By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
NEW YORK, May 22, 2013 – In a dedication ceremony here yesterday, the U.S. military’s top enlisted member commended students who produced a mural that honors the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, spoke at the Armed Forces Memorial Mural dedication ceremony to commend the students who created a 270-foot-long mural across two stories of the school with artwork, poetry, and more than 6,000 names painstakingly painted in gold.
“We understand the commitment, drive, focus and determination that it takes to build and produce a winning product,” Battaglia said. “Those paintings and the names of our fallen written in gold depict powerful imagery that accurately captures and proudly honors our U.S. military, especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”
Leaders from the military and the New York fire and police departments also attended the unveiling in conjunction with Hope For The Warriors, a national nonprofit organization that assists post-9/11 service members, their families, and families of the fallen who have suffered physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty.
“It was fairly easy to determine that these folks were on a mission,” Battaglia said of the students. “Not just a mission of a student coming to school to get education, but rather a larger mission where education was taken to a whole different level.”
The sergeant major said he also marveled at his first tour of the school earlier this year, when three young students described the symbolism of each piece of art -- with inspiration ranging from Michelangelo to Rodin -- that captured individual and team actions of first responders and military members.
“Never should a day go by where we are absent in thanking the brave and courageous volunteers who provide the freedom and security that we enjoy,” Battaglia said. “And on that September morning when our nation was brutally attacked, many have and many still continue to answer the call of duty.”
Battaglia said he found it powerful that everyone gathered to commemorate such an impactful piece of art that “depicts real and authentic images about first responders -- military service members and many others saving lives, administering first aid, trauma care and humanitarian assistance.”
Tom Buxton, a McKinley English teacher, collaborated with art teacher Roma Karas to inspire the children to depict how 9/11 resonated with them, even though many of the artists were not yet 2 years old on that fateful morning.
“I had to wake up at 6 a.m., because I live pretty far from the school, and I worked mornings and during lunches to paint,” said artist Anne Wang, age 14. “Everyone was proud of what we’d done, and we just wanted to show it off.”
The students took nearly a year to display moments in time from 9/11 to present day.
Spectators can enjoy the mural view from a large window on the third floor hallway, where, when the sunlight intensifies, the names painted in gold are illuminated, said artists Ayisha Siddiq, 13, and Nada Farraq, 13.
Battaglia called several students up to the stage to present them with a shadow box containing a U.S. flag he flew over Afghanistan. In return, he received an art book created by the students that recently earned an Ezra Jack Keats Award.