By Hannah Richardson
Every year since Sept. 11, 2001, we honor those we have lost during the terrorist attacks. Immediately following that tragic day, President George W. Bush proclaimed Sept. 11 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on 9/11. From 2009-16, President Barack Obama proclaimed Sept. 11 as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Natchitoches Central High School hosted a program in light of Patriot Day Sept. 6 in the gymnasium. “This is an annual observance in September to remember those who died or were injured on Sept. 11,” said NCHS Principal Bill Gordy. “It’s also a day to reflect on what it means to be an American.” Gordy told students and guests to be proud to be an American in this country and to have your freedom.
Before NCHS teacher Lesa Thompson introduced the two speakers of the program, Louise Thaxton and Karen Vaughn, she recognized Bobby and wife Tonya Watson. Bobby is the father of PFC Jason Ryan Watson of the US Army, and a former NCHS Chief. Watson entered the Army in September 2007 and died in February 2009, in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
NCHS honored his parents and presented Bobby with a yearbook. Thaxton is the National Director of the Military Mortgage Specialists, a national advocate for America’s veterans and is also the Director and cofounder of the American Warrior Initiative. The American Warrior Initiative is the non-profit of Fairway, leading the way for hundreds of initiatives for veterans in need across the country, inspiring millions of dollars in donations to fund those initiatives. She wore a red T-shirt with the words “RED- Remember Everyone Deployed.” “We have spread the message that on Fridays, we wear red to remember everyone deployed,” said Thaxton. She said they do this to show the deployed and their families that they do not forget them and to show their support.
Gold Star Mother Vaughn spoke about the ultimate sacrifice her son made in 2011. Aaron Carson Vaughn of SEAL Team VI was killed Aug. 6, 2011, in the Tangi River Valley of Afghanistan when a chopper carrying 30 Americans was shot from the sky while rushing into battle. “What I see when I look at you is the reason my boy gave his life,” said Vaughn when addressing the crowd. “I see a future in you. I see hope in you. The love you have shown me lets me know that we are very healthy and well in America.” Over the last eight years, Vaughn has served as a spokesperson for not only the nation’s defenders, but also as an advocate for a better and stronger America.
“You live in the greatest nation ever devised by man. It has been fought for and struggled for and people have died for it. People have lost for it. People have sacrificed for it for over 250 years so that you could be here today and that I can say what comes to my mind because we are free,” said Vaughn. She spoke to the high school students, most of them who were not even born or were just babies on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was a day that changed everything. None of you knew what it was like was before terrorism. You’ve never known a life without it. You have no idea what you lost because of 9/11. We know what you lost. That’s why we keep telling the story.” She spoke on her son’s life and the obstacles in his journey to become a US Navy SEAL.
“He died running to the fight. I thought about it so many times, just picturing him running out to that helicopter thinking, ‘This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life.’ Our very last conversation before he left on that deployment, he said ‘Mom, this is the deployment I’ve been waiting for my whole life.’ And it was his last.
If Aaron Vaughn could rise up from the dead somehow and do this 100 more times, he would, because he knew America was worth it. He knew your freedom was worth it. He loved this country and he loved the people of it.”
Thompson gave the two speakers awards towards the end of the program, and NCHS senior TaKerria Kahey also presented Vaughn with a painting she did, in memory of her son. Thompson said the students loved Vaughn and her message, even talking about it at the football game that evening.
“They appreciated the way she talked to them from her heart, and they really felt her sincerity,” said Thompson. “They appreciated the message and said how they never really thought about the actual cost of freedom before. Boys and girls told me they had tears in their eyes as she talked.”
Thompson also said Vaughn made them think about the freedoms we have in this country and how we may take it for granted, but after the program, they feel blessed and grateful. “It was a real eye-opening experience for them and they want to have her back again and have another program next year.”