18 years after Sept. 11 attacks, Modesto students honor victims, share message of unity

Modesto Junior College students, many of them too young to recall the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but who know the horrors from painful images, news coverage and survivor accounts, joined in a somber ceremony Wednesday on the East Campus quad.

Dozens gathered before the campus flagpole did their part to ensure the civilians, military personnel and first responders who lost their lives are not forgotten.

In the lawn there stood nearly 3,000 tiny flags — the result of work that began two days earlier with students carefully using string and markers to ensure even spacing and rows, said Bryan Justin Marks, dean of student services and public relations.

Then, hours before Wednesday’s fourth annual MJC Remembrance Day, they were planted in the grass. Most represent the victims when two hijacked airliners hit the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another plane struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers and crew attempted to retake the aircraft.

Custom-made black and red flags salute 343 firefighters killed, and black and blue flags honor the fallen 60 law enforcement officers. The field of small flags was flanked by 50 big U.S. flags to represent the nation coming together in the aftermath of the tragedy, Marks said.

“You get a little bit of hope in the togetherness,” said MJC’s student body president, Mikayla Ramirez, who spoke to dozens of classmates and others during the brief remembrance ceremony. “Although after the attack, many people were in shock and confused, they immediately got to work, not only to affect the areas directly affected by the attack, but small communities like ours felt the devastation from the worst event to happen in modern history. ...

“Today, let’s not forget the feeling we as Americans felt after 9/11 — the feeling of togetherness, of unity and of strength. When we stand by one another, nothing can keep us down.”

Another speaker, MJC Veterans Club President Stephen Lohmeyer, said we must never forget the lives lost and the emergency personnel, engineers and citizens who immediately sprang into action to locate survivors, clear the wreckage and identify victims, “efforts that still continue today.”

He added, “In the following years, our military and other agencies would take the fight against terrorism to the Taliban in Afghanistan and later to al-Qaida in Iraq. Little did we know at that time that the battles against these terrorist organizations would continue to the present day ... Although the struggles continue against those who wish us harm, we stand together as one today, yesterday and tomorrow.”

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.