Young America’s Foundation honors victims of 9/11 at the Reagan Ranch
High up in the Santa Ynez Mountains on the lawn of former President Ronald Reagan’s home of 25 years, students, parents and community members gathered on a gloomy Thursday evening to honor the 2,977 lives lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
To pay tribute to each life lost, the group of 30 to 40 people placed 2,977 American flags in the ground, a striking display that is available for the public to view live on the anniversary, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KcWoDVymkQ.
The ceremony is called the 9/11: Never Forget Project, a tradition that launched on the second anniversary of Sept. 11.
Students from St. Therese Classical Academy and Providence School, along with their parents and supporters of the Young America’s Foundation, reflected on the tragedy and how it impacted every American.
While none of the students were alive at the time of the attacks, they reflected on the event’s significance, and the importance of remembering.
Joshua Frankenfield, a high school senior at Providence, just returned from basic training for the National Guard at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. For him, the impact of the terrorist attacks gave him and his family a strong sense of patriotism.
“My dad was a marine, so through that, I’ve grown to love the country that we live in, and with 9/11 being a big part of our country’s history, I felt it would be nice to help with the memorial here,” he told the News-Press. “It’s changed how a lot of Americans think and how a lot of our systems operate.”
Another student from Providence, Sophia Weslander-Quaid, is a seventh grader, but the significance of 9/11 is all but lost on her.
Sophia’s father and mother have a combined 50 years of service in the national security community. They were part of the response to the attacks as members of U.S. Intelligence and the Department of Defense.
“It’s a really sentimental time for our family,” Sophia told the News-Press. “More people need to remember history and really remember the people that died on this day.”
Her father was Lt. Col. Christopher Quaid, who fought the war on terror himself and passed away a few years ago.
“I was briefing at CIA headquarters on 9/11 in D.C. and we had coworkers who were on the plane that landed in the Pentagon,” Sophia’s mom, Michele Weslander-Quaid, added. “It definitely impacted our careers. Our daughter’s grown up with that.”
Like many who lived through the terrorist attacks, Matt LaBrie remembers exactly what went through his mind at the time, as a 30-year-old with two children.
“So much was unknown about that day… Who, why, how could this happen?” Mr. LaBrie told the News-Press. “Later on, grappling with who could do such a thing, and then realizing that the forces that oppose freedom aren’t just out there, but we can be attacked on our own home soil. It was a shocking thought.”
His two children have since graduated from Providence, and he has three more currently enrolled.
“A father’s protective instinct woke up in me really quick, thinking about my kids and the tyranny that had now shown itself on American soil,” he said. “We live in a society where you can rely on a system of government that aspires to root out oppression everywhere, so you go about your daily life with that kind of peace and confidence, and all of the sudden you realize, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t take all these things for granted.’”
After the placement of the flags, the attendees gathered socially distanced and listened to 9/11 survivors and Santa Barbara residents Bob and Margie Niehaus’ powerful recollection of being at Ground Zero on that day.
The couple was at the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks, staying at the Marriott Hotel that connected the twin towers. The attacks separated them for a long six hours before they could find each other in the wreckage.
They remember that day and the days that followed as vividly as if it was yesterday, and it sticks with them through each coming day.
“Every flag represents a real person, not a concept,” Mrs. Niehaus told the News-Press.
The couple themselves helped with the flag setup, and has sponsored the Never Forget Project for five years.
“This is the first time we’ve actually put the flags in the ground,” Mr. Neihaus said. “We’ve helped take them down, but to actually spend the time placing them… You can see the care in which they were laid out of respect. It makes it real.”
With each personal connection to the tragedy and every level of recollection, the group gathered at the Reagan Ranch came from all walks of life, but all paid their respects to the 2,977 innocent lives tragically ripped away from them.
Additional Sept. 11 coverage will appear in Saturday’s News-Press.