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With 12 years gone, most of today’s school children are too young to fully comprehend the sense of unity, pride and patriotism Americans felt Sept 11, 2001, in the midst of such an immense national tragedy.
While students may know the facts from history class, how do educators help them understand the sense of national resolve and strength the country felt that day as it watched first responders and regular citizens alike give their lives to help their fellow Americans?
If you’re an educator at Buford Middle School, you do it with a ceremony honoring 9/11 victims and the ongoing service of the county’s “everyday heroes.”
“Today we gather here at Buford Middle School to remember all of the lives that we lost that sad day, but we are also here to honor those who survived the attacks,” said principal Sheri Wells in welcoming students and guests.
“What makes today even more special for us, is we get to honor our local heroes who sacrifice their lives daily so that we can be free and so we can be safe,” she said.
Wednesday’s ceremony, “Remembering September 11,” included poetry read by students, as well as performances by the school’s choir and band.
The entire student body attended, along with local dignitaries, but the event’s special guests included 27 “local heroes”: law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, military servicemen and veterans from the Buford community.
The honorees’ family members – all of whom were BMS students, staff or faculty – escorted them into the gymnasium where Wells, along with assistant principals Chris Timmons and Sarah Deason presented them certificates of appreciation and roses.
Among the most moving parts of the ceremony was a moment of silence for those who died on 9/11 and the presentation of a memorial wreath by Buford High School JROTC instructor, Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Marcano and Cadet Capt. Tanner Osborne.
Osborne said it was an honor to be part of a ceremony that honors those who died on 9/11.
He said it was sad so many emergency personnel, firefighters and law enforcement personnel died, but the nation came back stronger afterward, in part because of the examples they set in their sacrifices.
“They all had a job to do and they did it,” he said. “I feel that was a great thing and we’re going to pass that along and remember and honor them for what happened.”
As a way of illustrating the immensity of what happened that day, Timmons read a list of “11 facts” about 9/11, such as the fact that emergency crews pulled 18 people from the World Trade Center wreckage alive.
Emergency crews treated 10,000 people for their injuries at both the Twin Towers and Pentagon. Approximately 3,000 died, nearly 400 of whom were firefighters, EMS workers and police officers.
“9/11 was the single largest loss of life from an attack on American soil,” Timmons said before calling on students, faculty, staff and guests to remember the day’s victims.
An unexpected part of the event came when BMS history teacher Garrett Hammond presented his friend U.S. Army Sgt. Griffin Beckham of Lancaster, who spoke to students and others via video from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Beckham spoke briefly on what the day meant to him as a soldier.
“9/11 was a strange event, but it brought the country together, and it brought patriotism,” Beckham said before asking students to thank and pray for those serving their country overseas.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Rusty Duncan of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, a retired Lancaster Fire Department firefighter. Duncan was also a fire marshal, instructor at the S.C. Fire Academy and member of Buford Volunteer Fire Department.
Duncan told of meeting his friend and fellow firefighter Chris Dunic, a New York City firefighter who was in World Trade Center Tower No. 1 when Tower No. 2 fell.
He said Dunic, like other firefighters, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement officers, went to work each day not knowing if they’d come home alive that night.
Duncan said Dunic still bears facial scars from debris that struck him that day, a testimony to the danger he and others faced.
“The thing I remember about him, is he never regretted going into that building to help,” Duncan said. “That’s true of everyone in here who wears a uniform.
“I want everybody sitting here today to know we don’t do it for the pay, we do it because we love our community,” he said. “We run in when everybody else is running out.”
BHS wrapped up its event with students lining North Rocky River Road in front of the school as members of the area’s public safety services paraded by in their emergency vehicles, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
While adults often assume teenagers aren’t listening, BMS’s students undoubtedly got the message that it’s “everyday heroes” and their sacrifices that protect the nation and its citizens.
The lessons illustrated by 9/11 were worth observing, said eighth-graders Kylie Lucas and Kalen Small.
“I think it’s good to remind us that they put others first,” Kylie said.
“I think (observing 9/11) is important so we never forget,” Kalen said. “Not so much to keep from forgetting about it, but so that when people have children they can pass it on.”