"You all know I'm not ever at a loss for words, but this morning I find myself choked up. Here under the rainbow, it's like ... whew," Claire Blanchard, principal of Lyman Hall Elementary School, said Thursday when she spoke at the school's first Freedom Walk to honor and remember those associated with the 9/11 tragedy.
During the outdoor ceremony in front of the school, students, parents, faculty and guests dressed in red, white and blue and bearing American flags, listened as Blanchard proceeded.
After the reading of a poem called "One" by Cheryl Sawyer, Blanchard introduced and thanked city officials responsible for Hinesville's safety as well as members of the 1st Battalion of the 64th Armor. The 6th Squadron/8th Cavalry layed wreaths in remembrance.
Though some students might be too young to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, teachers and faculty said there's no doubt many of them felt the impact and significance of the ceremony.
"Some of the students were seen crying," said Peggy LeCounte, parent involvement facilitator. " They wanted autographs from the soldiers and from the city officials that were there. They really learned the meaning of patriotism this morning."
LeCounte, who helped arrange and coordinate the memorial walk, said the sentiment evoked by the early morning ceremony was evident throughout the day.
"It was very rewarding, words can't explain. We're all walking around the halls in awe," LeCounte said. "It meant a lot to our school."
In the afternoon, older students participated in a similar tribute. About 200 students at Bradwell Institute gathered for a ceremony in the high school's common area.
"It's our way of showing a remembrance for those who perished," said Col. Ken Koetz, senior Army instructor for Bradwell's JROTC department. Koetz has been coordinating the event for seven years.
The ceremony, which was broadcasted across the school to all classrooms and students, included a speech by Lt. Col. Nestor Colls, telecommunications center operator.
In his speech, Colls reminded students of the events that transpired Sept. 11, 2001, and asked them to keep the families and people affected in their prayers and thoughts.
Other events included a "laying of wreath" ceremony, a rendition of 'Let There Be Peace of Earth' and a moment of silence.
Senior Cadet Lt. Col. Brian Hester, who gave a welcome speech and took part in the wreath ceremony, said the Thursday's events were a reminder to his generation of how a disaster brought the entire nation together.
"It means a lot because when we were young we didn't know much about patriotism, but we bonded as a country," Hester said. "People can still go back to remember when we bonded."