‘It felt like a war was starting’: Gulfport High teachers remember 9/11 attacks

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 8:47 AM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic event that completely changed the climate of our nation forever: Sept. 11, 2001.

Thousands of Americans lost their lives. Debris, destruction, and chaos filled the streets as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center crumbled and the security of our country was questioned.

Across the country, nearly everyone can tell you exactly where they were when they heard that the towers had fallen after a terror attack. We spoke with teachers at Gulfport High this week to hear their memories of that fateful day as they watched thousands of Americans lose their lives.

Special education teacher Courtney Ladner was just in elementary school at the time and said, even though she was young, she knew something serious was occurring.

“I remember they rolled in the TV when they were on carts back then. They turned it on and showed us what is going on, and then they told us our parents are picking us up. My mom was frantic so I just knew this wasn’t good,” Ladner recalled.

Reynolds Bodenhamer remembers the country sitting still once everyone got the news that that planes that hit the towers weren’t an accident.

“I didn’t have class that morning so I worked the night shift at this Irish pub... I remember that I came in and had no idea what was going on. As soon as I walked in, I knew something dramatic has happened because the entire atmosphere was changed. It was silent,” said Bodenhamer. “Then, someone nodded to the TV and that was our day. The sadness and the feeling of loss and fear was in that room all day long. No one said a word.”

History teacher Hardy Thames was teaching middle school in Memphis at the time. While the day is still fresh in his memory, it’s the aftermath of the attack that has stayed with him all of these years.

“It felt like a war was starting. There was this serious feeling of vengeance and if you didn’t share in that, then it became divisive,” said Thames. “People wanted to know the long-term consequences right away. Thinking became a little riskier for people. It’s a little risky today, but people thought critically. We all know whose side we’re on. We just don’t want any of that to happen again.”

For Thames, life has since come full circle. He went from starting out as a teacher who was fearful after the attack to now educating a new generation on its significance. Continuing to acknowledge vital historical events like 9/11 and give his students context and a different perspective is something he takes pride in.

“Vengeance and fear are not useful emotions when you’re trying to achieve a goal. The desire of vengeance isn’t so much in the air, so it’s easier to just teach about it in a way to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

The unity of the entire country after the attacks is something many strive to see once again.

“I remember the pride in America and how much everyone banded together,” said Ladner. “I remember seeing American flags together. It seems like the patriotism in America just arose from that event. No matter what our country goes through, we always find a way to figure it out and come up with a plan to make things better for America. We’re so lucky to live in this great country.”

Gulfport High will have a moment of silence on Friday to acknowledge the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives during the attacks on 9/11.

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