About half of Nation Ford High School’s student body was not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001. The other half were infants and toddlers.
But for a day they won’t remember, students say they recognize the profound impact the worst terrorist attack in American history has had on each day of their lives since.
Just before noon Thursday, members of the Nation Ford DAR, NaFo MCJROTC, Boy Scout Troop 250, American Heritage Girls and the town of Fort Mill held a ceremony at the high school’s flag pole to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., where nearly 3,000 people, mostly Americans, lost their lives.
Nation Ford High senior Ezekiel Fatool was a toddler in 2001.
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“The military during my life has been more active,” he said. “People are more alert and cautious and suspicious at everyone.”
While he has learned about Sept. 11 in school and in daily life, the event is not spoken of much at home, Fatool said.
“My parents don’t really talk about that kind of thing a lot, because it’s a sensitive subject,” he said.
Tyler Smiley, 18, is a recent graduate who said his father enlisted in the Marine Corps soon after the terrorist attacks and served as an aircraft mechanic. The events of 9/11 “definitely” impacted his father’s decision to enlist, Smiley said.
Smiley said he came to the ceremony “to remember the fallen.”
“It’s important to me because of all the difficulties and struggles America has gone through and 15 years later we’re still able to come together and prosper through thick and thin.”
NaFo Principal Jason Johns said this generation of teenagers is “a little far removed from the typical American childhood,” never having known a time when airport security wasn’t tight and when terrorism wasn’t in the back of people’s minds.
“They have grown up in a culture that is a little bit more aware of the danger, a little more careful,” Johns said.
But on the positive side, Johns said he thinks 9/11 has instilled in the teens, “a stronger culture of patriotism.”
Colonel Sean Mulcahy, USMC (Ret.), the Senior Marine Instructor at NaFo, was in the Navy Annex Headquarters Marine Corps building next to the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked airliner hit the U.S. complex.
“We felt the impact of the plane hitting the Pentagon,” Mulcahy said. “We watched it move from black smoke to 40 foot flames.”
Mulcahy sent Marines to help pull bodies out of the building. “We turned the Pentagon parking lot into a morgue,” he said.
The devastating impact of the aftermath hit his children too, Mulcahy said.
“My kids had friends whose parents worked in the Pentagon who never came home that day,” he said.
Though the students can’t recall the events of that fateful day, Mulcahy said the purpose of the event was to raise awareness and to shed light on the positive as well.
Mulcahy spoke of the unselfishness and courage of the first responders and of the American passengers who brought down hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 – believed to have also been heading to Washington, D.C., for another terrorist strike – in a field in Pennsylvania that morning.
“In the face of adversity, a lot of those that perished were helping. We don’t want to forget that.”
Kelly Lessard: firstname.lastname@example.org, @KellyLessardFMT
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Click here for a photo gallery from the Nation Ford High School 9/11 anniversary ceremony