Shepard JROTC students receive lessions on 9/11 attacks 16 years ago

  • Written by Joe Boyle

shepard salute photo 9-14

Photo by Joe Boyle

Members of the Shepard High School JROTC program salute in unison at the beginning of the 9-11 ceremony held Monday at the Palos Heights school.

Chris Saberniak, master staff sergeant for the USAF JROTC program at Shepard High, remembers all too well the chain of events that gripped this nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was stationed in Florida and we were told to stay indoors,” Saberniak recalls. “We saw the footage of the attacks but we didn’t know what was happening. It was frightening.”

Saberniak said those memories will last a lifetime and that it why it is essentially important to instruct the Shepard JROTC and the rest of the student body that everyone needs to remember what took place on 9-11.

The second annual 9-11 ceremony was held along the track at the Palos Heights school. Over 120 students in the program participated in the event Monday morning to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 attack.

“Part of the reason we do this is because many of these students were not even born when 9-11 occurred,” Saberniak said. “They don’t understand what happened and we have to teach them. By holding this ceremony, they have a better understanding. We want them to remember.”

The U.S. was the victim of a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people when two planes crashed through the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Another aircraft also deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Another plane crashed and killed all the passengers in Shanksville, Pa., 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The magnitude of the attack stunned the nation. It was the first time an attack occurred on the continental United States. Saberniak said that the horror of the day is conveyed to the students.

“After it happened, we just had no idea of who was attacking us, and if was going to continue,” added Saberniak.

The program is under the guidance of Saberniak and Major Dan Johnson, who also helps to direct the ceremony. The day begins with students from the program signing up to participate in walking 56 laps around the track in the football stadium. The national anthem is played before the walk begins. The 56 laps equal 14 miles. Saberniak said the students take a break for lunch before resuming the walk.

The money raised from the walk goes to the Heart of A Marine Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial and educational support to improve the lives of military personnel in all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Throughout the day students took turns at a podium on the field reciting names of people who died in the 9-11 attacks. The list of 3,000 names was obtained by the cadets through the website,

“I think by participating in this event, the students have a better idea of what happened on 9-11,” Saberniak said.

The 14 miles the students walk mirrors the Bataan Death March, which was the forcible transfer by the Japanese Army of 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war during World War II, according to Saberniak.

Saberniak said that the students in the program remember 9-11 through the ceremony. They also receive service hours for their participation in the ceremony and other activities during the course of the school year.

“We used to just have a flag ceremony,” Saberniak said. “But I think reciting the names of people who died and walking around the track has more meaning.”

The day of remembrance concluded with a ceremony near the American flag at the south end of the football field. The flag was at half-mast, a reminder of what happened in this country 16 years ago.