As the son of a WWII veteran, the date “December 7” was engraved into my psyche. As a little boy, I understood the treachery and toll of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
My family hung the flag from our porch, and in front of our grocery store, we slipped our flag into one of the sockets in the sidewalk that town had placed when they poured the cement. Businesses up and down Main Street did likewise — because Main Street businesses were owned and operated by veterans of WWII and the Korean War.
Growing up in southeast Minnesota, we remembered December 7 and what it meant to our nation. But that was nearly 50 years ago...
PEARL HARBOR: A FADING MEMORY?
By 1981, I moved away from my hometown. At the same time, the last few businesses along Main Street were serving fewer and fewer customers who drove into town to do their shopping. The hardware stores, pharmacies, confectionaries, shoe stores, and other small businesses that I had known as a kid began to close their doors forever.
My hometown was transitioning from being the center of an agricultural community into a commuter town. And with that change, a rather subtle complacency seemed to blanket it.
As new, younger families moving into the old Victorian homes once occupied by the WWII generation and their families, the direct connection to War began to fade. With the passing years, December 7 would come and go with fewer flags displayed along Main Street until the year there were none.
Despite the many slogans that urged Americans to “Never Forget” — it seemed as if the world had forgotten Pearl Harbor.
BUT WE DID NOT FORGET
On September 11, 2001, twenty years after I had left my hometown, 19 militants associated with the terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes. I was sitting at my desk working a job I had just accepted, editing Military Vehicles Magazine, when a co-worker came into our cubical farm, announcing, “A plane crashed into a building in New York!”
I quickly logged onto the internet to gather information. I could hear her telling co-workers about the “accident” when I discovered it was no accident. I started to talk over her, telling those around me, “It looks like it is intentional!”
People around me attempted to log on to the internet but to no avail. No one could get a connection. I kept refreshing my connection and was able to provide sparse updates. Our ad manager pushed a cart with a television (remember those?) into our area and turned it on. With very few of us with an internet connection, we focused our attention on the television coverage…just in time to witness a second plane smashing into the World Trade Center. We were mesmerized. The United States was under attack.
No work got done that day. As a small group, we clung to each other, watching the news develop as reports continued to come in describing a third plane crashing into the Pentagon, the collapse of the two towers, and ultimately, learning of a fourth plane that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside.
Some of my coworkers cried. Some were stunned into silence. Others asked me (because I was the company’s “military guy”) what it all meant.
But I didn’t have any answers. No one did. We were stunned. Shocked.
Our seemingly impenetrable safety had, in an instant, disappeared. Just like on December 7, 1941, a foreign entity had disintegrated our untouchable illusion. My coworkers and I, for the first time in many of our lives, felt vulnerable.
2 DAYS COMMEMORATE OUR NATIONAL RESOLVE
Of course, any of us who were alive on September 1, 2001, will remember that day for the rest of our lives — just as our parents, grandparents, and the rest of the WWII generation remembered where they were and what they were doing on December 7, 1941, when they learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
These heinous attacks, however, are bigger than us…the pain, the suffering, and the lessons transcend our lifetimes. So, on October 25, 2001 — less than two months after the attack — Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) along with 22 co-sponsors, introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to make September 11 a national day of mourning was introduced in the U.S. House on October 25, 2001, by Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) with 22 co-sponsors (11 Democrats and 11 Republicans)
The bill requested that the President designate September 11 of each year as Patriot Day. Joint Resolution 71 passed the House by a vote of 407–0, with 25 members not voting. On November 30, the bill passed the Senate unanimously
It wasn’t until the following year, on September 4, 2002, that President Bush used the authority of the resolution. He proclaimed that September 11, 2002, would be the first Patriot Day.
From 2009 to 2016, September 11 was known as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, President Donald Trump proclaimed September 8–10 as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance, and proclaimed that September 11 would be known simply as Patriot Day.
And just like December 7, perhaps as a symbolic gesture that our American spirit cannot be defeated, Patriot Day is not a federal holiday. Schools and businesses remain open, although memorial ceremonies for the 2,977 victims (this number excludes the 19 hijackers who also perished) are held. The flag of the United States is flown at half-mast at the White House and on all U.S. government buildings and establishments throughout the world. Additionally, a moment of silence is observed to correspond with the attacks, beginning at 8:46 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), the time the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
And, Americans are also encouraged to display flags in and outside their homes.
Last year, I was in my hometown on September 11. I drove down Main Street.
Although many businesses are closed — and our old store is now occupied by a food pantry — the flags were out, stuck into those little sockets in the sidewalk that the veterans of WWII made sure were there.
Though those men and women of my childhood are mostly gone, their spirit does continue — and we, as a community and as a nation, will never forget.
Preserve the memories,
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader
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