Capsules rewind time to 9/11

Of course there were newspapers.

With big, bold, black headlines, they alone filled one of two time capsules created shortly after 9/11 and opened Thursday at Monticello Trails Middle School.

As a few special guests looked on, students from both Mill Valley and De Soto High Schools opened the capsules as part of their honors archeology class, taught by Keil Hileman.

Ten years ago, Hileman, who also teaches middle school history at Monticello Trails in a room resembling a museum, had already planned to have his seventh-graders create a time capsule. Then the Sept. 11 attacks happened, and everything snowballed, he said.

“It was a Tuesday,” Hileman said upon looking at one paper. “Did you remember it was a Tuesday?”

“Yes,” Shirley Hemenway said. “Yes, I remember it was a Tuesday.”

Hemenway, a former cafeteria worker at Monticello Trails, is in a lot of stories this time of year. Her son Ronald, an electronics technician with the Navy, was killed on 9/11 in the attack on the Pentagon.

At one point Thursday, Ronald’s father, Bob, brought in a large framed photo of his son, which Shirley silently held in front of flashing cameras.

The Hemenways moved to Shawnee about a decade ago, after living in Alaska. Ronald graduated from Wasilla High School in 1982 with, as it happens, Sarah Palin, who later wrote the Hemenways to express her condolences.

Within minutes of the capsules’ opening, Shirley recalled the fear people had after 9/11. By that time, she worked for Disney and remembered fielding phone calls from people wanting to cancel their trips to Disneyland. Finally, she had enough.

“I told them, ‘Listen, my son died on 9/11, you have to live your life,’” she said. “You can’t let the terrorists win.”

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The capsules at Monticello Trails — ammunition containers donated by a World War II veteran — also housed a navy blue T-shirt with “New York” on its front, calendars, VHS cassette tapes and red, white and blue baseballs.

“Here’s a flag from one of the newspapers,” Shirley said. “That’s what I’d like to see come back: Everybody putting their flags up.”

There was a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, folded flat and adorned by an American flag — “See what they did there?” Shirley said — and an AOL Platinum Premium CD offering 1,000 free hours of Internet. Hileman studied it, trying at first to remember why he included it before noticing its American flag.

“Everybody was putting red, white and blue on everything,” he said.

Debbie Austin, a Gardner resident whose son, Shane, died serving in the Army in Afghanistan, let out a gasp when she saw a jigsaw puzzle that paired the scene of firefighters erecting a flag at ground zero with that of soldiers doing the same at Iwo Jima during World War II. Austin is a member of the Northeast Kansas chapter of Gold Star Mothers, an organization for mothers whose sons and daughters died while serving in the armed forces. Hemenway is the chapter’s president.

“This was very powerful,” Austin later said. “It’s good to know we’re making sure we educate this generation.”

Also inside the capsules: Flag stickers, flag lapel pins of various sizes, flag keychains, one flag flip flop and a small, thin oval keychain that read “My Pride and Joy.” On the other side of the keychain was a photo of Hileman’s wife and then-young daughter, who became “addicted to flags,” Hileman said, because of 9/11.

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Hileman’s voice was a constant presence in the room Thursday. He often paused to share a story or talk about a particular item found inside the capsule.

His enthusiasm never tapered, giving equal attention to an AOL CD as to an actual piece of one of the World Trade Center towers he had acquired.

At one point, Hileman held up an old, faded Osco Drug store receipt from one of the 9/11 stickers he bought and slapped on one of the two Jeeps he’s had since the attacks.

One sticker read “United We Stand,” the other, “We Will Remember.”

“We say that and sometimes we forget,” Hileman said. “This time of year is a good time for us to remember what we have as Americans and what we lost that day.”

Ed Crane, a Kansas National Guard recruiter from Lenexa, also joined Hileman on Thursday. Crane said he’s working on securing a larger container from Fort Riley for the next time capsule.

“Everything we’re looking at is that moment in time,” he said. “We’ve got to keep this going.”

Paige Gilbert, a Mill Valley senior who helped open one of the capsules, was a second-grader when the attacks occurred. She came home from school that day to find her dad in their garage watching footage on the television of the twin towers falling.

Until Thursday, Gilbert hadn’t met anyone directly affected by the attacks.

“Looking at videos and hearing personal stories make it much more realistic,” she said.

Any memories Mill Valley senior Josh Johnston had, he said, were brought to the forefront Thursday. He remembers the aftermath of 9/11, of President George W. Bush declaring war on terror — a scene portrayed on the pages of many newspapers sealed in the original capsule.

Upon graduation, Johnston will follow a dream he said he’s had since he was in seventh-grade: He’s enlisted in the Marine Corps.

By Stephen Montemayor

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