was up big in the third quarter but Princeton came back and won by a goal. 

The waiters takes the order for two salads. When he brings them back, Jack laughs. 

“I forgot to tell you how big the salads are here,” he says.

The conversation is very, very, well, normal. For a good 30 minutes, Jack is just another proud father and grandfather. 

“Oh, you know, time goes on,” Jack says. “But something always happens to make me think of him. You go and do other things, but then it comes right back. You know, one time we were in a restaurant. I was with my daughter and her friend, the one whose team John bought the uniforms for. And we were waiting for our table, and they gave us one of those things that buzzes when it’s ready. And then it buzzed, and I looked at it, and it was buzzing orange and black. And you know what number was flashing? It was 14.”

Once again, he tears up. This time he stops and smiles. 

“There’s always something like that. There’s always something that tells me that he is there, and that he is okay.”

This story originally appeared on GoPrincetonTigers.com and is being republished with permission.