Vista Murrieta Students Pay Tribute to Victims of 9/11

Members of the Vista Murrieta High School JROTC unit salute after presenting a U.S. flag in memory of the victims of terrorist attacks on ...

Members of the Vista Murrieta High School JROTC unit salute after presenting a U.S. flag in memory of the victims of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Students at Vista Murrieta High School continued a tradition carried on every Sept. 11 since the school opened, paying tribute Thursday to those who lost their lives 13 years ago and acknowledging the need to remain strong in the face of adversity.

The event, organized by the school's Air Force Junior ROTC unit, was held on the school quad and was attended by all students at the start of the school day. Students were addressed by principal Mick Wager and Col. Gene Matera, instructor for the JROTC program.

The school choir performed (right), JROTC members placed a flag on display in the midst of the crowd, and student leaders brought forth white roses in remembrance of the victims while a student sang "Where Were You?"

"The world is a challenging place," Col. Matera told the students. "But every day, Americans are serving others in humanitarian efforts worldwide. We must continue to live our lives not with fear or anxiety, but with courage and dignity. This is not someone else's duty; it is everyone's duty."

Vista Murrieta senior Jet'aime Lewis, commander of the JROTC unit, said she believes it is important to increase awareness of the 9/11 tragedy among students -- most of whom were too young to remember it.

"I honestly believe that 13 years later, our generation is starting to forget what they were told about what happened that day," she said. "The main purpose of the Colonel's remarks was to remind us and give a face to those people who died. I don't think it's a fear thing; it's bringing back to life something that maybe doesn't seem as relevant to our generation because it happened so long ago.

"I was about 5 years old when it happened. My parents were about to board a plane to go back east, but all the flights were cancelled. I hold onto that moment and I appreciate the fact there was someone out there looking out for them. I have family members who have served in every single war the U.S. has been involved in. These wars are still going on and it hasn't been stopped yet."

Senior Nick Sousa was one of the students who came forward to place a white rose at the front table. He is a member of the service group Link Crew, in which upperclassmen assist incoming freshmen.

"I wanted to be part of something that would be in remembrance of 9/11," Sousa said. "It's such a serious time on our campus, even though not many students remember it. I was almost 6 years old and I do remember it.

"About 90 percent of our students would not remember 9/11, but we've been so unified in remembrance since it happened that everyone does feel connected and pays a great deal of respect."

Col. Matera (right) said the JROTC has conducted this tribute every year since 2002. He said he has had many talks with students about the state of world affairs and he sees their concern for the future.

"They're saddened about the way the world is going today," he said after the program. "They want to know, 'How can we change things so people aren't fighting each other?' They don't want to live like this.

"We're responsible as adults to make sure we educate and inform the youth. We need to make sure they remember there's a Pearl Harbor Day, there's a 9/11, and what the consequences were."

In Col. Matera's remarks during the assembly, he challenged the students to remain strong and find ways to make a difference.

"We must never waver or weaken," he said. "We all have the ability to care and be compassionate. What we have to learn is how to show it."



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