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The Spirit of America Re-awakened!

On Wednesday morning 9-11-02, Pearl River High School held a dedication ceremony for a monument to 9-11. The monument consists of two twisted beams from the World Trade Center. Permission was granted to the Captain of the Pearl River Fire Department for the two beams to be donated to the school district. The Pearl River Fire Department and many local construction companies assisted in the recovery efforts in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy. Pearl River lost many members of our community in the tragedy, both firemen and civilians.

It was an honor for me to be asked by the student government of Pearl River High School, to give the keynote address at the memorial dedication ceremony. The thrust of my message was geared toward my students in grades 8 - 12, although I feel it has meaning for all of us. I thought that I would like to share it with all of you along with some photos of the ceremony. One of our high school’s seniors has proposed a complete landscaped park area with a memorial plaque to surround the monument. It is awaiting approval as his Eagle Scout project from the Eagle Scout review board.

God Bless America!
Paul R. Martin III

“The dead do not need us, But forever and forever more, we need them”

James A. Garfield
(1831-1881) 20th President of the United States.

It was a beautiful day. Driving to school that glorious morning, the sunlight glistened upon the tranquil waters of the Hudson River. But within hours, the serenity of that morning, indeed the serenity of our world, would be horrifically shattered and torn asunder by unthinkable acts of terror.

Take a moment to remember where you were and how you felt when you first heard the news.

Headed toward my third period class, I stopped in the English office to say hello. Several of my colleagues were huddled around a portable radio, many of them crying. “A plane has just crashed into the World trade center”, someone said. My first reaction was that it must have been an accident . A small plane that lost control. After arriving at my classroom however, the magnitude of the tragedy began to escalate. The second tower was hit, then the Pentagon, and finally reports of a crash in a field in Pennsylvania. It became apparent that these events were no accident. They were a pre meditated and deliberate attack upon our Country. An act of war. Then the two towers collapsed. Tears filled my eyes as I stared out the window in stunned disbelief. Sitting in traffic, crossing the TZ Bridge driving home that fateful afternoon, my heart ached as the whole of Manhattan appeared to be burning. 3025 innocent people would never greet their loved ones again .

Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger disaster and the Oklahoma City bombing were similar national tragedies, alluded to by historians and described as defining moments of those times. September 11 was the defining moment of YOUR lifetime. In the hours and days that followed it defined what it meant to be an American.

Perhaps for the first time, you comprehended that you weren’t just a Pearl River Pirate, but that you were, first and foremost, an American citizen. You realized that you were part of a much greater whole, that carried with it, responsibility and infinitely more significance, than whether or not the football team would beat Nanuet on Saturday. Differences were put aside and a strong sense of unity enveloped the Nation. The Spirit of America reawakened. The Spirit of America; that elusive intangible that defines us as a nation of people who volunteer to help others during times of crisis. “What Can I do to help?” you asked yourself. The answer came from deep inside your heart and you responded with action that exemplified that spirit. The very next day the student government started a fund drive for the victims. I stood in the hall with a bucket after lunch and you dropped in change by the handfuls, and fives and tens and even twenty dollar bills. Many of you donated blood and attended candlelight vigils. You made sandwiches and baked cookies and sent them down to the workers at the pile along with your hand drawn cards and signs of love and encouragement.

Your actions mirrored the very same spirit that radiated from the courageous faces of the rescuers who rushed into those burning buildings, disregarding their own safety to help others. It was evident in the determined faces of the office workers who stayed behind with disabled friends and injured strangers, and carried them down so many flights of stairs. You heard about American spirit in the actions of the selfless passengers on flight 93, who fought back and re-took control of their plane from the hijackers so that no other innocent American lives would be lost on that day. You saw it in the volunteers from every State in our Union, who descended on our city with trucks and heavy equipment, and buckets and shovels to aid in the rescue operations. When gloves and bottled water was needed it was donated by the hundreds, when sandwiches and cookies were required, they arrived by the thousands. There were no acts of selfishishness, every United States citizen chipped in to do anything and everything to help. We demonstrated to the world the power of an incredible commitment to democratic and humanitarian principles. We witnessed, first hand, what Abraham Lincoln called
“The better angels of our nature”.

On the evening of September 11th, Americans made a promise to NEVER forget what had transpired, or the people who lost their lives on that day. We are assembled here this morning to dedicate a monument, to memorialize all of those precious lives many from our own community.

At a similar occasion about 100 years ago, U S Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. a veteran of the American Civil War, spoke about the importance of what we are doing today when he said,

“I think it is a noble and pious thing, to do whatever we may, by written word and molded bronze and sculpted stone, to keep our memories, our reverence, and our love alive, and to hand them on to new generations, all too ready to forget.”

It is imperetive, that when you walk past this memorial every day, that you always pause to remember and reflect. Never forget the people who were lost or the families they left behind. Never forget the need to be vigilant, for there will still always be those who will try to destroy our freedom. Never forget how you felt in the days that followed the tragedy, when anger and outrage turned to resolve and determination and to compassion and strength and pride. Never forget about the true meaning of American Spirit that gives us the resiliency as a people to persevere, to look forward and to rise from the ashes of this or any tragedy. It is the hallmark of our history and the legacy of generations.

Today, that legacy lives on in you. Carry the spirit of America in your heart every day, keep that spirit alive forever, and then, hand it on, to new generations, all too ready to forget.

Thank You and God Bless America!

Paul R. Martin III

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