Topeka West JROTC salutes the fallen on 9/11 with music, words

The 75-student formation of Junior ROTC students at Topeka West High School stood at attention Monday for the 16th anniversary of September terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people when hijackers turned civilian airliners into weapons of war.


A school choir sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” a bugler played “Taps” and the JROTC unit hoisted United States and Kansas flags to half mast in honor of the 2,996 people killed and more than 6,000 wounded on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is fitting today that we pause from our busy schedules and reflect on the lives that were tragically lost,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Hall, chairman of the JROTC department. “These attacks were intended to destroy the American way of life, but they failed.”

Hall said the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington, D.C., were targeted because they were prominent symbols in the “land of the free.”

“America remains one of the most desirable places in the world to live because of the freedoms that we enjoy,” he said. “The basic freedoms that we enjoy, that we all too often take for granted, were utterly intolerable to those conducting the attack.”

Nineteen members of the Islamic terror group al-Qaeda took control of four passenger jets that had departed airports in the northeastern United States bound for California. At 8:46 a.m., an American Airlines jet slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A second Boeing 767 aircraft barreled into the WTC’s South Tower 17 minutes later.

Less than an hour after the initial impact in NYC, hijackers flew a plane into the the Pentagon’s facade in Arlington County, Va. The fourth commercial aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., during an attempt by passengers and crew to subdue the hijackers. Officials believe the intended target of this jet was Washington, D.C.

Among the dead were 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement personnel and 55 members of the U.S. military.

Keegan Schleuning, cadet command sergeant major of the school’s Army JROTC, said he was 1 year old when the attacks occurred.

“The importance is definitely to honor and remember the things that happened that day,” he said. “It’s really important to remind them that this … is an impactful part of our history. A lot of people lost their lives that day trying to help each other, trying to save each other.”

JROTC Lt. Col. Gillian Henry said solemn moments at the high school’s flag pole — the type of commemoration repeated hundreds of times across the country — served to keep events of Sept. 11 from fading out of public discourse. Aftermath of that day must be carried by new generations, she said, that include people such as herself who were too young to have personal memories of that tragedy.

“It’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten,” Henry said.