The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 17, 2011

RALPH COUEY | The call of 9/11

Ralph Couey
For The Tribune-Democrat

— The 10th anniversary has passed. The first heat in the breathless race to establish a memorial for the crew and passengers of Flight 93 has been won. In a field near Shanksville, along one side of the Pentagon in Arlington and around the empty footprints of two towers in New York City, people gathered. Across the country, small memorials were dedicated, speeches were made and words were written. Everywhere, Americans paused to remember a day that changed us all.

As I sit here, brief images of last weekend’s events in Shanksville flash by. We arrived early and spent time talking to others nearby.

Though strangers, we were linked by the common purpose in being there. We spoke of the common thread of where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news out of New York; how we felt when we knew our country was under attack.  

Every American who was alive, awake and aware on Sept. 11, 2001, will forever share that common bond.

Because for Americans, everything that happened that day was personal.   

I remember George W. Bush’s words of faith and country; Bill Clinton’s words about the courage of choice; and Joe Biden’s powerful words of how Sept. 11, 2001, changed us all; as a country, and as individuals.   

I remember the somber tolling of the Bells of Remembrance as the names were read by the family members, and the catch in my throat at the words “… and unborn child.”   

And among the cluster of pilots and flight attendants seated behind me, the heartbreaking sound of weeping.

Above it all floated the soft and sadly sweet voice of Sara McLachlan flying us all into the arms of the angels.

There were the first responders, firefighters, police and EMS, proudly wearing their dress uniforms. I remember thinking that these folks are not well paid, and those beautiful and dignified clothes must have set them back considerably.

I remember watching as the family members walked through the wildflowers of the crash site, laying flowers and memorials where their loved ones made their sacrifice. And one person who found that one special panel on the Wall of Names, and knelt in prayer.

Mostly, I will remember the sense of unity. Even amongst the politicians assembled, there was not one tiny whiff of the stink of partisan politics.

None of us were conservative, liberal or libertarian.   

We were one country; one people.

It was a healing weekend; a catharsis, not only for survivors but for our nation as a whole.

For 10 years, the memory of 9/11 has been an open wound.

Now the wound has a chance to close, although we will wear the scar forever.

Time will pass. The years will come and go. Children will grow to adults, and adults will age into senescence. Eventually, a time will come when there will no longer be any left who were witnesses of that day.

But the memorials will remain. They will stand in testimony of all 9/11 meant to this generation. The shock and horror of the act, the heroism of those involved, and that most bitter lesson of never again taking anything – or anyone – for granted.

Long after we are gone from this life, those names will remain. We, even we here, in this place at this time, must solemnly vow to send into the future not just the names, but the people they were. A hundred, or even an improbable 200 years from now when people visit the Flight 93 National Memorial, that they can come to know those 40 heroes, not as one-dimensional names on a wall, but as people with dreams and desires, lives and loved ones.

That they will take away from that place the knowledge that ordinary people are at times called upon to do extraordinary things, for no other reason than just being at a certain place in a particular moment of time. And when that moment arrives, and that choice is laid before them, then the story of Flight 93 will inspire them to act.

Make no mistake, those moments of challenge and adversity will come. We face a future which lies before us dark with foreboding and shrouded in uncertainty. The struggles America will endure in the coming years will be a time when heroes are needed, and heroes will be called.

Let us hope and pray that in the memory of 9/11, we will, without hesitation, answer that call.

Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.

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