EATON — “Unless you are at least 15 years old or older, you weren’t even around when the attacks on Sept. 11 occurred,” retiring Eaton Fire/EMS Chief Jack Royer told the students at William Bruce Elementary.
Royer was the guest speaker at the school’s annual assembly, held Friday, Sept. 9, honoring first responders and commemorating the lives lost during what Royer called “one of the most tragic events in our country’s history” – the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Royer explained to students that last Sunday, Sept. 11, was the 15th anniversary of the attacks in which terrorists hijacked four jetliners, flying two into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He also told students how a “heroic group of citizens” tried to overpower the hijackers on the fourth plane, which ultimately crashed in a field in Pennsylvania claiming the lives of all on board.
Why did it happen?
Bringing it to a child’s level, Royer likened it to envy one might feel over someone’s new jacket or shoes.
“It happened because we are who we are,” he said. “We are American. We are free. We are patriotic. We have strong beliefs. We are prosperous.”
“Some of these folks who don’t care much about us envy us for our freedom and prosperity,” Royer said. “And they want to take it away.”
Royer told the students, on Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people died. Some 6,000 were injured.
“That’s the entire city of Eaton,” he said of the 9,000 individuals who were either killed or hurt that day.
Among those killed were 343 first responders: police officers, firefighters, port authority officers and EMTs who went to work that day not knowing what the day would bring.
“I had a friend of mine there, too,” Royer told the children. “Fortunately, he was off duty that day. But his entire fire company lost their lives that day. He lost seven friends.”
Another man Royer spoke of, “Mr. Rick,” was a retired veteran who went to work as a security officer at an insurance company in the World Trade Center.
Prior to the attacks, he had started training people at his company, like fire drills, how to evacuate the building.
Even though they were told to stay in the building after the first tower collapsed, “Mr. Rick” still evacuated those individuals in the offices of the company he worked for, Royer said.
“He got everybody downstairs and took a headcount,” Royer said.
Seventeen people weren’t there.
So Mr. Rick went back in.
He didn’t come back out.
“Mr. Rick,” according to Royer, saved 2,983 lives that day. Even though (like many of the students might not) the people he worked with didn’t like fire drills, “I bet they were grateful for him that day,” he said.
Royer urged the students to remember to respect the first responders, and when “they ask you to do something,” follow their directions. “And you will survive.”
Royer offered words of wisdom for the students of Bruce Elementary: Always do what’s right. Treat others with respect every day. Don’t be a bully. Always be prepared. And be respectful of our first responders.
“Because they come to work every day to protect you,” he said.
As students filed out of the assembly, they thanked the first responders in attendance with handshakes and high-fives. The school also honored Royer with a plaque for all his help during his time as fire chief, which will end later this month.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.