AURORA | With the noise from planes taking off from Denver International Airport in the background, a group of civilians and military personnel gathered Saturday morning to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the Coloradans that died in the wars that followed.
The youngest participants in the service had not yet been born on the day the ceremony was commemorating.
Teenage members of the Colorado Civil Air Patrol conducted the flag raising at the service and placed roses on the memorial as the names of each 116 Coloradans who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were read.
“It’s important that this generation has the opportunity to stand and pay tribute” to the victims of 9/11, president and founder of the Colorado Freedom Memorial Rick Crandall said at the memorial.
The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that provides young people opportunities to learn about the Air Force and volunteer with civic events and non-combat missions.
Cadet airman Van Ryn, 14, joined the patrol earlier this year and said that he was grateful to be in the color guard for the memorial.
“It’s a really great honor,” he said.
A piece of steel from the north tower of the World Trade Center was on display, and will be on loan to use in assemblies at local schools.
The Colorado Freedom Memorial itself is the site of frequent field trips, with Crandall giving tours and discussing the different wars that Coloradans have fought in. Up until just a week ago, the U.S. had been at war for the entirety of children’s lives, as the U.S. invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.
Crandall noted that his own granddaughter, who he used to practice his talks for student groups, was born four months after 9/11.
“She only knows what she saw later,” he said. For him, part of the oft-recited motto “Never Forget” includes teaching about that day and the conflicts that came after.
“Forgetting means we’re not teaching,” he said.
Later in the day, another group of young people gathered outside Aurora’s MLK Library for an event from the Aurora Youth Violence Prevention Program.
A ceremony commemorating the attacks was held with several musical performances and remarks from Mayor Mike Coffman and State Sen. Rhonda Fields. Members of the Aurora Fire Department and Aurora Police Department were also recognized in tribute to first responders who died that day.
Afterward, free food was distributed along with games and face painting for children.
The prevention program was created to craft a public health response to youth violence in Aurora. A youth advisory council works with the city to volunteer and provide feedback.
Alexa Gonzalez, a member of the council and a student at Overland High School, said she thought the event was valuable to help teach people her age about 9/11 since they do not personally remember it.
“It’s important to help people understand history,” she said.
Christian Pool, a Hinkley High School senior on the council, said that he thought it was interesting to hear different people’s perspectives about the day. He learned about it in school from his history teacher, and also recalls asking his mother, an immigrant to the U.S., about how she perceived the attacks.
He thought it was important that young people be taught about the tragedy so they can learn from the past.
Pastor Reid Hettich works with the program to help plan community events, and said that it was initially planned for the 11th because that was one of the dates that everyone was available.
He said the group realized that commemorating 9/11 lined up well with its mission of combating violence, and shows how individual people’s decisions to commit violent acts reverberate through whole societies.
“If we can prevent violence, especially with our young people, the community benefits,” he said.