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9/11: Essays

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In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, the East County Observer partnered with Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corp. and Florida Bank to host an essay contest open to students throughout the area.

We asked students from third grade through high school to share their thoughts on American heroes (elementary), freedom (middle school) and 9/11 as it has changed America (high school).

Our young minds astounded us with their astute, honest and mature ideas. We received hundreds of entries from several schools — Braden River, Gullett, McNeal, Tara, Willis and Witt elementaries, Braden River and Nolan middle schools, Imagine School of Lakewood Ranch, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and Lakewood Ranch High School.

Our judges chose one winner for third, fourth and fifth grades as well as one from middle school and one from high school. In addition to publication here, each will receive a $100 savings account from Florida Bank.

We congratulate participants in this contest and hope you, the reader, are moved by these thoughts from our students.

Natalie Novak
Junior, Lakewood Ranch High School

Is it possible that it has been a decade since the greatest tragedy of my lifetime? An event simply referred to and universally understood by the mention of two numbers: Nine, 11.

At age 6, I enjoyed playing with my brother, Nick, and sister, Theresa, at my dad’s office, located on the sixth floor of One Sarasota Tower. As company president, he often worked a half-day on Saturdays to catch up on his paperwork left over from a busy week that contained more work than there was time to finish it. We would play hide and seek. Out of the windows of this all-glass building, we could see the boats parked at Marina Jack and the beautiful blue waters of Sarasota Bay. We would sneak a cold soda from the refrigerator, and if we were lucky, find some cookies to enjoy. These were good times.

On Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2011, my dad was holding a sign out front of the office that we had painted together. It simply read: “Got my refund check President Bush, Thank You!” President George W. Bush was in Sarasota visiting a local school that morning, and his motorcade had passed right past the office. Air Force One was parked at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. I was in my first-grade classroom and my teacher was crying.

Dad had a TV at the office and always had it set to Headline News. Shortly after coming back upstairs to his office, he and his co-workers were in shock with the sight of the burning twin towers in New York. Nearly 3,000 people had been killed at the hands of 19 terrorists — and it happened on American soil. All our lives changed in that very moment. I no longer wanted to come and play at my Dad’s tall glass tower office and was worried about him working there as well.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, Americans rallied together, united in the common cause of justice. We had been attacked at home. The sanctity of our borders breached. This had never happened before and would not be allowed to happen again. Petty differences were quickly set aside. People worked together to clean up the destruction, rebuild structures, help those in need and strike down our enemies. It was a time of sadness, which quickly gave way to the realization that we were still Americans, the greatest democracy of the world. We would not be broken by cowards with no regard for the value of human life.

Ten years later, the rebuilding and fighting continues. We have been involved in a complicated and dangerous war for nearly 10 years. Thousands of brave men and women have given their lives to protect our very freedom as Americans. Osama bin Laden was found and killed for his murderous crimes. Most importantly, in the past decade, America has not suffered another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The goal of maintaining homeland security has been achieved and maintained.

The U.S. economy has fallen into a difficult recession partly due to the crushing financial burden created by the U.S. fighting terrorism and safeguarding democracy worldwide. As Americans, we understand that freedom is not free. Regardless of the current soft economy and high unemployment rate, we continue to move forward. Why? Because we are Americans! Our worst day is 10 times better than the majority of the world’s population. We Americans will once again set aside our petty differences and overcome the challenges of the moment, strengthened by our faith and unity forged in the fires of 9/11.

Emily Arthur
Eighth grade, Imagine School of Lakewood Ranch 

I was 4 years old when 9/11 occurred. I was at my church preschool the morning the World Trade Center fell. My teacher put on the television and we watched the news about “a bad man” who had organized this heinous terrorist attack against America.

Some parents picked up their children right away and were upset with the teacher for informing us about Osama bin Laden . They did not want their children to feel afraid. But my mother thought it was OK when I came home able to pronounce the name of the bad man and knowing that he was trying to take our freedom away. She thought it was important that I know that America’s freedom is never really free — that it comes with a price tag.

For on that day, we were no longer free. We were gripped in the clutches of fear. Airports were closed and travelers were stranded. No stocks could be traded because Wall Street closed down. New Yorkers were covered in ash, and they were walking in droves across bridges to get home. No one knew what might happen next.

