Almost two decades after a terrorist attack struck New York City devastated the nation, South Walton High School remembered the many Americans who lost their lives that destructive September day.
The high school hosted an assembly Tuesday that led off with a tribunal video made by the South Walton TV production class to honor the nearly 3,000 killed that day, and was followed by several guest speakers who shared their first-hand accounts of 9/11.
Now a custodian at South Walton High School, John McCoy, who was born and raised in New York City, said he was downtown in the city when the first plane hit the North Tower.
“When I saw the plane hit the World Trade Center, I knew right then and there that we were under attack,” McCoy said, who shared with students that he still gets nervous to fly today.
"As we watched the World Trade Center burning, we started seeing what we thought was debris coming off of the top of the trade centers," he added. "It wasn't debris. People were actually jumping off of the towers rather than get burned to death."
The ceremony also included speeches from students, including Mason Levassear, a senior who read from survivor Brian Clark's memoir.
"Whether this really happened or not, I cant say with certainty, but the sensation was the building swayed 6-8 feet and then stopped, and then for five seconds it came back to vertical" Clark wrote, who worked on the 84th floor of the South Tower. "I had this feeling wash over me, 'Brian, you'll be OK,' and for the rest of the day, I felt like I was in control of what I was doing."
Adam Rovner, a member of the speech and debate class, said he was humbled by the memorial presentations and spoke about the day after the attack, and how much more united Americans were then than now.
"The day after the twin towers fell, a sense of community extended from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine," Rovner said. "We were all Americans, we all felt the same loss."
Bobby Escamilla, band director at South Walton High School, told students that Sept. 11, 2001, was a very emotional time in his life. Escamilla, who celebrates his birthday on Sep. 11, urged students to remember that love can unite anyone, no matter who they are or what they look like.
"When we say don't forget, we obliviously don't want you to forget the lives that were lost, we want you to not forget that love unites," Escamilla said. "In that moment, in that time period, people were so united in love."
The ceremony concluded with Corey Harned, district chief of the South Walton Fire District for 18 years, who spoke about sacrifice and the 412 emergency responders who lost their lives that day.
"Of all the people (the terrorist attack) killed, there were only 412 of them that actually wanted to be there," Harned said. "As a matter of fact, after the first plane hit, 412 of them drove as fast as they could to get there. (Emergency responders) were doing all they could to get in the buildings and about 2,500 other people were wanting to get out, 412 people gave the gave the ultimate sacrifice for people they didn't even know."