MIDDLE RIVER, Md. — Saturday marks 20 years since the events of September 11th affected the lives of every American.
One Abingdon man has made it his mission to never forget.
Chuck Ritz created the ‘9/11 Living Classroom’ to share the many stories from that tragic day.
The images of September 11th are ingrained in the minds of every American who saw the country attacked on live tv.
“I woke up and just like everybody else started a normal day," Ritz said. "Went to the bank and they had a TV on and you saw the second plane hit. We’re standing there and just couldn’t believe it. And really it’s just your emotions run wild and you start to have these emotions and whether it’s like uncertainty or fear.”
Ritz recalls driving to work that afternoon, seeing the smoke from the Pentagon and feeling numb. One week later on September 18, he was compelled to make the trip to New York City to see the destruction at ground zero with his own eyes.
“When I left, my shoes and pants were covered with dust, and you look down and it just wasn’t the street dust, but I think it was the incinerated hearts and souls of those who were lost and the spirits I brought home with me,” Ritz said.
Now, nearly twenty years later, those emotions and memories of September 11, 2001 inspired Ritz to create an exhibit he calls America's 9/11 Living Classroom.
“Came up with the idea about two years ago to create something that we can share the stories of 9/11 and the war because we realize a lot of people can’t travel to the east coast. So, my mission with this, and vision with it, is to be able to travel the country and take it to places,” Ritz said.
A collection of coast to coast headlines from about 30 different cities were the first items Ritz curated for the exhibit.
“It is fresh you know. To be able to flip through these papers and read some of the stories and you know and see the different images on the headlines and on the front page, it definitely takes you back to that day,” Ritz said.
More than 400 first responders were killed in New York on September 11th including 71 law enforcement officers and 343 New York City firefighters.
Ritz, whose dad also happened to be a firefighter, pays tribute to those heroes by sharing their stories.
“A New York firefighter, Tim Colette, retired after 30 years as a lieutenant. This is Tim’s FDNY jacket that he wore on the pile we have some of his hand tools that he used,” Ritz said.
Besides showcasing artifacts from Ground Zero, and the Pentagon, the 9/11 Living Classroom also includes a recreation of the makeshift memorial at the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania.
“Wanted to re-create that and share what it would look like and how people were compelled to leave items. We’re hoping that people will, as they come through the exhibit, will write a note and put it on the fence as we did up and Shanksville,” Ritz said.
Ritz also takes a look at the many local heroes who lost their lives fighting America's war on terror following September 11th.
“Sarah Cullen went up to West Point on September 10th and was driving back with her mom down 95, looked over New York there’s the Twin Towers and the next morning they were gone. That afternoon, September 11th, she enlisted in the army and became a helicopter pilot and was killed in the war. But, incredible stories of people who made sacrifices and they joined our military because of 9/11,” Ritz said.
With the help of volunteers and more than $60,000 dollars in donations, Ritz has worked tirelessly to ensure none of the Americans who lost their lives because of 9/11 are forgotten.
“We made a promise to never forget. And, I’ve kind of you know, been…I think my purpose in life is to keep that promise,” Ritz said.
The exhibit will be in Middle River this week at 1320 Innovation Street.