It has been fourteen years since our nation was rocked to the core by the September 11th terrorist attacks. Like most teachers who went to school that day, I distinctly remember how difficult it was to ease the fears and distress of my students while trying to keep my own alarm and emotions under control. And now, so many years later, when I reflect upon the events of that day, I wonder if any educators lost their lives in the attacks.
In conducting some research, I discovered the story of one heroic educator: William (Bill) R. Ruth, a retired middle school social studies teacher from Maryland. After his career as an educator, Bill was working at the Pentagon as a Chief Warrant Officer for the US Army. He was in his office there when the building was struck by American Airlines Flight 77. He was one of 30 individuals on the ground who lost their lives in the tragedy. On the day of his death, Bill Ruth was 57 years old.
Bill had a long record of service to his country. He served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, where he was a helicopter pilot. He would later tell friends of the missions he flew, evacuating the wounded and the dead. As a Maryland National Guard reservist, Bill also served in the Persian Gulf War. When the conflict erupted, Bill was pulled out of the classroom and sent to the Middle East.
After his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bill earned his master’s degree and became a social studies teacher, a career that spanned three decades. Right before he retired, Bill worked at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, Maryland.
“Mr. Ruth was my seventh grade social studies and history teacher at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, Maryland, way back in 1995,” remembers educator Barbara Boyd Overmier. “He was the best teacher, and he made learning fun. He would bring in pictures and slideshows of helicopters he flew, and always had a fantastic story to tell. I remember being more interested in going to his class than any other. I remember him as a kind man, wanting to make sure we achieved our potential and enjoyed doing it.”
Bill Ruth is remembered fondly by many, including scores of former students. And he has left a lasting legacy to his profession. “We lost not only a great man that day,” expresses Overmier, “but our country lost a hero. He was such an inspiration to me that I recently completed my education to become a teacher so that I could touch lives the way that he did,” she discloses. “We’ll miss you Mr. Ruth, you were the best of the best!”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.