I was teaching my 8th grade US History students about the Constitutional Convention when our art teacher burst into the classroom and said, “Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center, turn your TV on.” The words she said just didn’t seem to register, but I turned Fox News on, and sure enough, we saw those terrible images that now make up our nation’s collective memory of that day. We sat in silence as news of the attack on the Pentagon and then a report of a crashed airliner in Pennsylvannia streamed across the screen.
Even at this early stage, I remember telling myself, “The damage doesn’t look that bad. I think that the towers can be repaired.”
That changed when the towers collapsed. It was at that point that I was truly shocked, angry, and frightened. As the towers crashed to the ground, I recalled an earlier item from the coverage that said on any given day, 50,000 people work in the WTC. Watching the implosion of both buldings, I thought to myself that the death toll must be in the tens of thousands.
Being one of only two rooms in the school wired for cable, my room became a center throughout the day for staff and students to watch the reports and see the horrors as they happened. The next few days, students had so many questions that I had to put my lesson plans on hold. My kids were scared and confused, and so was I. I felt that we needed to talk about that. When one of my students asked me, “Mr. Dertz, are we safe here in Shannon?”, I really did not know what to say. I didn’t want to lie to the kids, but I didn’t want to scare them, either. I told the kids that I really didn’t know any more.
Gradually, normalcy returned to our little corner of Northwestern Illinois. It is a year later as I write this. I can honestly say that our students, our school, our community, and, most certainly, our country, is stronger and closer because of what the terrorists tried to do to us. The resolve of our nation’s citizens have showed the rest of the world why America is the greatest country and Americans are the best people. As a US Army veteran, I have seen the best this country has to offer in our uniformed citizens and I know that they are up to the task at hand. In the end, we will prevail.