That is the day — forever etched in my memory — when everything changed in my young life, and I no longer felt completely safe. I lost a bit of the innocence of my childhood on 9/11 — the day I first became aware that I lived in a free country. I also learned on 9/11 that not all countries are free like America and that freedom can be taken away in the blink of an eye. I learned at the tender age of 4 that freedom is a right that my country must constantly strive to preserve, even if it means war.

So I have grown up these past 10 years with the knowledge of bin Laden and what his organization was capable of, and because of him, America has been at war almost my entire life. I really cannot remember a time when we were not fighting the war against terrorists who would like to deprive America of its freedoms.

The dictionary defines freedom as the state of being at liberty; exempt from external control or interference. That is what another great freedom fighter, Abraham Lincoln, had in mind, when he spoke the following:

“Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought. Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us; to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

According to Lincoln, our duty is to do the right thing in the name of freedom. That, over the decades, has meant fighting for freedom in a variety of ways: freedom from England, freedom from slavery, freedom for all to vote and to seek education and employment, freedom to choose where and how to live, freedom to worship as we please, freedom to bear arms, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to travel and the right to be free from interference in America’s freedom from others such as bin Laden.

So this is what freedom means to me. Even though I was 4 years old when I first learned about freedom, I will always associate freedom with 9/11 — the day I learned that freedom is not free but rather a precious commodity worth fighting for.

Austin Smith
Fifth grade, Imagine School at Lakewood Ranch

An American hero is tall and huge. An American hero is strong, bold and fast. An American hero has kindness as warm as the sun. An American hero fights for freedom and to save our freedom. An American hero has no fear.

An American hero dies in honor of America to save people. An American hero provides a beautiful hope that anybody can trust. An American hero may not have super powers, but his strength is like the sound of thunder and his pride as majestic as an eagle.

An American hero fights for our freedom and brings justice to our enemies. An American hero is mighty like the mountains. An American hero saves our lives by risking his own life in fire, war or at sea. An American hero cares for us with his mightiness, a mightiness that is like a giant inside him.

Although we may not all be soldiers on the battlefield, warriors in the danger zone or heroes risking our lives, there is an American hero inside all of us. No matter the color of your hair, no matter the color of your skin and no matter the color of your eyes, there is a giant living inside every American. We have the pride of our country, the pride of being an American, and that makes us heroes.

To all of our American heroes, thank you.

Jaden Jungers
Fourth grade, Willis Elementary School

I have heard of a lot of American heroes like Superman and Batman, but my American hero is different.
My American hero is Tony, my grandpa. He was in the war and fought for our country.

Tony risked his life for our country and for freedom for all. Tony served in the Vietnam War. He lost his hearing from the loud bombs, and he fought in many battles.

Tony believes that Americans should fight for freedom together. He spent eight years fighting for us. He received the Bronze Star for his actions. Another thing is Tony gave a lot of help serving his country by serving eight years in the Army. When he retired, he was a full captain with the 101st Airborne Division for the U.S. Army.

Last but not least, Tony was brave and willing, because he did not only serve our country, but he also almost lost his life.

Those are some of the reasons that I love Tony. But the No. 1 reason I love Tony the most is because he is the best grandpa in the whole world!

Owen Corr
Third grade, McNeal Elementary School

My picture of an American hero is a brave man or woman who risks their life to save America. Like George Washington, when he was done with the war, he found eight bullets in his clothes. My essay is about American heroes and their qualities.

American heroes are very responsible — like they are very concentrated on their duty and they don’t want to do anything until they are done. They are also very understanding. If you asked them what they did to become an American hero, they would tell you clearly. They are also brave and persistent.

My Great-Grampy saved two Jewish kids in World War II. He knew all the police in the town because it was a small town. The police told him when the Nazis were coming, and he hid them right away. He hid them in a grocery store, in a flour and sugar pantry. If you took out the bags of flour and sugar, there was a secret door and he hid them in there. My Great-Grampy was Dutch, but he was like an American hero.

That is my essay on what I picture when I think of an American hero.

Read more East County 9/11 coverage here.



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