[Note: I am sorry about my apparent inability to update. The new house still doesn't have internet service, and I have actually had to work at work lately.]
Today, July 17, marks the ninth anniversary of the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800, shortly after its takeoff from Kennedy International en route to Paris, France. Back in 1996 the fear of terrorism was unknown, and a crash this devastating, this unexpected, brought the entire country together as neighbors. Various communities were impacted and many families were devastated at the loss of loved ones, but no community, no family more so than the town of Montoursville, Pennsylvania.
Sixteen students from Montoursville Area High School were on board Flight 800, along with five chaperones, for the bi-annual French Club trip. Months (if not years) of hard work, fund-raising, and planning, not to mention the studying and tests for French Class itself, went into this trip, and the students were ecstatic about the prospects of visiting France.
For months afterward, nearly the whole country -- indeed nearly the entire globe -- showed their support for Montoursville. Ribbons of blue and gold, the colors of the Montoursville Warriors, adorned nearly every lawmaker at both the State and Federal levels, not to mention residents of the town and people across the state and nation. Support for the school poured in from across the globe; letters, cards, e-mails, flowers, signs -- these became the wall decorations at the High School for the entire summer. Elementary school classes in Australia created murals of all the children's names with brief expressions of hope and sympathy like what can only come from a child. Leaders of many foreign countries showed their support for the community following this tragic loss; the town was visited by many dignitaries, not only on the day of the official memorial service but at any time their schedule would permit.
In the face of such a terrible tragedy, the whole world rose up with one voice of support, of comfort.
Many people questioned this accident: why did they have to die? Why did this have to happen to our town? Why must my son or daughter be taken from me now? As with any tragedy there is no answer, no acceptable one. Such grief is impacting, nearly impossible to accept and overcome. Time may dull the pain, but can never erase the loss.
Fortunately, time has marched on, and the town of Montoursville has healed itself as best it can. The world has become preoccupied with other issues in the past nine years. Investigations started and ended, memorials were built, funerals were celebrated, and life went on.
But, occasionally throughout the year, and especially on today of all days, I reflect on this loss that the town of Montoursville - my hometown - suffered. I reflect on the support shown to the students - my classmates. And I reflect on the times I shared with the victims - my friends.
For over a year following this accident, I searched for a handle on things. I didn't know why I had to lose my friends. I didn't know why my quiet little town had to be turned upside-down. I didn't know anything except pain and sorrow. Time dulled the pain, but could never heal it. And that is where I was for so long.
However, given recent events, starting as far back as 9-11 but continuing through today's bickering amongst different nations, I have been reflecting more and more on the solid support that my community was shown by the entire world. The inescapable conclusion is that there is still good in the world; people are still, inside at least, kind and caring and empathetic.
This is the message that I take to heart every July 17 when I wear my blue and gold ribbon, and the other 364 days a year when it is displayed next to my desk computer. Since the world has moved on since that fateful summer, I am often asked what the ribbon is for; today was no exception. But now, rather than just relating the tragic story, I can explain the ribbon in terms of hope for people. I am still sorry over the death of my friends, but at last I no longer feel it was in vain.
I pray that you are resting well, Julia, Claire, Wendy, and Michelle.
Please, as time marches forward, do not forget these people, nor the message that their death and the resulting flood of support delivers.
Here is the list of my classmates and chaperones who perished nine years ago (chaperones marked with an *). Please, please, please never forget.
- Wendy Wolfson
- Eleanor Wolfson*
- Monica Weaver
- Jacqueline Watson
- Larissa Uzupis
- Judith Rupert*
- Kimberly Rogers
- Cheryl Nibert
- Jodi Loudenslager
- Amanda Karschner
- Rance Hettler
- Julia Grimm
- Claire Gallagher
- Carol Fry*
- Doug Dickey*
- Debbie Dickey*
- Monica Cox
- Jordan Bower
- Michelle Bohlin
- Daniel Baszczewski
- Jessica Aikey
My heart still goes out to all the families and all our friends. Rest in peace.