By STEVEN NALLEY
Within one year of starting her life in America, Meggan Franks saw the country at its best.
Franks is now program coordinator for the Maroon Volunteer Center at Mississippi State University, but she grew up in Alberta, Canada. Her freshman year at MSU was her first year in the U.S. That freshman year was 2001, and she said she was on her way to class on Sept. 11 when she saw the terrorist attacks on television.
“The one thing I got out of the experience ... (was that) everyone was coming together, so I guess I was never scared,” Franks said. “If anything, it made me feel more connected. I’ve loved living here ever since.”
Franks is one of several members of the Starkville and Oktibbeha County communities coordinating with Volunteer Starkville to honor American soldiers and first responders through two events Tuesday.
From 9-10:30 a.m., East Oktibbeha County Elementary School will host a 9/11 Memorial Ceremony to honor past and present veterans, while West Oktibbeha County Elementary School will host a similar event at 2 p.m. Then, at 5:30 p.m. Fire Station No. 1 will host a 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance Ceremony.
Franks said several MVC volunteers will assist with the EOCES event, and they will also create a promotional video on the MSU campus and at local schools, capturing students’ pledges to perform community service in honor of those lost on 9/11. Coordinating the EOCES event is teaching assistant Camala McNeal with Mississippi AmerCorps, which tutors students in grades 1-3.
“(AmerCorps) actually has seven (community service) projects planned from August to May,” McNeal said. “With this particular project, the students donated items for a care package we are sending overseas (to U.S. soldiers). Right now, we have about seven boxes that are ready to send off. We have packed canned goods, sanitizers, tissues, deodorant and other items from the students. We have had many teachers and bus drivers that have donated (items) ... (but) the students donated most of the items.”
The EOCES event is in its second year, McNeal said, and it lets veterans speak to students on both Sept. 10 and 11. McNeal said she can vividly remember seeing the attacks when she was in high school, but several of the students at EOCES were either too young to remember or not even born yet when the attacks happened.
“When we introduced this (event last year), they didn’t know anything about 9/11,” McNeal said. “We started out reading books, showing them pictures. It’s important for them to know why emergency personnel are important, why veterans are important, and why we are thanking these veterans.”
Volunteer Starkville Director Jamey Matte said the ceremony not only honors veterans, but also local firefighters, police officers and other first responders, and, by proxy, the first responders who gave their lives on 9/11. Volunteer Starkville also honored first responders through “Serving Those Who Serve Us,” joining with MVC to clean facilities and equipment for city and county fire departments and law enforcement.
The event is open to the public, Matte said, but Volunteer Starkville has extended special invitations to veterans, and local first response representatives will be invited to speak at the event’s end. Volunteer Starkville has only existed since May 2010, she said, but she hopes to make the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance Ceremony a Starkville tradition.
“I think it’s a day everyone should take out of their lives and honor those (who died in the attacks) with a moment of silence,” Matte said. “It’s something we don’t need to forget as a nation. We need to be united as a nation to stand strong.”
Andrew Rendon, assistant dean at MSU, Army Reserve major and founder of MSU’s Sonny Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, will give the evening ceremony’s welcome speech. Rendon recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, something he said put 9/11 in perspective.
“It resonated with me that I was there because of what happened on Sept. 11,” Rendon said. “After 11 years, the work that we started in Afghanistan ... is unfinished. Even though it’s been a long war, there’s still a tie to the objectives and purpose we set (after the attacks).”
Like McNeal, Rendon said it’s important to remember 9/11’s significance, not just as the anniversary of tragic attacks, but also as an illustration of how the country can come together to face threats and as a reminder of why society has evolved and operated as it has over the past 11 years. In his military experience, he said, he sometimes gets the impression some people have forgotten 9/11.
“You don’t get that impression in Starkville,” Rendon said. “People are still trying to honor and memorialize those that have fought in the war (and first responders).”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman will read a 9/11 proclamation near the ceremony’s conclusion. The night before the attacks, Wiseman said, he was a college student staying overnight at his parents’ house. He said he vividly remembers his father waking him up that morning, knowing just by the sound of his father’s voice that something terrible had happened.
“Sept. 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in our country’s history,” Wiseman said. “It is important that we take time each year to remember the many innocent men, women and children who lost their lives and lost loved ones. It is also important that we remember the solidarity as Americans that event made us feel and see to it that such solidarity is a part of the living legacy of that tragic day. Sept. 11 also provides us an opportunity to show gratitude for our police and fire first responders, because that event is a reminder of the perils that every first responder potentially places themselves in each time they put on the uniform.”