The flags were at half-staff on Sept. 10 at Timber Creek Regional High School as students, staff and community members gathered for a Patriot’s Day service that reflected on the events of 9/11.
The school district commemorated the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America with a 9/11 memorial that reads, “Never Forget.” Speakers included school and government officials.
Back in early September 2001, the township community looked forward to the Sept. 12 opening of the high school, something Police Chief David Harkins described as “a big deal, something that happens maybe once in a lifetime.” School Superintendent Dr. Brian Repici described the scene of teachers on Sept. 11, 2001 preparing for the first Timber Creek students.
“By 10:45 a.m. on that day, our thoughts changed,” Repici recalled at the Patriot’s Day service. “We worried for loved ones. We prayed for those impacted. We wanted answers.
“We didn’t know at that time,” he added, “but what we now know was we were mourning our way of life.”
Timber Creek High Principal Kelly McKenzie and Repici acknowledged that the school’s current seniors were born in the years after 9/11, and they both emphasized the importance of keeping the history alive.
“For those curious about Sept. 11 2001, all Americans on that day … and to this day, will tell you it was life changing and culture shifting,” said Repici. “To have lived during that day and the subsequent weeks and months was to share a sense of grief, loss, anger, love for country and patriotic duty.”
Board member Kevin McElroy went into detail at the service about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93 into a Pennsylvania field, events that together resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans.
“Burning debris covered the surrounding buildings and streets below with hundreds jumping to their deaths in an attempt to escape,” McElroy remembered. “… Both of the World Trade Center towers collapsed into a terrifying and deadly inferno of rubble.
“What came next in the world was shocking,” he added. “This great nation didn’t sit down, didn’t hide in fear. We didn’t run. We came together. It didn’t matter their age, their race, their sex, their social stature — everyone wanted to help their fellow Americans. We came to one nation, fighting one goal: terror. Ever since then, this country has been fighting the war on terror here and abroad.”
Harkins had been on the police force for six years on 9/11 and remembered the shared sense of pain and understanding between the first responders in Gloucester Township and those in New York City and Washington, D.C.
“It was frustrating for us in the police department; it was frustrating for people around us,” Harkins noted. “We wanted to do something. We wanted to go help.
“It was a special time,’’ he added. “Out of bad times, good things happened. I’ve never seen people come together like they did, I’ve never seen families grow tighter, I’ve never seen people realize how special other people are.”
“Learning history [and] being curious about the past has a way of placing those who did not experience those events firsthand on a path of discovery,” Repici explained at the service. “History is not just facts and figures and ‘what ifs’. History demands curiosity to feel and a deep sense of emotional intelligence to place yourself in the shoes of someone who may have been through that experience.”
“Our students today may not share the innate level of familiarity, but this 9/11 memorial is a tremendous way to bridge our past with their present,” McKenzie added. “This indeed is a day to mourn loss … but this is also a day to celebrate the spirit of unity and the restoration of hope.”