CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake High School District 155 students had a chance Monday to honor the 9/11 anniversary and learn more about the terrorist attacks that occurred 16 years ago on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Crystal Lake resident and U.S. Army veteran Ryan Yantis conducted a full day of seminars for the students, which detailed his experiences with the 9/11 attacks and the days and years following.
Yantis was a major working in communications at the Pentagon at the time of the 2001 attacks, which left thousands dead.
He was working at the Pentagon the day of the attacks and narrowly avoided getting injured or killed when the 6.6 million-square-foot building was hit.
Yantis said he recalled the moment Pentagon workers realized the plane crash into the first World Trade Center tower wasn’t an accident, but rather a planned terrorist attack.
“We were watching the TV when we saw the second plane,” he said. “It was a heart-stopping, time-shifting, life-changing event. There are two things I remember. One, I remember thinking it was no longer an accident. … Two, I have got to act, because someone is attacking us while I am on duty. I had a sense of personal responsibility.”
There was a meeting on the attacks that day, which is where Yantis was when the Pentagon attack occurred. He had been near the area where the plane crashed just moments before, unsure where the conference was, he said. At the last minute, he and his colonel had doubled back to find out which room they were going to.
“We walked into the room where the meeting was supposed to be held. It was a secured wall, one of the cool rooms in the Pentagon,” he said. “The door clicked shut behind us and the alarms started to go off, the lights started to flash and the sergeant behind the security desk said we have to evacuate, there has been an explosion.”
The building still burned and parts were without power in the early morning dawn as Yantis walked into work at 6 a.m. the next day.
“Corridor 2 was now a major entrance and exit. They’ve got security, they’ve got bomb dogs sniffing our bags,” he said. “And there are men and women dressed like me [in uniform], in sports coats and in blue jeans, walking into a building that is still on fire, without power, to go to work because we have been told that is where our place was. … It was inspirational to me.”
District 155 educator Joe Terhaar organized the event after Yantis emailed him about speaking to students, Terhaar said. Yantis has two daughters in the district, as well. Terhaar said he wanted students to hear the story and take away a greater message.
“When you look at Ryan’s message – and it’s such a strong one – it’s one of perseverance,” he said. “The tragic day itself is one of the messages, but it’s also about what great things can come from a tragic day if everyday people do what they think is not heroic, but right. It’s the American spirit.”