For local police, firefighters and students at in Ballwin, the messages recently communicated about September 11, 2001 may have been a microcosm of sentiments shared across the U.S.: Some details of the day still are unclear and its effects are hard to quantify, and with each generation, the meaning of the day is different.
Captain Michael Digman of the Metro West Fire Protection District met with eighth graders from Selvidge on Friday to address the attacks on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
Along with fellow firefighters and members of the Ballwin Police Department, Digman addressed how their jobs have changed since 9-11, and how difficult it was to watch the attacks on television without an immediate way to help.
“For many of us, especially in this area that weren’t called to New York, that’s what makes the day toughest,” Digman said. “That we watched that on T.V. We’re all Type-A personalities. We’re guys and girls that want to get in there and do something and help somebody, and we had to sit back and watch all that happen and there really wasn’t a lot to do.”
Digman said there has been an upswing to the tragedy of the terrorist attacks, however, which claimed more than 2,800 lives between the World Trade Center, Pentagon and commercial airliners: The Metro West Fire Department, and departments like it across the country, have evolved the ways they protect a community.
“It’s no longer the fire services we had back then,” Digman said of modern-day firefighter training, which focuses on hazardous materials, weapons of mass destruction, urban search-and-rescue and other anti-terror scenarios. “So if anything good came out of that for you guys, it’s that we’re much better prepared to handle things that we were never prepared to handle before.”
Rich Blackford, a social studies teacher at Selvidge, said he wants to help 9-11 create a legacy of having improved the country. That may start, Blackford said, with students’ use of pledge-cards, which students were meant to use to identify how they would remember 9—11.
“The challenge I want to give you is this: How are you going to make this a better place for those who come after us, because the legacy of September 11, I think, is that we became a better country,” Blackford told students at the assembly Friday.
For Marissa Mabry, an eighth grader from Ballwin, pledging to talk about the day with new people each year will help her honor those who were affected by it most, she said.
“That way I’ll remember it for a long time,” said Mabry, whose father is a firefighter with the St. Louis Fire Department. “Just to remember it, and think about all the people who helped out.”
Mabry, who was 4 years-old in 2001, said she doesn't member many details from that day, but does recall her father being very concerned.
“I do remember my dad being freaked out a little bit, talking to my grandparents about what happened, and it was such a shock to them. Just a big shock.
"My mom really wouldn’t tell me much because I wouldn’t understand much, but she said … a lot of people got hurt, and other people like my dad, heroes, were helping them.