My daughter tells me we are going to war. In the same breath she then begins the questions an eight-year-old would ask. She’s concerned with where this war will be conducted. She asks if it will be like it was back in the ‘80s. She means the 1980s.
That was the opening paragraph of my column in September 2001, the week after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The headline was much like the one here, only it read “Pushed into war, we will not be afraid.”
My daughter wasn’t around back in the ‘80s, it continues in full, but the Gulf War is the closest thing she can relate to the current events. She’s grasping for answers. Unfortunately, we have few.
I’m afraid that the Gulf War will dim in comparison to what we will see in coming years. I’m angry that terrorists will dictate that my daughter experience something that I was spared by our brave and heroic ancestors who fought for freedom.
Other than the conflicts of recent years, Bosnia and the Gulf, I too remember little about war. My childhood memories are of Walter Cronkite, or someone like him, announcing the latest casualties from towns that I did not recognize. Saigon, Hanoi, Da Nang and others were on his list.
I remember the running totals of the MIAs and POWs. My older brother wore one of those copper-looking wrist bracelets with some man’s name on it that was missing in action.
I remember “Free Cally” spray painted on the walls, and streets, and signs around town. I remember some thought him evil, others thought him good. I remember the numbers growing on the television screen as the latest victims’ names were added to Walter Cronkite’s list.
I remember being afraid of growing up and having to go to war. Of having to leave home with a real possibility of never returning. I remember feeling sad. That was Vietnam, a conflict, some claimed, not a war.
Now terrorists have invaded the United States. They have waged war upon us and we shall fight back. Everyone tells us that Americans will support this war. Americans will support ground troops wherever it may be that they will be sent. Americans will support the loss of more Americans to rid the world of terrorism.
I think that “everyone” is right. The murders of thousands of innocent men, women and children on American soil, or any soil for that matter, is intolerable. It makes us angry, it makes us sad, it makes us crave a way to seek revenge. It makes us fearless of losing our own lives so our children may grow up free of fear as we did.
Had I the choice, I would have preferred to continue growing up free, but on September 11 someone, somewhere gave the order to kill and the lifestyles we had come to take for granted were shattered.
Last Tuesday began like any other day in our office. It was deadline day. We were about to begin putting the paper together when a friend called. “Have you got a television up there,” she asked. “Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center.”
My co-workers and I gathered in my office in eerie silence as we watched a fuzzy old black and white television deliver the scenes from New York as the picture rolled over and over, and over again.
An empty feeling began to come over us like millions of others around the world. We knew it had to be a terrorist attack. We knew who we thought was behind it. In our office the name Osama bin Laden was whispered before anyone on the rolling old television screen ever said it.
As we returned to the task at hand a live report from the Pentagon was interrupted by an explosion that we all now know was a third jetliner crashing into America’s center of might.
An email from my brother asked if we were watching what was going on. Another television news flash reported a hijacked plane was only 20 minutes from Washington D.C.
We watched the rolling reports in stunned disbelief. We returned to work.
I asked God to help the people in New York and to help our country.
Later in the afternoon a call came in warning of gas shortages and $4 per gallon fuel prices. I looked out the big picture windows of my office and saw cars circling the newest gas station like hungry vultures. Thousands of Americans were dead and tens of thousands of others were more concerned about the cost of a gallon of gas.
My Wednesday trip to the printing plant seemed extremely long. The radio stations no longer played our favorite tunes. Constant news coverage of the attack kept us up to date and an occasional patriotic song brought tears to the welling point in our eyes. The television stations continued to show the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the buildings later tumbling to the ground so far below.
On Thursday, as I drove to work, there were American flags attached to many trees and mailboxes along my route. Small flags flew from the radio antennas of cars on the road. A lump again began to rise up in my throat.
And now today my daughter tells me we are going to war. I feel certain that she is correct as I remember the way I felt last Tuesday when I put her on the bus that morning, and then I remember the way I felt last Tuesday after my friend called and told us to turn on the television. The feelings are quite different.
I know we are going to war and I know we will not be afraid.
That was 20 years ago. This week we observe the solemn anniversary of that terrible day. Twenty years later that war is just ending. Twenty years later we remember that day and we remember those we lost in the war in Afghanistan. Twenty years later we honor them all, and we know that they were not afraid.
Twenty years ago we were pushed into war and we were not afraid. Twenty years later we still aren’t!