Most of the students at Lyman Hall Elementary School were not born when terrorists attacked the United States 12 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001. But each year, they honor everyday heroes, including military members and first responders, during the school’s annual Freedom Walk. Lyman Hall held this year’s commemoration of 9/11 on Wednesday morning.
“This is one of our big events recognizing our fallen soldiers and those serving now,” parent-involvement facilitator Lavonia “Peggy” LeCounte said. She organizes the event each year.
School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and U.S. Army Maj. Robert Gordon, with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were invited to speak. Both touched on the topics of unity and resilience before the start of the Freedom Walk. They also recalled where they were on 9/11.
“I was at Fort Polk, La., preparing to go to Kosovo,” Gordon said. He said he and his fellow soldiers thought the news of the attacks was part of an exercise. They soon learned the tragedy that unfolded in New York City, at the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania were real.
“One of our interpreters had a girlfriend who worked at the World Trade Center,” the major said. “Luckily, she was late to work that day.”
Gordon was deployed to Kosovo following 9/11, and later was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We all know where we were on 9/11,” Lee said. “I was a school principal then and was in a principals’ meeting.”
The superintendent was a principal at Edward S. Kemp Primary School in Clayton County.
“Someone came to the meeting and said an airplane had hit the World Trade Center,” she said. A television was turned on just as the second plane hit, Lee said.
“You never once thought it was a terroristic attack,” she said. “There was a silence and a stillness that befell the room. No one said much. We just got out of our seats and went back to our schools.”
Lyman Hall Principal Claire Blanchard told Freedom Walk attendees that 9/11 has been designated Patriots Day, and read a presidential proclamation by President Barack Obama. Blanchard said students have been learning about what makes a hero.
Fifth-grader Cynthia Steele peeped over the podium and read a poem she wrote defining heroism. Diamond Wilkerson, also in fifth grade, read her winning essay about her hero and grandfather, veteran Maurice Joseph. He surprised his granddaughter by attending the event and rewarded her with a hug in front of her teachers and classmates.
Two students solemnly lowered the flag to half-mast and stood aside as soldiers with the school’s support unit, 6/8 Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division, placed a wreath at the base of the school’s flag pole. Then children, faculty, parents and community leaders lined up to walk one lap around the school.