I saw something in September that needs to be shared with the rest of the Temple community.
After teaching my final class of the day, I climbed the steps to the SEPTA train station to catch the 5:56 p.m. train home to Doylestown. When I mounted the station platform, I encountered a 60ish, heavy-set African-American man who was clearly intoxicated. The man was upset because he had dropped a $5 bill on the train tracks, and was thinking of jumping down to retrieve it – a rash and potentially fatal thing to do during rush hour, especially in his seemingly drunken condition.
I offered the man some money to replace his loss, but he was too proud to accept charity. Nevertheless, I talked to him and thought I had convinced him to stay on the platform. I turned my back on him for a few seconds to see if any trains were approaching from Philadelphia. When I turned around, I was horrified to see the man roll clumsily off the platform and go sprawling on the tracks below. I immediately scuttled down the platform to a callbox to place a 911 call, hoping that Temple’s police could warn SEPTA to halt any northbound trains headed for our station until authorities could get that guy off the tracks.
While I was describing the situation, several Temple students took it on themselves to reach down, grab this fellow by the hands, and pull him to safety shortly before another train pulled into the station. If not for their swift action, that fellow could have been killed. They also risked their own safety because he was overweight and might have pulled them onto the tracks with him.
One of the man’s rescuers was a young woman who could not have weighed more than 100 pounds. She was clearly unnerved by the incident and was hyperventilating badly after she helped save a life. I managed to calm her a bit, but it was clear that she had been deeply traumatized. Nevertheless, she had done the right thing when it counted most, and I hope that realization will comfort her.
The cause of all this commotion boarded the train to Norristown that pulled into the station a couple of minutes later and sped out of our lives. My train arrived shortly thereafter, so I never got the names of the Temple students who had behaved so nobly.
As a military historian, I know it can only take a second for the heroes in our midst to distinguish themselves from the rest of us ordinary mortals. I saw heroes in action at Temple’s SEPTA Station, and I am proud to teach at their university.
Temple is located in an inner-city area whose residents often feel that our students do not treat them with sufficient respect. Well, one family in that neighborhood owes the life of a loved one to the quick thinking and selfless action of several Temple students from the Philadelphia suburbs. I think those young people should be remembered for loving a neighbor – and a stranger at that – as much as they love themselves.
Gregory Urwin is a history professor at Temple. He can be reached at