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9/11, 10 years later

  • CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Nate Rylas, foreground, and Ben Moore watch their 9/11 tribute video.
    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Nate Rylas, foreground, and Ben Moore watch their 9/11 tribute video.
Published September 12. 2011 08:28AM

It was mid-morning on Sept. 11, 2001, and Nathan Rylas was sitting in his second grade classroom in the Panther Valley Elementary School, eager to watch a movie.

"They turned on the TV to show the movie, and the towers going down was the first thing everybody saw. Nobody knew what happened because they turned the TV off real fast," he said.

The baffled students were sent home.

"I came home and my Mom was bawling her eyes out. I was confused, I didn't know why," he recalls.

His mother explained to him what was happening.

"I was so young, it was just overwhelming," he said. "But seeing my Mom cry made me feel sad, too."

The impact of seeing the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan collapse after al Quaeda terrorists deliberately crashed hijacked passenger jets into them was seared into Rylas' memory.

Now 17 and a student at Jim Thorpe Area High School, Rylas, with classmate Ben Moore, created his first 9/11 tribute video last year.

The 3 minute video begins with a newscast about the attacks, and shows recorded images of the towers being hit, then collapsing as people flee. It also shows the memorial lights and people's reflections on the attacks. The video images are accompanied by dramatic music from the film "Inception."

The video can be accessed at

Rylas is revising the video for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Moore does a voice-over at the end of the film. In second grade at L.B. Morris Elementary School at the time of the attacks, he remembers the day's events clearly.

"It was just a regular, sunny morning. We were doing a writing assignment, and calls just kept coming in to the classroom. One by one, people were just leaving," he said.

His mother came to get him, and explained that "America is under attack." They arrived home to find his father home from work, an unusual thing to happen.

"I remember turning on the TV, and just seeing everyone running from this dust and smoke," he said. He's never forgotten the images.

Carbon Career and Technical Institute students Helen O'Connor and Dmitriy Revzen also have that day seared into their memories: Both lived in New York City at the time.

Helen, now 15, was in kindergarten at PS 101 in Brooklyn with the towers were hit.

"They locked everything and shut the blinds and all you saw was the air filling up with smoke," she said.

Helen's mother took her home, where the family stood at the window, watching the towers burn.

Adding to the terror and confusion was fear for her father, who had an appointment at one of the towers.

"He had two job interviews that day, and something told him to go to the other one first," she said.

Dmitriy, 14, was also in kindergarten at PS 177, also in Brooklyn.

"There were people going home, and I didn't know what was going on. My Dad came and picked me up," he said. "I remember getting home and watching the news. But it was a couple of years before I realized what was going on."

To help his students better understand the attacks and their significance, teacher Mike Baumgart will begin by showing his classes points in time when America was attacked, including the U.S.S. Maine, Pearl Harbor and 9/11. His presentation includes the politics behind the attacks, and asking students to share their own memories as he shares his own. He'll also show a History Channel film, "102 Minutes That Changed America," recounting the attacks.

Weatherly Area High School senior Matthew Caccese was 7 at the time. His shock was compounded by memories of seeing the towers on a trip with the Boy Scouts the year before.

"I remember, to this day, clearly, just going into my living room and my mother had the TV on. the Fox news channel was up, and they had a picture of a helicopter circling the north tower, and it was just engulfed in smoke. I remember, America the Beautiful playing in the background. Just that part, right there, with the music playing, just stuck in my mind to this day," he said. "That's part of the reason I want to go into the military, because I don't want something like this to happen again."

Senior Tracy Galada was in second grade. "We were all excited because they had TV's on in the office," she recalled. At home, she found her father watching a replay of the planes hitting the towers. They watched it together, and he explained what was happening.

"I remember asking him if we would have to leave, and he explained that it was far away," she said. "I don't remember being very scared."

Teacher Brian Kaminski will show his students a 9/11 interview with then-President George Bush, and approach the attacks and their aftermath from different economic and social perspectives, and how the event will continue to change his students' lives.

