WYA Cadets Pay Tribute to Victims of 9/11

Several weeks after the official dedication of the 9/11 Memorial at Evergreen Park, a group of cadets were afforded the opportunity to get up close and personal at the site. Initially, cadets wandered the area, not realizing what they were witnessing, nor grasping the full meaning behind the dedication. They were being respectful, but not fully understanding all that the memorial represented. Soon after our arrival, a very unassuming gentlemen in cut-offs and tennis shoes approached a WYA staff and asked if he could tell the cadets the story behind the memorial. He explained that he was a volunteer groundskeeper and spent his time protecting and enhancing the grounds.

As this man began to tell the story of what each tile, stone and metal beam represented, the cadets slowly began to change their stance. You could see the understanding creep into their minds and show itself in the look on their faces. As the gentleman spoke of the memorial itself, of the steel beams, the limestone from the Pentagon and sand from the Shanksville, Pa., field where United Flight 93 crashed, there was a silence surrounding the area. It was evident at that moment that the cadets were truly experiencing that day – a day when most of them were heading off to pre-school unaware of the world around them. The groundskeeper continued to talk about the memorial and how it was surrounded by 30 ginkgo trees, one for every 100 people who perished in the attacks.

As this man’s story unfolded, the cadets began to move towards the beams, place their hands on the steel and experience the story of life and death, triumph and defeat. They began to understand the story of the courage that was demonstrated by the passengers on Flight 93 who unsuccessfully tried to save their country. One cadet knelt at the base of the twisted beams, tears running down his face, as he prayed for a family member who lost their life. Others watched his pain and began reaching out to just touch the steel – to feel what it represented – and to honor those who died on 9/11/2001. The cadets of the WYA were given an opportunity on that very special day that they are not likely to forget.