UMKC students and veterans remember 9/11 (Video)

Jessica Turner

Video Credit: Erin Melrose

Students gathered at the University Playhouse on the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11 to reflect on and remember the tragedy that took nearly 3,000 lives.

In collaboration with the UMKC Student Veterans Organization, the Nu Epsilon chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi hosted the event to encourage students and veterans to exchange stories and celebrate the country’s progress.

Kappa Alpha Psi member Zachariah Hinton invited students to sign a banner dedicated to those who volunteered, served, died and contributed to the relief and recovery efforts of 9/11.

 “Right now we’re celebrating the soldiers, but also paying homage to those who didn’t make it,” Hinton said. “Listen to some of the stories that veterans have to tell, and that our own student body has to tell.”

As guests turn to salute the flag atop Swinney Recreation Center, student Mimi Dean sang the Star-Spangled Banner to spectators.

 “I was in the fifth grade,” Hinton said. “I remember the teacher frantically searching for the television…at that time, being in fifth grade, it’s hard to understand the hurt in someone’s heart to want to do something so tragic as to kill thousands of people. And I remember just being a little kid, trying to…understand why was it that somebody could be so hurtful…towards people that didn’t deserve to die.”

UMKC junior and Desert Storm veteran Gerald Lee prays that President Obama doesn’t pick another fight

“We’d like to thank each and every last one of you for coming out [for] this celebration because this was an attack on America, not just soldiers,” he said. “It was an attack on America through terrorism, which we go out to fight. I’d like to start off with a scripture, because I believe that when you put God first in your life, He’s still in control of it.”

Lee recited Psalms 23:1-6. —

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me…”

“I hope that prayer stays with you and everybody else that suffers through things that we just don’t understand,” Lee said. “I’m so proud to be a veteran, but I’ve been a veteran [for] years and years of my active duty service and I still suffer from the scars of the battlefield.”

Lee described a non-profit organization he hopes to develop, and currently works with Vietnam veterans. He said his goal is to help counsel troops and help them readjust to civilian life.

“We need to help the soldiers who are coming home—the ones who are still in the fight—and pray that we don’t pick another one,” Lee said. “Because as we speak, right now, the President [of the United States] is deciding—and wants—to go start something else somewhere else. But at the end of it, somebody’s life will be taken. And we have enough soldiers dying. We want to know what it’s like to live in America, not die for America.”

Hinton planned four brief moments of silence throughout the event. To remember the first plane hitting the first World Trade Center building, to remember the children lost in the daycare center, to remember the second plane that many Americans witnessed crash live on television and to remember the victims of Flight 77, which collided into the Pentagon.

Alpha Kappa Psi brother Reginald “Reggie” Simmons played music as DJ Asylum during the event, and shared his memory.

“I was in the fifth grade as well,” Simmons said. “The principal came over the intercom… We didn’t know what was going on…then we saw on the news the planes crashing into the buildings. As kids, we were all kind of devastated. We didn’t really understand it. We were asking a lot of questions. It stuck with me. A few of my classmates actually had relatives that were in the building.”

Many students spoke about the fragility of life and testified that although they weren’t in New York and may have only been 10 years old, they were still affected by the incident.

“Even if we are miles and miles away, the truth of the matter is that it felt like it was happening in our own back yards,” Hinton said.

Wyandotte Unified Government Commissioner Terrence Maddox puts the events of 9/11 into a relevant context for students and young people

 “I was a freshman in college,” Maddox said. “That moment was…something that’s so traumatic that you never forget about it. It becomes a stain on the brain.”

He considered the meaning of 9/11 by reflecting on second chances.

“I just think about the individuals that went into work that morning—who may have argued with their spouse, or not kissed their kid but were on the thirteenth floor and they never made it home. And they never had that second chance… but you have a second chance every day,” Maddox said.

He challenged the students to love one another, to call their mothers and to stop taking each other for granted.

Alpha Kappa Psi member De’Angelo Thomas agreed with Maddox’s message that peace begins in the community.

