It was too eerie for people who experienced 9/11, 2 0 years ago. The day was identical to Sept. 11, 2001. Beautiful blue sky and bright sunshine as Hewlett Elementary School students — second through fifth grade — paraded out of the building for the annual Patriot Day commemoration, on Sept. 10, one day before the actual day the terrorist attacks occurred two decades ago.
Established after that tragic day, Patriot Day commemorates the memory of the 2,997 people killed in the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York City and Washington, D.C., and the one that ended in Shanksville, Pa.
Former Principal Sandra Pensak initiated Hewlett elementary’s ceremony 19 years ago. The roughly 40-minute event included songs, poems and brief speeches that aimed to help the youngsters comprehend a historical event that even adults have a difficult time understanding.
Calling the first responders “American heroes” current HES Principal Colleen O’Hara wants the students how they could help in a time of need. “There are plenty of times when others might need our help, not only in emergencies,” she said when addressing the students. “There will be times when others will need us to be up-standers and bridge builders.”
Retired FDNY Lt. Richard Skellington and retired NYPD detective John Tansey, fathers of former HES students, have made it a tradition to take part in the ceremony. Skellington, who is also a Valley Stream Fire Department volunteer, was at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The unit he was with saw FDNY Chaplain Father Mychal Judge head into a building a never come out. “Lots of sorrow,” Skellington told the Herald about that day, “on a clear day like today you start remembering. Every year I would take off, Jack would stand next to me.” Jack, now 26, is the youngest of his three children who attended HES. Skellington retired four years ago after 40 years of service.
Tansey plays the bagpipes nearly every year at the ceremony. “I’m always here,” he said, noting that he jumped at the invite from Pensak and that his three sons attended HES. Retired in 2007 after 20 years in NYPD, Tansey led the processional off the field and back into the school building.
Fifth-graders Mia Costa, Abigail Kurtz, Myla Williams and Alessandra Tetsoti led their schoolmates in singing the “Pledge of Allegiance,” Derek Martin read the poem “Lists of Don’t Forgets and Remembers,” the poem “For Our World,” was recited by fellow fifth-grader Jordan Yodawitz and another fifth-grader Alexa Bradford read the poem “The American Hero.”
“I want them, every day, to understand the significance of those people who risked their lives for us, for our freedom, our society,” O’Hara told the Herald what she wants the students to learn from the Patriot Day ceremony.
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