Tuesday, September 6, 2011

REMEMBERING 9/11: Your Story, #3 | National Infantry Museum, Fort Benning/Columbus, Georgia

Today we continue our series of 9/11 recollections, submitted by readers and published in their own words. 
This story comes from Ms. Stephanie Litz, a volunteer at the National Infantry Museum and elementary school teacher at Fort Benning:
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began like any other day as I drove onto Fort Benning’s open post along with thousands of other civilian employees and soldiers. I was an eager, 22-year-old student teacher prepared for another exciting day working with my 5th grade class at Dexter Elementary.
The morning routine was going smoothly until later in the 9 o’clock hour when the other 5th grade teacher, Joyce Flatt, quietly came into the classroom and whispered something closely into the ear of my lead teacher, Carroll Thebaud. I could tell something wasn’t quite right and it was after Carroll filled me in that she released me to go down to the teacher’s lounge to catch a glimpse of the live national news and then report back. We continued our day like nothing was going on for the children’s sake. Because we were a military installation we didn’t know if something was going to happen on Fort Benning next. The entire school was kept inside from all outdoor activities, to include recess which was met with expected grumbling from the children. I’ll never forget one of my sweet 5th graders coming up to me and saying “Mrs. Litz, I bet they don’t want us going outside today and getting messy because we have pictures today.” I put on the most confident face and told her I thought that was exactly why we were all going to stay inside that day.
The teachers continued their rotations to the lounge to gather information and report back to one another. There was an eerie underlying calmness that we had to maintain all while knowing that the Pentagon and both World Trade Center buildings were hit and another plane was down in Pennsylvania and there we all were on one of the most prominent military installations in the United States wondering what was going to happen next.
Our innocent children went home that afternoon knowing nothing about what had taken place on our country’s soil. We decided it would be best for their parents to explain and we would field questions the following morning. The following morning didn’t happen. What was once an effortless transition on I-185 driving from Muscogee County onto federal land had turned into a standstill of cars backed up for miles on the 3-lane highway. After a couple hours making no progress southbound, I turned around and returned home later to find out that all schools had cancelled for the day.
The next day Carroll and I held an open discussion with our students. Some were frustrated that we hadn’t told them what was going on on the 11th and others were scared because they wondered what it would mean for their parents and if their mom or dad would have to deploy. We did our best to field their questions and concerns while reassuring the class that we were there for them and their families.
Today, my former 5th graders would be about 21 years old. I’m curious to know where they all ended up and how many of them followed in the footsteps of their mothers and fathers and entered into a military career or have deployed in an effort of the War on Terrorism.

Stephanie Litz

If you have a story to share, email jbeck@nationalinfantryfoundation.org. Over the coming weeks, stories will be posted every 1-2 days. If your submission is selected for publication, you will be notified immediately. The National Infantry Foundation retains the right to edit for clarity and content (grammar errors, offensive language, etc.), but will not alter the intent of the writer. These are your stories in your words.

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