"Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?"

Most people can recount — almost as if it were yesterday — what they were doing and where they were when they heard four planes were hijacked and two struck New York's World Trade Center 18 years ago.

But ask students at Bakersfield High School and they'll give you a different answer: "I wasn't alive then."

BHS held its annual Sept. 11 tribute Wednesday — the first with new principal Ben Sherley — which featured the Color Guard, ROTC students and the playing of "Taps."

It's a day to remember for Americans, but it's also a strange day for high school students who have had accounts of Sept. 11 passed onto them from family members and teachers. 

"It's not as emotional for me as it is for most people since they lived through it," said junior Josue Sosa. "The first time I heard about it was from teachers who told us about the planes that crashed and passengers who took over one of the planes," referring to what took place before a fourth plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Senior Emma Mae Hacker said her earliest memory of Sept. 11 was asking her mother about the date "because I was curious why people were decorating and putting signs up."

"It's strange that people say, 'You always remember where you were,' but we weren't around for it," said senior Kaley Smith. "In classes my teachers explained what happened ... they showed us a story about a guy who was escorting people out of the (World Trade Center)."

So what does this day mean to students who did not experience the same fear, uncertainty and shock as their family members and teachers? 

"We have to honor the people who died, the one's who lost loved ones, help them move on," Smith said. 

"We can never forget what happened," added Hacker. 

Sherley, who remembers teaching at West High School the day it happened, wants to make sure his students can truly understand why the observance is important by having faculty and staff share their memories.

"When you look back through history on some of the big days that take place, this is one that shaped our country ... When an event that drastic and large happens, passing down our emotions and feeling is part of what we do as educators," he said. "It's one thing to read and learn out of a book, but to actually hear real life stories is what makes an impact."

He is also keeping up with the remembrance ceremony that his predecessor, former BHS principal David Reese, started 17 years ago.

The day is also a reminder why military service is so important for students who are part of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"No matter how much time passes, the families of those who died never forget, and it's why we fought for our freedoms," said Karina Rodriguez. "It's nice to see people still care about this day and respect it."

After all, as Maj. Kris Fink explained to members of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, "You're doing something bigger than you. You're honoring people who died."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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Bravo Zulu . . . !

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