Local veterans visited area schools on Monday, holding ceremonies to reinforce the importance of remembering the events and aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Desloge VFW Post 2426 first visited West County Elementary, then held a ceremony for middle and high school students in the West County gymnasium. High School Principal Eric Moyers explained the reason for the ceremony to the gathered students, briefly describing the events of the attack.

“And since that time, we take time out of our day to remember those people whose lives were lost that day,” Moyers said. “It was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in American history. And hopefully, we never see another day like it.”

West County Senior Jacob Briley then led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief video from newscasts on Sept. 11, 2001 was shown. Moyers then asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of the lives lost during the attacks and introduced Dennis Sweet of the Desloge VFW Post.

Sweet thanked the students for their respect during the ceremony, saying their behavior is indicative of the area’s dedication to community and respect of the country. He said this is directly attributable to the faculty and staff of the West County School District.

“I remember September 11, 2001,” Sweet said. “It was a Tuesday morning, in the 70s with a breeze. It was a nice day. Average news stories seemed to be talking about shark attacks in the Caribbean. It was a slow news day.”

He recounted being in a meeting at work when somebody entered the room and told everyone to get to the TV, where the images of the first plane’s damage were being relayed. Sweet said from his time in the military and with special operations units, he recognized the situation as a terrorist attack immediately.

“I was in the Air Force from ’78 to ’82,” he said. “Then I got out out for a little bit and in ’91 I went back into the Army. I ended up joining a special operations group. We trained for situations like that. When it first happened, I recognized it.”

Sweet told the students that he the re-enlisted, feeling a need to do something. In the wake of Sept. 11, Sweet said he served in around 15 countries, including Iraq.

“I lost friends, I witnessed destruction and I watched my men die,” he said. “And all this was to fight the people who brought the planes to the towers.

“This day is important to remember. Because we have to remember what we lost that day — it started a new era. Most of you didn’t experience the change, but it’s important for us to come together.”

While the Desloge VFW was holding ceremonies in the West County School District, the Leadington VFW Post 5741 was making similar rounds in the Central School District. Their last stop was at Central High School, where veterans and auxiliary personnel held a flag-raising ceremony around the school’s flagpole.

Post Commander Bill Henson spoke to the encircled students, asking for any student born before Sept. 11, 2001 to raise their hands. After surveying the raised hands, he said the ceremony was meant to ensure the memory of the attacks does not die with those who saw it unfold on TV.

“Today, Monday, Sept. 11, we commemorate the events that happened 16 years ago on Sept. 11 2001,” Henson said. “Most of you were not born 16 years ago, but many of your older brothers and sisters, as well as your parents remember that day quite well.”

The flag was raised over the crowd and Henson asked for student volunteers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Two girls volunteered, leading their classmates as the flag was raised.

Henson then spoke to the students about the importance of remembering the attacks of 16 years ago and the lessons America was forced to learn in their wake.

“On this day in 2001 nearly 3,000 Americans died in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Henson said. “We, the American people, were given a cause on this day in 2001 to unite. And we united in the face of danger and adversity and with the resilience of the American spirit.”

He stressed the sacrifice made by first responders during the attacks, those who put their own lives at risk to attempt to save others. Despite the fear and pain caused by the attacks, Henson said they caused America to rise to the occasion and become even better than it had been before.

“Americans put aside their differences by coming together and showing the power of patriotism by reaching deep into their souls and finding the strength to love and help their neighbor, no matter the color of their skin, their religious background or how much money they had,” he said. “None of that mattered. All that mattered was that we were all Americans and we would stick together.”

Henson said the lessons learned that day and in the days that followed still echo through the hearts and minds of Americans, even those who were not alive during the attacks. He said those lessons can be boiled down to treating one another with kindness and love.

“We must have the courage to do the right thing and protect and defend each other,” he said. “We have to put aside our differences and care for each other’s equality, which sometimes means sacrifice.

“I hope you will keep these thoughts in your mind as you hear more about 9/11 this week. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to ask your parents, your teachers or a friend. We feel blessed to have you as students. You are the future of this country.”

After the ceremony, Henson and representatives of the Leadington VFW presented Central High School administrators with an American flag in remembrance of 9/11.

Area VFW Posts are also planning POW/MIA ceremonies later this week; Desloge’s ceremony will be on Sept. 15, while Farmington and Leadington ceremonies will be held on Sept. 16.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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