DECATUR — As students and visitors filed into the Lutheran School Association gym on Friday, scenes from news coverage of Sept. 11, 2001 played across a screen above the stage.
“Never forget,” read the caption.
Teacher Amy Yusko, who organized the assembly marking the 20th anniversary of that day, reminded the students and adults that 2,977 people died and more than 6,000 were injured when terrorists flew two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and attempted to fly a fourth into another target believed to be the Capitol or the White House, but for the passengers who fought back and crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania.
“Sept. 11, 2001 was an incredibly tragic day in our country,” Yusko said. “We're here today to remember those lives, and the brave men and women who tried to save so many that day, the family and friends who lost someone they loved.”
The Rev. Brett Hinrichs, pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, thanked God for the freedom in the United States and the courage of the first responders.
“Continue to bind us together as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” he said.
The students watched a video provided by Kevin Fagan, who worked at Ground Zero in the days following the attack, with the crews who were doing everything possible to get power back on and things working again. Those workers put in 16-hour days for six weeks, and Fagan said repairs were done in days that once would have taken weeks because of the dedication of those workers.
And he told the story of the “Survivor Tree,” a tree growing next to the Twin Towers that was buried under rubble when the buildings collapsed, but crews could see it wasn't dead, and the New York forestry service took that tree, nursed it back to health, and replanted it in 2010. It stands yet today, and when a photo of it before and after appeared on the screen above the stage, an audible wave passed over children and adults in the gym watching.
“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat,” said President George W. Bush in a speech that night, which was played for the assembly. “But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundation of our buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
The Rev. Rob Goodwin, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, told the students of his own experience. He worked in an office on the 45th floor of a building next to Central Park in New York City, and he and his co-workers watched through a window as the second plane struck the Twin Towers. Yet even in the events of that day, he said, God worked through people who opened their hearts, who found ways to help and to be kind in a city where that was not the norm.
“God works through everything that happens in this world,” Goodwin said, and quoted Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
That day changed the course of Goodwin's life, he said, and helped him realize what is truly important.
Hinrichs, offstage out of sight, played “Taps” in honor of the lives lost that day, and the Rev. Bill Grueninger, also a pastor at St. Paul's, closed with a prayer asking God for peace for the people who lost loved ones, for those suffering aftereffects of fear and post-traumatic stress.
“You reign in this world, and you reign in our lives,” Grueninger prayed. “On this day that we remember the evil that this world can bring, we also remember your faithfulness. We remember your ability to save and we remember your ability to love. So, Almighty God, as we remember, remind us once again of who you are.”
Yusko organized the assembly as part of her desire to help students, who were not yet born on 9/11, respect and understand the events of that day, as she was taught about Pearl Harbor Day when she was a student.
“I feel it's my responsibility, as long as I am doing this job, to remember Sept. 11 and I will do that as long as I am teaching by teaching this to my students.”
Alex Mize, a freshman, said he was thinking about the people who knew someone in those buildings and how many hours they spent without knowing whether their family members or friends had escaped.
Freshman Emma Creviston said she was moved by the number of lives lost.
“I was thinking of how it's a tragedy and how much it impacted people,” she said. “All the families that lost friends and family. It's sad.”
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter