The morning was crisp and clear, as only a September morning can be, as the bell tolled, each peal rolling out across the small community of Rutland on Friday morning.
Standing with school children in front of the school were firefighters from around the region – Madison, Colman, Brookings, Wentworth, Nunda – as well as representatives from the S.D. Army National Guard. School Resource Officer Steve Rowe and a Highway Patrol trooper represented law enforcement.
Together, they listened to a brief reminder of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, of the lives lost not only on that day but also during the intervening years, of the most recent sacrifice of 13 service members in a suicide bombing during the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Together they bowed their heads in silence, placing their hands over their hearts, for two long minutes after the flag was raised and then lowered to half-mast. Soldiers recalled their deployments. Firefighters remembered the sacrifices of first responders on 9/11.
Adults recalled where they were when the Twin Towers fell. Students honored the dead with varying degrees of understanding.
“I’ve seen the impact on other people,” said senior Breckyn Leighton, who was not yet born on that fateful morning. “The video we’ve been watching is very real.”
Each year, government teacher Richard Myrvik and the senior class remember the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and honor the Americans who lost their lives on that day and in the military action which followed. The ceremony is simple and respectful.
“We never thought to invite some people,” Myrvik said on Friday morning, prior to the ceremony. “This year being the 20th, we thought, ‘Let’s invite the people who serve who we take for granted’.”
This year is different for his senior class as well. Netflix is offering a series: “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror.” His class, which usually watches videos of live coverage from that day, is watching the series.
“For government, we’ll incorporate the decisions government had to make with the information at the time,” Myrvik said. He believes it’s important to help his students to understand the ramifications of the attacks and the nation’s response.
“If we forget what happened in the past and the price we paid, it’s more likely to happen in the future,” he indicated.
For Rowe, the ceremony was not only moving but also deeply personal. He knows both sides. Rowe is a deputy with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office; he also served with the S.D. Air National Guard and was deployed.
“First responders were the first one at Ground Zero and the military followed suit in being deployed. Seeing everyone here hits my heart in a special way,” he said.
He said that having a small school like Rutland take a moment to remember is a powerful experience, especially for those whose lives have been affected in some way over the past 20 years.
“No matter where we’re at, no matter where they’re at, 9/11 is still on our minds and hearts,” Rowe said.
Like Leighton, senior Isaac Trygstad has been emotionally impacted by the videos the government class is watching. When asked what he would like to see in the future, he said he would like to see the nation come together as a whole and get along.
For a brief moment, the nation was unified following the terrorist attacks, which Superintendent Brian Brosnahan noted. He is pleased to see the senior class hold the ceremony each year, because he believes it’s important to remember what happened including that initial response.
“When you look at what 9/11 was, it was a tragic day for America, but it was also a unifying day,” he stated. “I think it’s important to remember what happened and took place.”