Of war and remembrance

September 19, 2001

Every generation has its defining moment, a point in time when you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing and how your world forever changed. America experienced such a day Sept. 11 with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. One did not need a direct connection to the victims or their families to experience the profound impact this tragedy has had on the lives of every proud American and those the world over who support democracy and value their personal freedoms.

That fateful Tuesday began like most others in our home. Shortly after 7 a.m. we were enjoying the last moments of another night's sleep while Ben was stirring the house awake as he prepared his breakfast and turned on his computer to play a video game before school. Around 7:27, Roni's friend Carolyn called with urgent news: something big was happening in New York. Roni switched on CNN, and as the TV glowed to life and we wiped the sleep dust from our eyes we saw plumes of smoke pouring from the top of the World Trade Center. A missile had hit the skyscraper. No, a plane. No, two planes. And then the unthinkable. We watched agape as the towers pancaked like a house of cards to the crowded streets below. In an instant the gravity of the situation sank in. Thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- dead.

The news grew worse with every passing minute. Roni has family in New York and was calling her father and sisters to make sure everyone was OK. Glenn's grandparents were flying from New Jersey to Montana that morning and we prayed theirs was not one of the four hijacked planes the terrorists had used to carry out their heinous attacks. Thankfully, all those we love were safe. We sent Ben off to school and then tried our best to go about our routines on a day that was anything but. We wanted to tear ourselves away from the horrible images on TV that were being replayed again and again, but there was no escaping the grim news.

In Antioch, we stopped off to pick up a newsletter from a local print shop and saw the first signs of a nation preparing to go to war. A delivery driver was talking to the shop owner about the need for immediate retaliation. "This is America, they don't do that to us here," he said. One angry man's comment, but a sentiment that is shared by millions. On a separate visit to one of Roni's clients in Oakley, we learned that her clients' son in law worked on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center. He was on his way down the stairs when the tower collapsed and hasn't been heard from since.

Glenn had been looking forward to a shortened, uneventful work week prior to the start of a much needed vacation. But there would be no rest for those in the media. Glenn's newspaper put out a rare extra edition the day of the attacks and then followed with a grueling week of special sections reflecting the latest developments in a story that has so many angles they may never all be told. The mood in the newsroom, as in most of the nation, was somber.

After weeks of waiting and wrangling with the furniture store owner, we finally got our new living room set (albeit in black rather than the blue we wanted) in mid-August. Roni, Ben and Eevee test out the loveseat. Photo by Glenn.
Ben, meanwhile, tried to process the tragedy as only a 7-year-old can do. When he arrived at school on the morning of the 11th, all his classmates were talking about what they had seen or heard. Their teacher asked if they would like to write about their feelings in their daily journals, which of course they all did. Ben decided to write a letter to the President: "To George W. Bush. In Washington D.C. some robbers attacked the White house. I think you should get rid of them. Your firend Ben." Perhaps that is all the political awareness one should expect from a second grader, but the fact that simple sentiment coming from Ben and many children his age shows how deeply this has affected us all. And true enough, his desire to "get rid of" the perpetrators of terrorism has been the driving force behind the current actions of our president and Congress as we head toward a war the likes of which has not been experienced in this country in nearly three generations.

As that long, sad week drew to an end, thoughts turned to weekend activities and whether or how they should proceed. As national sporting events were canceled and vigil services were scheduled in their place, pressure mounted on communities across the nation to "do the right thing" and postpone scheduled activities to honor the dead. That pressure hit close to home for Roni, who was involved in putting the finishing touches on the 12th annual Oakley Almond Festival scheduled for Sept. 15-16. The Oakley Chamber of Commerce received phone calls both for and against postponing the festival. Many callers assumed the festival would be canceled and wanted to know if that was the case. The chamber board held two emergency meetings at which they voted to proceed with the show, reasoning that shutting down the event at such a late date would be helping the terrorists accomplish what they had set out to do and that the attack victims could still be remembered in a dignified way.

When Saturday morning arrived, we made our annual trek to the festival parade route not quite knowing what to expect. Would the mood be somber? Would anyone be there at all? Not only were people there, but they were in high spirits. Everywhere you looked you could see red, white and blue on flags, clothing, banners balloons and signs. If Oakley is at all representative of small towns across America, then patriotism is far from dead. It was a quiet, reflective weekend, made special by the company of good friends we have grown to know well over the past dozen years.

What the coming days and weeks hold is unclear. As we watch the stock market tumble, hear the body count rise in New York and watch our warships and planes head off for the Middle East, we know there are millions of other families waiting and watching anxiously as we are. Will we ever again wake up in an America of peace and freedom, or are we seeing the beginning of a neverending war against shadowy enemies and terrorist acts that continue to erode at the freedoms we all take for granted? This is our country's hour of need and we stand ready defend her however it must be done.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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