SYKESVILLE — In what is perhaps a rarity, a group of around 120 eighth-grade students gathered in complete silence on the lawn of Sykesville Middle School on Thursday afternoon.
They were assembled to view Maryland’s 9/11 Rolling Memorial, which visited the school as part of its Veterans Day remembrances.
Founded for the 15-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, by Chuck Ritz, the rolling memorial honors Marylanders who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as service members who have died in the war on terror.
The memorial consists of a 2,000-pound bell attached to a trailer rig. At its base, plaques memorialize the names of fallen Marylanders. During Thursday’s presentation to the middle-schoolers, Ritz read the names and ages of seven Carroll County residents killed in the war on terror and Trevor Kilgore rang the bell for each name.
“That’s for those who are lost,” Ritz said. “Echoes of their voices so they will never be forgotten.”
After the bell ceremony, the students planted red, white and blue pinwheels in the lawn of the school to pay tribute to veterans. Constructed of foam to withstand weather, some of the tributes were specificly dedicated to a loved one, while others were more general.
“Thank you for protecting us,” one read. “You helped so many people,” read another.
Secretary Eileen Williard came out to view the memorial with the students and began to tear up as the bell rang for each fallen service member. She and her husband are both veterans, and she said the traditions of Veterans Day are important to her and her family.
“It gives [the students] a connection,” she said of the school’s Veterans Day activities. “It reminds them that we’re one country together.”
Art teacher Diana Duda said she was happy that every student in the school was able to make a pinwheel. On Thursday, she wore a pin on her jacket to remember her father’s service. She said she hope the pinwheels will be “a little seed that grows into this garden of wonderfulness.”
Ritz said Thursday was the first time he has brought the rolling memorial to a school, and it was rewarding to speak to students who were not yet born in 2001 and help them understand why America is involved in the war on terror.
“We wanted to make that connection to educate younger generations,” he told a group of gathered eight-graders.
Principal Chris Roemer said of the groups: “[The students] have been very respectful and very reverent. I think they do understand.”
The school will host three presentations Friday related to Veterans Day, which is Saturday, Nov. 11. Col. Stephen Landry will present a POW/MIA remembrance table demonstration to sixth-grade students. Alison Malachowski, a Marine veteran and Gold Star mom of James Malachowski, will speak to the seventh- and eighth-graders.
Pricelda Landry, a language arts teacher at the school, took the lead in organizing the Veterans Day activities at the school.
A military spouse herself, she said it is important to teach the meaning of Veterans Day to students.
“It’s teaching them that, hey, these people are out there protecting their rights,” she said.
In addition, the LCpl. Matt Snyder Camp Snoops Project is providing educational postcards to all Sykesville Middle School students that will help them understand the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Snyder was a Marine from Finksburg who was killed at age 20. Camp Snoops was started by his family to educate students and assist returning troops.
Landry said the POW/MIA ceremony seemed to hit home with students last year, and she thinks that the other speakers will be just as successful.
“It brings back the idea that freedom is not free,” she said. “You could have hear a pin drop. They were so attentive.”