D.C. School Remembers Its Own Lost On Sept. 11
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week, we're visiting some of the people and places devastated by the September 11 attacks 10 years ago. And we turn next to a school in Washington, D.C. It's called M.V. Leckie Elementary. When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, a child and a teacher from that school were among the victims. NPR's Claudio Sanchez went to see how the school is honoring them.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: For Clementine Homesley, the memory of September 11 is personal.
Ms. CLEMENTINE HOMESLEY (Former Principal, M.V. Leckie Elementary): The Leckie school community, they lost a teacher. They lost a student. They lost two parents. We are in the history books forever.
SANCHEZ: Homesley, now retired, was the principal at Leckie Elementary on 9/11/2001. Everything that happened that early Tuesday morning, Homesley says, she remembers - the sunrise, the drive to work, the meeting with her special education staff and the faint rumbling sound just after 9:37 a.m.
Ms. HOMESLEY: Then it got just overwhelmingly loud. Boom. Hmm.
SANCHEZ: Homesley continued her meeting. Thirty minutes later, she got a phone call. It was urgent.
Ms. HOMESLEY: I threw the phone down. I screamed. How loud? I don't even know. I didn't care. That's when I ran into my office, slammed the door.
SANCHEZ: That explosion everyone had heard was the sound of American Airlines Flight 77 slamming into the West Wall of the Pentagon.
Hilda Taylor, a sixth grade teacher at Leckie, and 11-year-old Bernard Brown, were on that flight, on their way to California, on an excursion sponsored by the National Geographic Society. The two parents who died that day were members of the Navy, who were working at the Pentagon when it hit.
Unidentified Man: And I saw it hit. I saw the nose break up. I saw the wings fly forward. It was horrible.
SANCHEZ: The news of the attacks was everywhere. Homesley ordered that every television in the school be turned off.
Ms. HOMESLEY: By then people were running crazy all over the neighborhood. Parents were coming through the door grabbing their children.
SANCHEZ: It wasn't until all the children had left for the day that Homesley met with her faculty and staff and confirmed the terrible news.
Ms. HOMESLEY: And so I said to them, the flight that hit the Pentagon had Miss Taylor and Bernard on it. And they're all gone.
SANCHEZ: Today, in front of the school there's a small garden dedicated to the four people that Leckie lost on 9/11.
Ms. HOMESLEY: Bernard Curtis Brown II - Bernard was a smart and talented 11-year-old...
SANCHEZ: Homesley reads from a plaque on a stone pillar next to the garden. She says Bernard was a handful, sometimes difficult, but not in Mrs. Taylor's class.
Ms. HOMESLEY: She was happy to have him because Hilda believed she could transform any child.
SANCHEZ: Every year, says Homesley, commemorating September 11 gets harder and harder - even here at Leckie. Ten years later, most students had not even been born on September 11, 2001. The little they know comes from lessons like this one in Andrea Mercer's second grade class.
Ms. MERCER: Ready, read. On September 11, 2001, there was an attack on America. Freeze(ph). Who can tell me what attack means?
SANCHEZ: Today, Mrs. Mercer wants her kids to focus on specific words, but she reminds them that 9/11 has a special meaning for their school.
Ms. MERCER: This just happened 10 years ago, and it was a sad, sad day for many of us.
SANCHEZ: These second graders may be too young, but even the fifth graders at Leckie don't learn very much about the who, the what, or the why of 9/11. In fact, in most states the history and social studies curriculum in high schools barely mentions 9/11. That teachable moment seems long gone.
(Soundbite of crosstalk)
SANCHEZ: Clementine Homesley says she'll keep coming back to make sure her old school always remembers. She points to a glass case with Bernard's and Mrs. Taylor's prized possessions.
Ms. HOMESLEY: That's her hat.
Unidentified Woman: That's her hat.
Ms. HOMESLEY: That's her hat. That's her hat. And that's Bernard's ball.
SANCHEZ: Homesley says she's helping parents lobby for the ultimate tribute to the school's 9/11 victims. They've started a petition to rename the school -Taylor-Brown Pubic School Academy.
Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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