A post-9/11 America is the only version that the current generation of high school students have experienced firsthand.
It’s from family members, friends’ parents, and teachers that they’re learning what happened on that Tuesday 19 years ago and why –– on top of the 3,000 lives lost –– it mattered.
At Father Vincent Capodanno High in Vass, a leadership-focused school led in the Catholic tradition by current and former military members, Sept. 11, 2011 is far more than a unit in history class.
Doug Carron teaches history at Capodanno High as a series of seminal moments in America, beginning with its discovery by European explorers and ending with 9/11.
“That’s how we teach it: what it changed in America and how we changed, our way of life changed, from that,” Carron said.
“This is their Pearl Harbor.”
The closely-knit group of students at the school commemorated the day before beginning class on Friday morning, tallying the aircraft passengers and crew, office workers in the World Trade Center and Pentagon, military personnel and first responders who died in the span of a few hours.
Student Leyna Alvarado described how the American public, so used to living in peace between friendly nations, was blindsided by such deadly attacks in the nation’s largest city.
“The attack on 9/11 was personal to all Americans, as so many people died,” she said, providing the renewed focus on homeland security and establishment of agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as examples of how policies changed as home as well as abroad.
“A generation has now grown up knowing what it’s like to give up a bit of freedom in exchange for security,” she said.
For sophomore Isabelle Klotz, the daughter of soldiers, the ensuing Global War on Terror hit even closer to home.
“I was born in 2005, so I don’t remember 9/11. I wasn’t alive,” she said. “I do remember my dad leaving us twice to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember leaving him at the airport. I remember every second of those days. I remember the day we learned that his base had been bombed and we didn’t know if he was okay.
“9/11, thankfully, didn’t take anything from me. But it almost took everything from me.”
After remarks by Brad Snyder, an active duty Marine stationed at Ft. Bragg, students raised the flag on a pole that once belonged to Joshua Wheeler.
MSgt. Wheeler, a Delta Force operator who lived in Southern Pines, was killed in Iraq in 2015 during a mission to free 70 ISIS prisoners. Fittingly, Wheeler’s teammate Thomas Payne received the Medal of Honor on Friday for his actions that day.
Snyder, who counted Wheeler as a friend, encouraged students to recognize courage not as the absence of fear but as the ability to work through it –– and to “do the right thing every single day.”
“Josh Wheeler had the courage to enlist in the United States military to defend his country. Josh Wheeler had the courage to step up and to work his way through the military to some special units. Josh Wheeler had the courage to get on that aircraft,” Snyder said.
“Everything you do every single day, the decisions you make after we depart here today, the decisions you make in your life, in your career, any type of military service, everything you do … what I’m asking you to do is to remember that, know that everybody feels the same way you do, and that you have to make that decision to gather yourself up and move forward every single day. Josh Wheeler was the epitome of that.”