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Firefighters explain attacks to ‘post-9/11’ generation at Jacobs

Jacobs High School students listen presentati9/11 terrorist attacks school auditorium Tuesday morning. September 11 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

Jacobs High School students listen to a presentation on 9/11 terrorist attacks in the school auditorium Tuesday morning. September 11, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:25PM

ALGONQUIN — As the Jacobs High School auditorium was plunged into darkness, Lt. Wayne Rothbauer of the Hoffman Estates Fire Department intoned, “Eleven years ago today, our country was attacked.”

Photos flashed across the projector screen at the front of the room: The twin towers of the World Trade Center standing tall above the New York City skyline, then smoking, crumbling after two commercial airliners hijacked by terrorists crashed into them. The charred Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A smoking field in Pennsylvania.

There were photos of people holding fliers with the faces of missing loved ones, of candlelight vigils and of twin beams of light emanating from a gaping hole in the skyline.

Of all the photos taken on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days that followed, none is more emotional for Chief Kevin Rynders of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District than “my own mental image,” he said.

That’s the image of 343 firefighters kissing their wives goodbye that morning “just like I did every day,” he said.

“But they never came home,” Rynders said.

The fire chief shared his memories of that day — a day he said will “live on forever” like Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, or Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated — as part of two presentations Tuesday to social studies classes at the high school.

Students at Jacobs were as young as 3 when terrorists flew two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when passengers fought with the hijackers before they could reach their destination.

They were so young, according to Marce Kersten, social studies division head at Jacobs, that Rynders’ daughter told the chief, “Dad, people don’t know what happened.”

That’s what brought the firefighters to Jacobs, where the girl was a student last year, Kersten said. And this year, even after she had graduated, the division head asked them to return.

“I teach sociology, and they say, ‘I was so young. I really don’t know.’ They’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world. They don’t know what it was like before the security,” she said.

Juniors Andrea Markussen, 16, and Cory Hyman, 17, who attended the presentation with their history class, agreed.

Cory was 6 at the time and remembers his parents kept him home from school that day. He missed finger painting, he said. Andrea remembers waiting with her mom outside her preschool as usual, and “all the moms were panicking.”

But presentations like Tuesday’s show “how big a deal it was,” Cory said.

And Lt. John Schneidwind of the Schaumburg Fire Department told students that day affects them, regardless whether they remember it. It’s the reason they have to take their shoes off at the airport and guests have to sign in at their school, he said. It’s the reason our military is fighting overseas, he said.

Schneidwind had searched through the rubble at ground zero in the days after the attacks, and he reminded students the United States had been “built on volunteering.” But you don’t need to be a firefighter or go to New York City to do that, he said.

“Think about how you can make a difference in this world as you go through high school and college,” he said. “We all can make a difference no matter what we do.”

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