Photos: Memorial Day ceremony _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- Wanda Lamana salutes a flag placed in the ground Saturday, May 24, 2014, during a Memorial Day service hosted by Blue Star Mothers of Louisiana Chapter One at the Louisiana State Capitol. The flag honors her son Michael Scott Lamana, a U.S. Navy navigator who died while serving at the Pentagon during the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Ever since Michael Scott “Scotty” Lamana was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the Pentagon, his family has kept his memory alive.

They talk about him. They tell his story. They say his name, and then say it again.

“That forces you to humanize them, that that was a person who died for your freedom — not for anything else, not for the glory — but for your freedom,” his sister Dani Lamana said.

It’s something that military families do to remember loved ones who are gone.

“It reminds you that you are not the only one grieving and in pain,” she explained.

As the nation gathers Saturday to remember that tragic day 20 years ago, and the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, families like the Lamanas, of Baton Rouge, labor to keep alive memories of each and every one of them.

Although the pain is ever present, Dani tries to set that aside.

“I tend to force myself to think of the good rather than how he died, which is that he spent his life in service,” she said.

U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Scott Lamana was not supposed to be at the Pentagon on Sept 11, 2001.

The 31-year-old Lamana, a briefer for the chief of Naval operations, had already spent nine years in the U.S. Navy when terrorists crashed a plane into the Pentagon. While he was a student at Catholic High and LSU, he also worked as a reserve deputy with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and a volunteer with the St. George Fire Department.

Firefighters were also on the front lines on Sept. 11. A total of 343 died that day.

The Baton Rouge Fire Department for the past 10 years has preserved their memory every Sept. 11 by observing a moment of silence at 7:46 a.m., the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center. It will do so again Saturday.

Curt Monte, BRFD’s public information officer, remembers that day, watching the TV with his fellow firefighters, watching with growing horror.

“When we saw that scene, we knew then before anybody else knew that firefighters were going to lose their lives,” Monte said. “We knew those firefighters knew when they were going up (into those towers), they probably weren’t coming out. We could feel what they were feeling.

He said that 20 years later the feelings from that stay with him.

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“It never goes away,” Monte said. “I just hold our brothers and sisters who went in, in a special place in my heart.”

In all, six natives of Louisiana died on Sept. 11.

Besides Lamana, they include Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Farmer, who was 62, of New Orleans; Robert Joseph Hymel, who was 55, of New Orleans; Leo Russell Keene, III, who was 33, of Sulphur; Louis Calvin Williams, III, who was 53, of Mandeville; and Kevin Wayne Yokum, who was 27, of Lake Charles.

Fewer and fewer Americans remember Sept. 11, 2001. Today’s schoolchildren weren’t even alive.

But many do still remember.

“We still have consistent support every year,” Dani Lamana said. “We’ve already received phone calls and text messages. Family members and friends have reached out to us and let us know that they are here for us.”

On Friday, St. Aloysius Catholic School, where he spent his elementary years, raised and flew a U.S. flag donated by Scotty Lamana’s parents. Catholic High School also remembered him during morning prayers. Both schools have long had permanent memorials to him on their campuses.

Despite what happened 20 years ago, Dani Lamana, who works as an occupational therapist, maintains a positive view of humanity, that people are far more likely to pursue good than evil. She said she applies that to her own life as a way of continuing what Scotty no longer can.

“I’d give anything to get my brother back, but that’s not going to happen, so you choose to make people’s lives better every day because he can’t,” she explained.

When asked what she thinks of what has happened in the 20 years since 9/11, including the recently chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Lamana is not sure what to say.

“I’m not going to claim to be any type of political expert. I think we need to just get back to being normal people,” she said. “I definitely don’t have the answer. The last 20 years … I don’t necessarily have a good answer.”

Lamana, however, said that Americans should not send soldiers into new conflicts without learning from prior ones, or “their lives are lost in vain.” She said Americans should work to protect the lives of those who serve on their behalf.

“Every day there are military, there are police, there are firemen who serve, who put on a uniform who know that when they step out of their house or their car, they may not get a second chance,” she said. “And it’s our responsibility as Americans to make sure that they safely go home to their families.”

Elyse Carmosino contributed to this story.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.