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Sixth graders at Kinser Elementary School decorate a banner with stars, flags and their names. After participating in the Freedom Walk on Monday, the class will hang its banner in tribute to the U.S. troops and in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sixth graders at Kinser Elementary School decorate a banner with stars, flags and their names. After participating in the Freedom Walk on Monday, the class will hang its banner in tribute to the U.S. troops and in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)
Sixth graders at Kinser Elementary School decorate a banner with stars, flags and their names. After participating in the Freedom Walk on Monday, the class will hang its banner in tribute to the U.S. troops and in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sixth graders at Kinser Elementary School decorate a banner with stars, flags and their names. After participating in the Freedom Walk on Monday, the class will hang its banner in tribute to the U.S. troops and in remembrance of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)
Cameron Toal, left, Vandrick Cruz, center, and Chyryssandra Tatum sign their names and draw pictures on the banner.
Cameron Toal, left, Vandrick Cruz, center, and Chyryssandra Tatum sign their names and draw pictures on the banner. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)
Camara Rawls, 10, top, and Run Asato, 11, decorate a banner that says "We Remember."
Camara Rawls, 10, top, and Run Asato, 11, decorate a banner that says "We Remember." (Megan McCloskey / S&S)

CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Most fifth- and sixth-graders, the youngest Americans likely to remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of five years ago, lack the vocabulary to describe the tragedy or how it makes them feel.

They get stuck on adjectives like “sad” and “mad.”

But many remember where they were when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon and they grasp the notion that what happened that day somehow changed the country.

“I’m pretty sure people haven’t gotten over it,” said 10-year-old Bethany Wood, a fifth-grader at Kinser Elementary School.

In 2001, Bethany and the other fifth- and sixth-grade students were only 5 or 6, too young to comprehend the word “terrorism” but old enough to be aware it was serious.

Those living on military bases were in lock-down, school was canceled, the news coverage was constant and every adult they knew was talking about it.

“I was sleeping in bed and my mom came in and turned on the lights,” said Kenneth Huff, 10. “That was the first time I remember getting woken up in the middle of the night.”

Bethany recalled how she wanted to go play with friends because there was no school that day but her mom kept her home to explain what happened instead.

Many of the kids are fuzzy on the details of the attack but have very clear memories of what was happening immediately around them, such as hurrying off to a grandmother’s house to get out of the Pentagon area or listening to frantic phone calls about loved ones.

For this age group, the most resonant aspect of the attacks, and the best understood, seems to be the loss of life.

“It’s very tragic,” said Nicole Smith, 10. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”

Others bring up how some children don’t know their mom or dad because they died in the attacks or how families are “broken” because a loved one died.

“The people that attacked us shouldn’t have done that,” said Abrial Bloom, 11. “We didn’t do anything to them. I don’t see why they had to come over and destroy the towers.”

Despite awareness of the tragedy, Sept. 11 isn’t a defining event for them — even for those with parents who subsequently deployed to the Middle East.

“They have a very vague memory of it,” said sixth-grade teacher Tamara Clark.

Instead, she said, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is the dominating national event of their lives.

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