Many students in this year’s high school freshman class were not alive on Sept. 11, 2001. Those just a few years older were too young to recall with any certainty the events of the day.
As years go by, more and more students are further removed from the day’s events, leaving it up to those who can recall to fill in the gaps.
And so 15 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it’s people such as retired Army Lt. Col. and Crystal Lake resident Ryan Yantis who want to make sure Americans never forget.
Yantis worked at the Pentagon and was standing at the site of the impact minutes before a plane crashed into the government building. After finishing a morning meeting later than expected, Yantis and several of his colleagues were drawn to reports of a fire or airplane crash at the World Trade Center.
It didn’t take long for him to realize the United States was under attack after the second plane crashed into the second tower.
On his way to another meeting with a higher-ranking officer, Yantis got into an argument with him about the direction they were headed. After arriving at the meeting just a few minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the spot where he had been standing and arguing.
Yantis, a public affairs officer for the Army, took on a new role that morning and helped transport the wounded to a medical center.
Later that afternoon, he resumed his duties and talked with members of the media.
“I have a huge amount of pride in what I was able to witness other people do in very tough conditions on Sept. 11,” he said.
As a survivor, Yantis spends a lot of his time talking with students and those of all ages across the country about his experiences and lessons on that day.
He said because so many of the students he speaks to were not alive or too young to understand all that went on that day, talking about what happened is crucial to not only remember, but to understand as well. This, he said, he knows well having teenage daughters.
“Being in a room with a survivor affords these kids the opportunity to touch a living artifact,” he said. “We’re living source material to help people understand what it was like being there.”
Because Sept. 11 was not even two decades ago, Yantis said historians and history books are catching up and still researching, especially because some of the information is still classified.
And as a history major himself, he said he recognizes the importance of remembering the past.
“If you don’t know what your history is you don’t have a foundation for the future,” Yantis said.