Kaminski's students will also examine conspiracy theories, with their teacher's advice to "take them with a grain of salt."

Tamaqua Area High School Social Studies teacher Stephen Ulicny remembers the events vividly. The shock of the attacks seared his soul, leaving an after-image that remains as clear as it was as it all unfolded.

"I really felt it was the beginning. I felt there would be other attacks, I just didn't know what was going to happen. I had this great uncertainty, this trepidation, throughout the entire day," he recalled.

Ulicny, who teaches current events, plans to show films and have students participate in reflection activities that he designed. It's crucial to keep the memory of the attacks alive, he said.

"The moment we forget is the moment we won't expect it to happen again," he said.

Tenth grade students Joann Butkus and Jared Sharpe were each five years old when the terrorists deliberately crashed the planes.

Butkus said she didn't really understand what was happening until she was older and her parents explained it to her.

"I didn't know enough to be afraid," she said.

But she saw that her mother began opening the mail outside in case it contained toxins. In school, she learned more, and is sad that the war that began a decade ago continues.

"I hope we can find out a way to keep this from happening again, try to maybe see it coming and defend ourselves better. We can't change the past, but we can learn from it," she said.

It was not until several years later that Sharpe began to fully understand the attacks. His family had lived on Long Island, but moved in 2000.

"We were glad to leave. We knew we weren't getting off the island if something bad happens in Manhattan, because all the exits are through Manhattan."

Sharpe sees progress being made after the attacks.

"It's good to see the Freedom Tower is finally under construction. It's good to see that we are moving forward, we are getting past it," he said. "The future is bright."

Panther Valley High School plans a two-part commemoration, said Principal Joe Gunnels. The first will take place on Friday, when students will pause to listen to readings at every time corresponding to the attacks. On Tuesday, an assembly will be held to further mark the anniversary.

JROTC Senior Army Instructor Kenneth Markovich said he and three cadets would do the readings. taps will be played, and several cadets will visit the elementary school for a service.

After the ceremony at the elementary school, the cadets will raise the flag in Coaldale.

On Tuesday, the JROTC will hold a ceremony in the school auditorium.

"This year, instead of being a JROTC based ceremony, we tried to involve the rest of the school by allowing students to submit poems if they wished to read them at the ceremony, and the PowerPoint class to create a video slide show. At the end of the ceremony, the JROTC will have a firing party and the playing of taps to end the ceremony," Markovich said.

CDT/LTC Courtney Lazar, Panther Battalion Commander, was 7 at the time. She said she didn't begin to understand the significance of that day until years later, when she learned more about it. That's why it's important to continue to have these ceremonies, she said, so that generations to come will never forget.

At Lehighton Area High School, Principal Tim Tkach said teachers would incorporate 9/11 into all classes. Physics classes, for example, would explore the towers' structure and collapse.

Sophomore Amresse Farrow, 15, remembers that her kindergarten "teachers started to get calls, and other teachers came into the classroom. They turned the TV on, but they didn't really talk to us about it. I think they didn't want us to be scared. I found out more when I got home, but I wasn't that upset about it. I didn't realize it was on purpose at first. then I found out how many people died, and that it was a terrorist attack."

Amresse wonders to this day why the terrorists chose that particular day attack.

Junior Hannah Bartron is haunted by the question, "How could it happen?" She remembers her teacher turning on the TV and becoming upset.

"I didn't understand what was happening until I got home, and saw my Grandma was crying," she said.

Senior Nick Mantz was in his second grade classroom.

"Our teacher turned on the TV to CNN, and we saw the World Trade Centers had been hit by jets. I think I was really too young to know what it meant," he said.

The reality didn't hit home until he saw how upset his parents were.

Teacher Mike Feifel will teach his economics students how the attacks "impacted our economy" and his Social Studies students "how it affected our country in general, and how it changed. It's really important to look how that one event transformed our country into something different from what it was."

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