The Smithfield-Selma community gathered to reflect on one of the nation’s most horrific tragedies with a ceremony at Smithfield-Selma High to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of September 11, 2001.
Students, teachers, administrators, community members, and first responders, along with JCS Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow and the Johnston County Board of Education gathered at Smithfield-Selma on Monday for the special ceremony.
“This ceremony gives you a feeling of patriotism that I don’t want these children to lose,” said Board of Education member Dr. Peggy Smith. “I saw so much respect from the students today and that’s precious to me. I don’t want them to ever lose that.”
Local law enforcement, fire and EMS crews were honored for their service at the ceremony. The Selma Fire Department set up ladder trucks to display a large American flag in front of the high school.
“This is a living history lesson for our students,” said Board of Education member Donna White. “It’s important for these young people to never forget what happened on this day in America 15 years ago.”
The school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program led the ceremony, including a speech that recounted the day’s events 15 years earlier from senior NJROTC Lt. Cmdr. Debbie Herrera.
“It’s important to have this ceremony every year because it reminds us what happened that day,” said Lt. Cmdr. Herrera. “Not just that attacks, but the lives that were risked, and the lives that were lost to help save other people.”
The guest speaker for the ceremony was retired Army Lt. Col. John Hannah, who was working in the Pentagon on the day of the attacks. Lt. Col. Hannah, who is now in his second year of teaching at Smithfield-Selma High, shared his own emotional account with those in attendance.
“Hearing his story, you could smell the smoke and you could feel the heat. He was so descriptive of how he escaped the Pentagon, and just one wrong turn could have meant his devastation,” said White. “He brought it to life for us today. It was just so humbling to know that he actually teaches at SSS, and that he is a living historian for our students.”
“When I heard his story I thought about the other 3,000 people who were there who don’t get to tell their story and how blessed we are to have him to come speak with us,” said Dr. Smith.
Following Lt. Col. Hannah’s speech, the school’s chorus group, the Spartan Voices, concluded the ceremony with the National Anthem, followed by student bugler Steven Jones playing taps while the NJROTC presented the colors.