“I’m a veteran myself,” Thomas said. “I served four and a half years in the 125th Delta Unit before I served in Ordnance Unit, where I [fixed] artillery and Humvees. If we actually take that initiative to break barriers and stop disrespecting each other, laughing at each other, putting each other down…some of these things would probably not exist.”

Thomas reflected on his memories of the tragic day.

“I was in the fifth grade,” he said. “We…watched the recap of one plane going into one of the towers, and the second plane. As my mind processed it, I was like, ‘What is actually happening?’ When I went home, my parents and my grandparents were speaking about it and…it hurt my heart just to see how people could even hurt people and how we don’t value the people surrounded around us.”

Maddox agreed and reflected on the fate of young people in the country.

 “Just think about the people who were flying the planes,” Maddox said. “We never know how they were treated. We never know what happened to them. We were just told they were terrorists. But how many people didn’t speak to them? How many people may have cracked jokes on them, or didn’t say, ‘Hello’? Just a simple walk onto campus and waving at someone and saying, ‘Hello,’ can stop somebody from going home and committing suicide. It can stop them from going into a bank and shooting somebody. So all I’m saying is, at the end of the day, you have to live your life as a change agent.”

The event focused on the memory of 9/11, but the veterans and students who spoke all seemed to have a message that could relate back to why these events happen, how they can be avoided and how they have affected us as a nation and as individuals.

“We need to realize that after [9/11], the way we started to treat certain people, [and] the way we started to view certain cultures—we started to treat them differently,” Hinton said. “Before we’re quick to pass judgment, I just want you guys to…calm down with the negative stereotypes. Because now they have to live their lives differently for the rest of their [lives] because of the stereotypes that we put upon them.”

UMKC School of Education’s graduate student, Dominico Nguyen, wrote a song to commemorate 9/11. He first spoke about his own 9/11 experience.

 “I was in my history class in eighth grade at Lincoln College Prep,” Nguyen said. “At that time, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was at all. I was a kid. And I saw my teacher crying, because he said he might have known somebody that was [there]. I began to ponder the tragedy, and I wanted to make something out of it. I recognized that there is one positive thing that happened on 9/11, and that is a lot of people began to come together in prayer.”

Nguyen proceeded to sing his song, “The Voice of America,” as the audience clapped their hands to the rhythm.

Marine and President of the Student Veteran Organization, Gunnery Sergeant Jude Castro, speaks of his personal ritual on 9/11 before the official memorial balloon release each year.

“Normally on this day, I like to not really focus on what happened in Iraq, but more on my friends…who actually served,” Castro said. “Most of us joined knowing that we were going off to war. So today is more about showing love to my friends that I served with. So I’ll text them or write them on Facebook, because they’re the ones that actually put boots on ground. As a Marine, our job is to go forward and fight.”

Born in New York and stationed in Germany, Castro is a first-generation American.

“My parents weren’t born here, so they’re very proud that I got to serve this country,” he said. “The one thing that I would say about being a student veteran and my time in the service is that coming back to civilian life is a very difficult transition. In the military, whenever you have an issue, you’re taught to work through it. The military has taught me…leadership skills and to meet individuals of different races and cultures. Being here in college…KC has given me a lot of support, and I appreciate that.”

Many service members have trouble adjusting to civilian life, and being a student in addition to those pressures can make it even more difficult. Lee explained programs available for struggling veterans who should find no shame in reaching out for assistance.

“It’s okay to cry,” Lee said. “It’s okay to feel pain. It’s okay to say, you know, ‘I need help’.”

Castro presented Hinton with a challenge coin as a token of appreciation from the SVO to Alpha Kappa Psi.

“Think about the hard work that every individual has done to make sure that we’re safe in the USA—even sacrificing their lives to make this place better,” Hinton said.

There was an official balloon release, during which students gathered in the center of the Playhouse and released dozens of red, white and blue balloons into the sky and watched as they floated higher and higher and eventually disappeared.

“The balloon release was exactly what I wanted it to be,” Castro said. “It was an intimate moment where we were able to just understand why we’re here…and it was a moment for me to realize that it’s okay to shed a tear because of something that has affected us all. When Jude gave me a symbol of appreciation, that allowed me to know that I’m doing something good and that at the end of the day, people will be affected by great doings.”