HARDIN – A group of Marshall County High School students are bringing their own version of the national 9/11 Never Forget Project to students throughout the county as a buildup to their presentation scheduled for Friday night during the Patriot Bowl football double-header.
On Wednesday afternoon, the students visited South Marshall Elementary School – where the oldest students, fifth-graders, were born the year of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I spoke to one of my students this morning, a fourth grader, just to get a feel for what their awareness was,” SMES principal Chuck Blanchard said prior to the program.
“I was kind of surprised to see there was a lot of awareness,” Blanchard said. “I know the students are looking forward to hearing from the participants today. Then, when they go back to the classrooms, the teachers can follow up and take some more questions from the students and get them some more information.
“And I realize in the future we need to be sharing information every year.”
That, in fact, is the motivation of the Young America’s Foundation in producing the Never Forget program.
“Young America’s Foundation began this program in 2003 when we discovered that most college campuses were either completely ignoring the anniversary or holding a politically correct event instead,” reads a statement on the organization’s website (www.yaf.org).
The need for awareness was underscored by a USA TODAY article published Friday, in which a Purdue University history professor describes undergraduate college students as “a bit unclear on the details” of what happened that day 10 years ago.
“The sense I get is, ‘Something happened,’ and beyond that, things get a little bit fuzzy,” Randy Roberts told USA TODAY. “We have a new generation for whom this is a story. They know it’s an important story, but they just don’t know exactly why.”
Now, the YAF program is filtering down below the collegiate level. Marshall County is the only Kentucky high school listed on the YAF website as a participant in the program.
MCHS senior Erika Darnell, one of the trio of students who conducted the program at South Marshall Elementary, described her own memories of 9/11. She was a second-grader at Benton Elementary School.
“I was 7,” Darnell said. “I remember my teacher getting a phone call. ... She flipped the TV on, saw it on CNN, then flipped it back off. We were all kind of scared. We didn’t know what was going on and whether everything was going to be OK.”
She remembers how her parents were affected by the events of that day.
“When I got home, my mom had to explain it to me,” she said. “She was in tears. My dad was really solemn. My sister was in middle school, and she understood a little more than I did.”
SMES students saw a slide show of images of 9/11 with theme music and a replica of the Young America’s Foundation 9/11 logo. The logo utilizes symbols of the events in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania: a five-sided shape representing the Pentagon with an extension that suggests the field in which United Flight 93 crashed to create a “9,” a jet airplane in place of a slash or hyphen and a depiction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers symbolizing the “11.”
The logo replica, crafted by art students at MCHS under the direction of teacher Johnny Jones, was duplicated with permission of YAF.
The students also heard presentations from Sarah Telle, who recounted the events of that day, from Darnell, who spoke on “Why do we remember 9/11?” and from Jake Devore, who read “Statue of Liberty Poem,” an anonymous ode to the historic day.
They also heard from Marshall County emergency responders, several of whom shared stories told by their counterparts who were on site in Manhattan or Washington, D.C., on 9/11. There were accounts from responders who survived and from one who did not.
To close the program, students were given small American flags to place in empty spaces in a grid at the base of the 9/11 logo, each flag representing one of the 2,977 victims of the attacks.
Darnell and Devore give credit to Telle for organizing the program. She brought the idea home from a summer conference in Washington, D.C., where she learned of the YAF programs presented on college campuses and in displays around the countryside.
“I really wanted to do something because it’s the 10th anniversary,” Telle said. “The fifth graders this year were actually born in 2001. So they were either months old or were not even born. So we started talking about bringing it to the schools and doing a program and letting the students and the teachers place the flags in the memorial.”
Blanchard said he felt the program was appropriate for elementary students.
“Obviously the fourth- and fifth-graders are going to pick it up a little bit better, and the other ones will just have to transition to it. But the more they hear it, the better they’ll carry it on.”
Friday night’s Patriot Bowl program will include the 9/11 Never Forget memorial and flags, with remarks by the public address announcer and a moment of silence in honor of the victims.