What started as a gray, rainy day broke into sunlight and blue skies in time for the Sept. 11 memorial ceremony Thursday on the steps of Old Main.
“I think it’s very important to remember all those who were lost on this day in 2001,” Penn State College Republicans Vice President Terry Ford said. “We want to honor all the servicemen and women.”
The annual event was organized by the College Republicans in connection with the Penn State Young Americans for Freedom.
The Pennharmonics vocal group sang the national anthem and “Amazing Grace,” and the Old Main lawn was decorated with 2,977 flags, one for each of the victims of the attacks, in the shape of 9-11. Each flag had been hand ironed to look its best.
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ROTC student Antoine Deraoui was in third grade when the attacks happened.
“I remember coming home and my mom was sitting in front of the TV crying, and that was what really got me to understand the severity of what was happening.”
With the Stars and Stripes and the Pennsylvania state flag lowered to half staff, Ford and College Republicans president Brandon Matsnev opened the ceremony.
“Our club is traditionally political in nature,” Matsnev said, “but we recognize sometimes it’s necessary to step back from all that and recognize what unites us rather than what divides us.”
Pastor Steve Lunz, of Calvary Baptist Church in State College, who participated in the ceremony, was in graduate school when the attacks happened.
“I was about to head to class when the car radio said something about planes hitting the World Trade Center,” he said. “I left the car running in the driveway, ran inside and watched the events unfold on TV.
“I realized my car was still running about an hour later.”
In his keynote address, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said that all in attendance should celebrate the freedoms they enjoy as Americans.
Benninghoff also paid tribute to the servicemen and women and first responders on the day of the attacks and those who continue to serve today.
“If a plane were to hit or something were to happen to (Old Main) right now, we would all run (away),” he said. “But (the first responders) would run in.”
He related his own experiences on Sept. 11, of trying to enter the state Capitol builing at 9:14 a.m. that day, and how he was turned away by a Capitol officer.
After having been turned away several times, Benninghoff said, he was told it was an issue of national security. At that time, no one knew where Flight 93 was going, and there was a chance it could have been headed to either the Capitol or the Federal Building.
“This man was willing to prevent me from going into a building that they thought might get attacked,” he said, “knowing he would be standing in the heart of that.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Benninghoff attended a service in Mifflin County for the 100th anniversary celebration for a local fire department. The keynote speaker, a firefighter from New York, remarked on how amazed he was that a majority of first responders in Pennsylvania were volunteers.
“What in the world drives these people to run into burning buildings,” he said, “knowing they might not get out?
“Sept. 11 showed us that — in Pennsylvania, in New York and in Washington, D.C.”
Encouraging the crowd to talk about Sept. 11 later that night, Benninghoff said the public owes it to the victims to remember.
“Sad is a nation that has no heroes,” he said, “or remorseful are those that have, but forget.”
Benninghoff said people can choose to participate in good things on a day-to-day basis, commending the students of Penn State for the recent celebration on Beaver Avenue. He said he was proud that students acted in a civil manner and didn’t damage the town.
In the end, he said, it doesn’t matter how much time passes and it would be shameful for us not to remember.