Ben Flyzik never realized the magnitude of 9/11 until one day in middle school when a teacher was giving a lesson on the terrorist attack and took him out of class to ask if he’d be willing to speak.
He was 3 years old when his aunt, Carol Flyzik, 40, of Plaistow, perished on American Airlines Flight 11.
She was one of 10 New Hampshire victims killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Being so young and unaware, Ben doesn’t remember the attack that left nearly 3,000 people dead and changed America, but that history class made a big impression.
“That was kind of eye-opening for me,” he said.
Ben is now 22 and recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire. He spent much of his childhood learning about his aunt, who was traveling to California for a business trip, and how that dark day altered the lives of those in his family and so many others.
As the nation marks the 19th anniversary of the attack at a time when many are focused on the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, the Plaistow community will come together once again to remember one of their own at a small ceremony Friday at 6 p.m. around a memorial outside the Town Hall.
For 76-year-old Andrea LeBlanc, the somber anniversary will be spent with her son, who traveled from New Jersey to her home in Lee.
LeBlanc’s husband, Robert, was a geography professor at UNH who died on United Airlines flight 175 while headed to California for a conference.
The LeBlanc family has spent the past 19 years remembering him for who he was and not how he died.
His wife described him as the “most marvelous person” who was insatiably curious.
“He was a cultural geographer so he was just very interested and fascinated by human culture and why people did what they did, why people went where they went, how they lived, how they worshipped, how they sang, how they ate,” she said.
LeBlanc doesn’t worry that others who weren’t directly affected by the tragedy will forget that the anniversary is here as they’re consumed by the pandemic and other world events.
“I think we should be concerned about racism and COVID and militarism. The thing is anniversaries are more important, in a lot of ways, for the people who aren’t paying attention all year because for me, I think about Bob, and in some cases 9/11 and how he died and he’s not here, all the time. It’s a part of the fiber of my being and the anniversary is more significant for the people who will say, ‘Oh, that’s right. It’s 9/11,’” said LeBlanc, who belongs to an organization called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
She added that there are “9/11s happening every day all around the world and we are not unique in that.”
Next year’s 20th anniversary will bring renewed interest in the events of that day, but LeBlanc questions why such anniversary dates are more significant than others.
“It’s the same reality for me,” she said.
The Flyziks have faced a similar reality.
Ben Flyzik, who still lives in his childhood home in Plaistow, said the loss of his aunt is always in the back of his mind.
“You go through a normal day,” he said, “and then something reminds you.”
He has learned so much about his aunt’s life from family stories, but he has a few memories of his own that he recalls even though he was a young child.
He remembers how they would ride to the beach in her convertible and drive with the top down.
“Oddly enough, I do remember a time when she had poison ivy and we couldn’t go near her,” he said.
Over the years, Ben has learned that even for those who didn’t lose a loved one, 9/11 was a day that will never be forgotten.
“It’s hard to really grieve when you weren’t deeply affected by it, but I think that day definitely shook everyone to their core,” he said.