Local students extol 9/11 heroes

September 11, 2001 – This is a day that will stand in most of our minds forever.

If you ask anyone, they can tell you where they were and what they were doing that day – almost anyone. There is a whole new generation of children who can’t answer that question. That’s because they weren’t born at that time. For them, it’s another day in a history book.

But for the kids at Belington Elementary, it’s much more than that. Wednesday morning in Belington, it was a quiet, respectful group of around 365 children who gathered outside around the flag pole for their Patriot Day assembly.

Children and adults alike, stood with respect as the American flag was raised to full staff, and then lowered to half staff where it remained for the rest of the day. This flag was presented by the Junior Lions Club and had flown over the Capitol.

Student speakers included Lilah Coe, David White and Makenzie White, who reminded everyone what happened on that day 12 years ago. After saying the Pledge of Allegiance, librarian Jana Ruf sang, “God Bless America.”

At 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane flew into the World Trade Center, there was a moment of silence observed by all. Music teacher Laura Hart then led in the singing of “America the Beautiful.”

Taking part in the ceremony was Lt. Matt Ryan and firefighter Matt Kittle from the Belington Fire Department. Part of the reason they were there was to show the children that you don’t have to be a soldier to serve your country.

One of the things about the day that stood out the most to Ryan was the respect that was shown. From the time the children walked out of the school to the time they returned, there was not a peep from them to be heard. Not only from the children, who stood quietly and paid attention, but also even from those passing by. The school sits along a busy highway, and those driving by slowed to a crawl out of respect for our country and the importance of the day.

As a firefighter, this is an emotional subject for Ryan. But it’s more than that. As a parent, he has to try and answer questions from his 5-year-old as to “why the bad guys flew the planes into the buildings.” Ryan believes, “Everyone who walks on the soil of the USA should know about this. It’s very important that the events from that day are never forgotten, never swept under the rug and made lightly of.”

Teachers did their part to ensure children were educated about the significance of Patriot Day. The lessons leading up to this special day were geared toward what was happening. Students learned about the proper way to display a flag, why we pledge to the flag, and what it means to show respect. The children also saw pictures of the Twin Towers before the attack and pictures of what it looks like today.

Music teacher Laura Hart said, “It’s important to show this generation why we are proud to be Americans.”

Hart encouraged all of her students to talk to their parents about their own personal experiences on 9/11.

There were some very special guests at the school to talk about the events of 9/11. Andy and Carmella Watson were there to tell their story, and they have a very special story to tell. Their son, Kenneth “Kenny” Thomas Watson, a firefighter for 13 years, was one of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the Twin Towers.

The Watsons, who live in Barbour County, met with the fourth- and fifth-grade students and told stories about their son from the time he was a child. They brought memorabilia of hats, boots and a cross made from the steel beams at the World Trade Center. The children were able to touch these things and history came alive for them, as they talked to someone who had been there.

Andy Watson is a retired firefighter with NYFD, having served his department for 24 1/2 years.

Carmella Watson said, “It was just wonderful being with the children. I have never seen such a well-behaved group. They just sat in awe and listened to what we had to say.”

In meeting with the Watsons, the lessons that the children had been learning came to life. They were able to meet someone who had been there, someone whose lives were touched in a very real way.

Principal Cindy Sigley said, “We wanted students to have an understanding of the tragedy and how much of an impact it was to our country.”

Sigley’s daughter, age 10, went home from school Wednesday, Googled information and watched documentaries on TV to learn more about that day – a day so long ago, but yet brought to mind so vividly in the events at school.

Belington fireman Matt Kittle said it was a privilege to meet the parents of the fallen NYFD firefighter.

“They were great people to talk to,” he remarked.

Special education teacher Kathy Chitester said, “We are teaching them about history, and that history is something real.”