Originally Published: September 12, 2011 9:58 p.m.
As he stood surrounded by nearly 3,000 small flags during Prescott High School's 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, math teacher John Strzepek spoke about his friend, New York City Police Sgt. Mike Curtin, who was among the 3,000 killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We plant flags for the memory of the lost, but remember each one of these flags represents a person," said Strzepek. "Without really knowing their stories, it becomes impersonal. I want to connect you to one of the victims."
Strzepek said he met Curtin while serving with a U.S. Marine reserve company during Desert Storm in 1990. Once, when they didn't have enough water to make their reconnaissance missions in Desert Storm, Strzepek told Curtin he had to find a water bowl.
"Four hours later, he returned with a water bowl on the back of his trailer," Strzepek said. "As I looked a little closer, I noticed there were Army markings on it. That was the first raid of many by Gunnery Sgt. Curtin on the Army, and we never lacked for a thing."
When Curtin realized the displaced Palestinian workers who shot at the Marines nightly were on the edge of starvation, he fed them from a cache of food the Marines found that the fleeing Iraqi army had stored, Strzepek said.
"We took all that food to the Palestinian neighborhood and those who hated us, and Mike fed those people," Strzepek said. "I noticed that the next day the sniper fire stopped. Mike had won them over with his love."
About a hundred students, teachers, school staff, local firefighters and police officers, and veterans gathered around the flagpole at Prescott High School as Student Council President Kirsten Graber and Vice President Shelly Stuckman welcomed them, Prescott High School's Air Force JROTC raised the flag, the choir sang The Star Spangled Banner, and District Superintendent Dave Smucker spoke about when he heard about 9/11.
"I remember hearing the news on the radio on my way to work," Smucker said. "I remember silent skies as travel was stopped. I remember approximately six weeks later as I stood in our nation's capital looking at the damage of the Pentagon."
Courtney Snow, student council advisor, said the students organized the remembrance ceremony and invited local police officers, firefighters and veterans to attend the event.
"9/11 brought our country together and we began to look at our fellow Americans in a different light," Smucker said. "Across our country friends and strangers came together first to comfort one another, then to rebuild our communities."
Levi Rosdahl, the junior class president, said he was just 5 years old when he heard about 9/11 and waiting for his grandfather, an airline pilot, to come home.
"As a history teacher now," said Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill DeKemper, "you might be surprised that I would rather look forward than look back. The images are just painful. My call to you today is don't live in fear, stand up for those rights Mr. Strzepek talked about, toe the line when it's your turn, support those that do, live strong, live free, and be the beacon in the world that the U.S. has been so long. Don't let these people change that."