The events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001 were an unforgettable experience for many, but for younger generations, the tragic ordeal may be more difficult to comprehend.
Wantagh High School students took a trip to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan on Aug. 28 as guests of the Gary Sinise Foundation, a public charity providing numerous programs to honor veterans and first responders. The trip served as a way to educate students about 9/11, and to recall the sacrifices of those who died that day.
Students toured the facility, where they watched videos, learned about what happened as the attacks unfolded, and saw personal artifacts donated by families of the victims. Taking the trip were about 100 students and close to 30 teachers, administrators and school board members. Paul Guzzone, principal at Wantagh High School, said the event was an opportunity to get more than just the students involved.
“We really tried to make it as much of a community experience as possible,” Guzzone said.
After the tour, students filled the museum’s auditorium, where guest speakers shared personal stories of that tragic day. Danny Prince, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, discussed his efforts in the search and recovery process at ground zero, while Jeremy Haynes, a medically retired veteran, talked about how the heroism of first responders on that day inspired him to enlist in the military.
“It was just a tremendous experience for everybody involved,” Guzzone said of the trip.
Afterward, students headed across the street to visit members of FDNY Ten House, which served as a command center during the post-9/11 recovery period. Students presented firefighters with hats and gift cards, and some students shared words of appreciation for the first responders.
“It was emotional,” Guzzone said. “You can tell the kids learned a lot, and they were moved, because it was a quiet bus ride home.”
Guzzone added that the trip served to connect a lot of dots for students who were born after Sept. 11, 2001. They texted their parents, who texted back the names of people who died that day, so that the students could look for those names in the museum.
According to Guzzone, seeing the names and faces of the victims was an emotional experience for the students.
“It was moving,” student Dylan Herman said. “It was close to home, and it just hit me.”
While Herman, 16, was born years after the attacks, his mother, Amanda Herman, remembers it all too well. She and her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time, were living in uptown Manhattan that September. Her husband worked at a bank across the street from the World Trade Center, but was running late that day. As he was walking to work, he saw the first plane hit, and quickly made his way to Chinatown instead.
A few years later, the couple moved out of Manhattan, and both switched to careers in education. For Amanda Herman, it’s important for younger generations to understand how so many lives were impacted on that day.
“It’s just crazy the impact it had on everyone,” she said. “Someone knew someone who passed, someone knew someone who worked there, someone knew someone who lived in Manhattan.”
Students — and twins — Anthony and Joseph Clem, 17, said the trip helped them understand what happened that day. “I didn’t realize how serious the whole situation was,” Joseph said. “It just impacted me differently when I really saw everything there.”
“It really makes you appreciate the first responders,” his brother said of the museum.
For their mother, Aeriell Clem, that day was especially traumatizing, because she was working in the south tower. She was six floors underground when the first plane hit, and all the office staff made their way out of the building, but were told by security to remain calm and go back to work.
“Within seconds of them trying to make us go back downstairs, our building wound up getting hit,” Clem recounted. “And you can see out in front of the building the smoke, the cars, the stuff starting to crumble.”
She added that nobody inside the building knew what was happening, and they were told by security that they would be safe in the building, because they believed the damage would be contained to the top floors. She fled a minute and a half before the south tower collapsed.
“Nobody had an idea that it was an actual plane,” Clem said. “Nobody knew that it was a terrorist threat at that point. None of the information was getting to us. Even once we got outside, we still didn’t know what was actually happening.”
Guzzone said it’s important to tell younger generations the stories of what happened on 9/11 with emotion and care to honor those who died that day.
“I think it's all our responsibilities, not only as educators, but as a New Yorker and as an American, to make sure that these memories live on,” he said.