On heroes and heretics

I remember the first time I saw the World Trade Center up close and personal. I stood on the sidewalk below, leaning back on my heels and craning my neck as far as it would go to get a glimpse of their full glory. And against a backdrop of winter blue sky, they were nothing short of glorious.

But that isn’t the image that comes first to mind when I think of those buildings today. No, the image that will no doubt forever be burned into my brain is that of those mighty twin towers crumbling, swallowed up by a massive plume of smoke and flame.

Eight years later, I still find it difficult to think about the nearly 3,000 who died and the more than 6,000 wounded that day between the attacks on the WTC and on the Pentagon. It’s just too horrific. And too unbelievable that something like this could happen, did happen, on American soil.

The thought of it leaves me as empty as the footprints of those great buildings, with a fierce tightening at the back of my throat and tears welling in my eyes.

It wasn’t just the physical damage that was wrought or even the many lives that were lost, that shook our country to the core. For when those towers fell, with them went the sense of security, the feeling of invincibility, we had as a nation.

I know that I will never forget that day, when a handful of terrorists changed our world so drastically. But in my opinion, they did not gain a victory over our country with their heinous act. Their victory will only come if we forget.

For a short time after that fateful day, it seemed as though our country had pulled together. We were united against a common threat, patriotism was renewed and we stood together as a nation, denying terrorism any further foothold on our shores. Instead, our service men and women answered the call to duty and brought the fight to them.

But over time, we’ve become complacent once more. Everyone, including the critics, have the “privilege” of feeling secure. From their positions of safety, they feel free to lodge their complaints and promote discord.

For me, though, the politics which drives our actions as a nation, and the men and women who fight for our continued freedom are two very separate things. It does not behoove us to abandon or condemn those who have had the courage to do what the rest of us have not and who continue to sacrifice for our freedom every hour of every day.

Some of those whom I hold nearest and dearest to my heart are among those who have served our nation in combat. They have fought both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Their comment, when I have asked why they have gone willingly again and again into this fight, is that they would rather fight over there, than over here. They feel it is their duty to defend this country, a duty which they have sworn to fulfill.

One of those brave men scoffed at a commentary which expressed an opinion to the contrary. “This,” he told me, “was written by someone who has the privilege of having others fight for his freedom.” He levied a few other sharp comments, as well, but concluded his remarks by adding that even though the author obviously didn’t have the cajones to fight, he and his fellow soldiers would continue their efforts to ensure his liberty.

For those that perished that day eight years ago, and all our servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice since to make sure that this tragic day in our nation’s history is not repeated, may we never forget.

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