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Sun, March 24

Short, poignant PHS JROTC ceremony commemorates those lost on 9/11

Prescott High School JROTC Cadet Major Alisha Pestana plants one of almost 3,000 miniature flags at the base of the school’s center flagpole. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Prescott High School JROTC Cadet Major Alisha Pestana plants one of almost 3,000 miniature flags at the base of the school’s center flagpole. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)


High school Principal Stephanie Hillig speaks to the crowd of students, district education leaders, police and fire officials during the annual 9/11 ceremony. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

On a sunny, blue sky day not unlike this same date 16 years ago, Prescott High School students ringed the walkways along with school district, police and firefighter leaders for the annual JROTC remembrance of the terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 innocent Americans and their rescuers.

A half-hour before the first period bell rang at 8 a.m., 46 minutes before the first hijacked plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the JROTC hoisted a folded American flag with the Arizona flag to the top of the pole and then slowly brought it to half-mast. Around the base of the flag the JROTC members planted 2,977 miniature flags to represent all who were lost that day.

There was near silence as students, some not even alive that day, paid homage to the sacrifice and death of people who were simply going about their daily routines on a warm, sunny day.

The first crash stupefied all who witnessed it, but with the second crash, and subsequent crashes into the United States Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the downed flight in a Pennsylvania field, the passengers overtaking the terrorists, the nation was riddled with horror of this coordinated terrorist attack. Even in the midst of the chaos, with the Twin Towers’ collapse injuring thousands more, strangers embraced one another, neighbors rushed to help neighbors and a nation, and world, mourned the toll of destruction.

Prescott Police Chief Debora Black will never forget that day.

“On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I like most Americans woke up, got some coffee (or in my case tea) and prepared to face the day we had planned, secure in the knowledge that the world was basically safe and predictable. The top story of the ‘Today Show’ was Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA; in other words, a slow news day.

Until the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.”

Then came the second plane. And she said there was then no doubt that the United States was under attack — the whos and whys yet to be known. The sure thing was nothing would ever be the same again, said the chief who was then working in law enforcement in Phoenix.

“Our nation was gripped in collective shock, fear, loss and uncertainty,” Black declared.

Her thoughts quickly turned to her then 10-year-old daughter, Mallory. She wanted to shield her from the terror, yet her little girl wanted to know what happened.

“The days immediately following the 9/11 attacks were surreal. Shops and restaurants were empty, flights were canceled, and the skies eerily silent,” Black recalled. “America had adopted a ‘hunker down’ approach in response to the attacks — for a short time.”

Many speculated on the imprint this would leave on the youngest of Americans, she said. Would they grow up in fear, unwilling to venture out into the larger world for fear of their safety?

In the years since, Black said, she has found with her own daughter, and fellow millennials, that just the opposite occurred. They refused to cower or “shrink their world,” she said.

“I learned a great deal from my daughter. Where I was cautious, she was bold,” Black said. “The effect of the 9/11 attacks in time served to make young and old stronger in our resolve to protect America, value our freedoms and serve others.

“Many of those old enough joined the military, became police officers or firefighters because of the heroic actions they witnessed that day,” Black added. “My daughter served on two international mission trips before she got her driver’s license. She, like so many others, was determined not to allow fear, loss or the tragedy of 9/11 define her future.

“What we, as American people, found within us was exactly what we needed. We vow to never forget, yet choose to persevere. We found our resilience,” Black declared.

Black’s words, echoed by Principal Stephanie Hillig whose own brother just retired from the military after serving three Middle East tours, were an inspiration to the students and adults in the audience.

Professional Development Director Kelli Bradstreet, who was a teacher in the high school that day and mother of two young children, was teary-eyed. She agreed with Black. Today’s children “are less fearful than we are.”

“This was a great remembrance of 9/11 and those who lost their lives,” concluded Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read.


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