A towering piece of history came to Patriot High School on 9/12/2018.
To commemorate 9/11/2001, local firefighters displayed a single steel beam – pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center after a terrorist strike killed almost 3,000 Americans, shocked the nation and started a war on terror that continues today.
Patriot students saw, touched and reflected on the beam, fastened to a trailer alongside U.S. flags and the name of every firefighter who died serving others on 9/11.
The visit was the brainchild of Bob Green, who teaches government and economics at PHS. His father, retired San Bernardino County Fire Captain Bob Green Sr., was among the firefighters who created the mobile memorial.
“A lot of the kids were in awe,” Mr. Green said of the beam exhibit.
About 500 students, including the entire junior class and part of the senior class, participated in the daylong event and completed an assignment to better understand the 9/11 story of atrocity, heroism and loss.
“The objective of the lesson was to personalize and humanize the tragic events of that day by learning one man's story, looking into his eyes (please go to nyfd.com and see the images – it’s moving) and making a personal connection to the events,” Mr. Green said.
He added: “We have a kind of disconnect.” While the shock, power and indelible images of the attack have stayed with those who witnessed it, “it is very difficult to convey what that day was like to those who didn’t see it live.”
Among the heroes Patriot students chose to profile:
Michael F. Cammarata, 22. A letter in his drawer said that if anything were to happen to him, to please take care of Jenna, his girlfriend, and refrain from mourning him because “this is the career I chose.”
Benjamin Suarez, 34 and a father of three. His last words to his wife were, “I have to help these people.”
David G. Arce, 36, nicknamed “Buddha” for believing his purpose in life was to aid and serve. He died alongside his best friend and the two were honored at a double funeral.
“We wanted them to look for one name,” Mr. Green said. “ ‘That’s my guy. His name’s on the trailer. I just think it made it seem more real.’ ”
The beam indeed is a moving piece of history.
Several years ago, the San Bernardino County firefighters union obtained the artifact from the Port Authority of New York; the authority gives segments of 9/11 beam only to fire companies that petition for them. Most of the first responders killed that day were firefighters.
When an Inland trucking firm transported the piece of steel from New York to San Bernardino County, the firm’s owner was so touched by the emotional weight of the cargo that he moved it at no charge, said Mr. Green. In a similar vein, local merchants donated the trailer, paint, flags, signs and other parts of the exhibit.
This is the first year the beam, based in Fontana, has come to Patriot High. When Mr. Green broached the idea with half a dozen U.S. history teachers, “They said, ‘Oh my God, yes, why haven’t you mentioned this before?’ ” he said.
“I was really surprised and honored that my colleagues were so excited and turned it into a lesson and executed that lesson.”
The beam’s visit to PHS, attended by local dignitaries, school board members and the superintendent, held extra meaning for Mr. Green: “I was very proud to have my dad there. I want to make sure I’m doing a good job both as a son and a teacher.”
The teacher expects the memorial to return to Patriot next year, to continue bridging the disconnect between those who witnessed the horrific attack and a generation that did not.
“This year’s senior class – they were alive when 9/11 happened,” he said. “But most were just months old. Now, going forward, the classes after them were not yet born.”