Celebrating the American spirit

MARSHALL – It was a time for reflection and remembrance. And for many of the visitors at Memorial Park in Marshall, it was a time to learn. Marshall High School students sat on the curved stones surrounding a beam taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center as they listened to Craig Schafer speak.

“Things changed that day,” Schafer said of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Although the attacks took place in New York City and Washington, D.C., Schafer said, “Minnesota was impacted. If nothing else, we were afraid.”

Marshall area residents remembered the events of 9/11 in different ways on Wednesday. A crowd of people gathered for a short prayer service at Memorial Park at noon. Members of the Modern Woodmen invited law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders to speak at the Adult Community Center. And throughout the day, groups of students from Marshall schools made trips to see the 9/11 Memorial in Memorial Park.

“People need to understand the depth of the day,” Schafer said. He spoke to students – many of whom were too young to remember the terror attacks – about the meaning behind the memorial.

He called their attention to the pavers marked with stars that surround the memorial – one for each of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks.

“Every one of those bricks represents someone like you or me,” Schafer said.

He also invited students to walk around the park and come touch the beam if they chose.

“Sixty years from now, our hope is that a class like you can come here and lay hands on this beam,” he said.

The visitors at the park Wednesday were mainly sophomores and juniors at Marshall High School. Rick Purrington, a teacher at MHS who helped to coordinate the class visits, estimated more than 200 students were in attendance during the course of the day.

A group of third-grade students from Holy Redeemer School also came to learn about the 9/11 Memorial. Teacher Mary Surprenant told students that Sept. 11 was a time to “think, pray, and remember.”

“Patriot Day and Sept. 11 will always be a part of your history now,” Surprenant said. “That beam right there represents a lot of people’s lives.”

Marshall students said getting close to a piece of the World Trade Center helped bring home the reality of the buildings’ collapse.

“Being able to see it and see how much the metal is just bent . . . it’s amazing,” said MHS student Isaac Smith. He and classmate George Bramhall said it was impressive to see a part of recent history in Marshall.

“I feel it’s a real honor to be out here,” Smith said.

“They don’t really have (memorials like this) in a lot of places, so it’s really special,” said student Hanna Peterson.

For some students, Wednesday was their first visit to the memorial.

“I’ve only ever seen it by driving by. I haven’t come in here before,” said student Seth Popowski.

“I didn’t know what all the symbols meant,” Peterson said.

The day wasn’t just about remembering, speakers at Wednesday’s events said. It was also about the hope and resilience of American people as the country moves forward.

“We want today to be about celebrating the American spirit,” said Marshall Fire Chief Marc Klaith, speaking to an audience gathered in the Adult Community Center in Marshall.

As he addressed the audience, Jim Marshall of the Marshall Police Department reflected on how coping with disaster tended to bring out the character of people affected by it.

“We always fall back to our basic training,” Marshall said, whether on a professional or a personal level. There were many people who stepped up to respond to the 9/11 attacks, with some of the biggest sacrifices shown by the passengers on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa. The passengers stopped the hijacked plane from reaching its target, all while knowing they would not survive, Marshall said.

“That was a true testament to their character,” he said.