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Finding The Perfect Way To Remember 9/11

September 11, 2008 - John Whittaker

As we mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, I don't have to look far for a very personal reminder of that dark day.

My younger brother, Matt, is part of the aftermath of the attacks, serving two tours fighting in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Right now, he's probably sitting on a plane somewhere over Europe, or on a piece of tarmac in Germany. I hope that by Friday or Saturday, I'll get a cell phone call from Matt telling me he's back at Camp LeJeune, N.C. and that he'll be home soon.

Without that reminder, would I be thinking about the attacks right now?

It's hard to say.

If I remember correctly, a lot of people said we should all try our best to return to life as normal as quickly as possible because, if we didn't, the terrorists would have accomplished their goal. They wanted to disrupt our lives. They wanted to make us live in fear. We shouldn't do let them do so, all the experts said. We should live our normal lives, they said.

On this Sept. 11 anniversary, I wonder if we haven't gotten too far back to normal. I don't know of any memorials or observances in Chautauqua County. Except for a Red Cross blood drive and a veterans group's fund-raiser for the Flight 93 memorial, it will be just another day. We'll all get up, go to work and go home.


There are 2,974 reasons why this day should be anything but a regular day. I don't know if Sept. 11 should be a national holiday. I'm not sure if it would be anything more than a lot of other federal holidays -- a reason for kids to stay home from school and stores to have sales.

Sept. 11 should be more than that.

It's a day we all lost a bit of our innocence. Two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-four innocent people lost their lives -- regular people doing regular things on a regular day. For one day, the actions of 14 hijackers brought the terror of every-day life in some parts of the world to our lives.

I'll never forget sitting in front of my TV, hoping against hope that the towers would stand long enough for everybody inside to make it out. I remember hoping that the bandits at least had the common decency to have hijacked empty planes. I remember feeling proud that the passengers of Flight 93 had fought back, crashing their plane to keep it from hitting the hijackers' intended target.

I remember feeling crushed as the towers fell. I won't ever forget that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that there were thousands of people who wouldn't be going home to their wife/husband and children. I remember the feeling of rage welling deep inside me against those who had perpetrated this act against our country. Like a lot of other people, I wanted someone to pay.

Seven years later, my brother is the embodiment of that feeling, shared by so many others, that someone be held accountable for our losses. He's overseas because we wanted to get the terrorists, hold them accountable for what they've done. We knew it would be a long haul, far from an easy job.

Now, there are times I wish there is another way.

In my job, I get a lot of e-mails and alerts about soldiers who have died overseas. I'll be honest with you when I say I hold my breath every time I open one of those e-mails. I know, deep down in my heart, that Matt's name won't be listed, but that doesn't mean I don't feel for a family that is hearing news I hope I'll never hear and dealing with feelings I hope I'll never have to feel.

I don't know if I'm smart enough to know how history will judge all that is happening in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, but here's what I know for sure.

Sometime in the next week, Matt and I will be able to pull the chairs in my living room up close to the TV and play Madden 2009 until 3 a.m. We'll eat pizza and wings and go to Johnny's for hot dogs. We'll spend a Sunday watching football. Next May, he'll be the best man in my wedding. If I tell him that I worry about him while he's overseas, doing his job, he'll smack me in the head and tell me to stop being stupid.

And, I know there are nearly 3,000 people who won't have such an opportunity. There are another 4,155 families who have lost a loved one fighting in a war that is a direct result of the attacks.

Today, while thanking God for my blessings, I'll say a prayer for them.

And, just maybe, that is the perfect remembrance for all of us.


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