WASHINGTON - Because of the tragedy of 9/11, we as a nation have changed.
Our lives are no longer what they were. Ten years following the horrible events when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with an eye toward another Washington target until passengers aboard one flight manhandled it away from the terrorists, plunging it instead in a Pennsylvania meadow, we had to change.
Our security measures had to be heightened.
I write these thoughts on a hillside near the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department and home of the U.S. military forces.
In my view is the western side of the Pentagon, the side terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77. I have reported from this location for the last several days as the nation has observed the 10th anniversary of the vicious attack on America where thousands died in Washington, New York, and Shanksville, Pa.
I have interviewed people all over Washington on their feelings about 9/11 and about their views on what seems to me to be an increased sense of patriotism sweeping the country.
Ron Croucher of Chardon, Ohio, was vacationing with friends when I saw him leaving the nation's Museum of Natural History.
"I am an emotional man," he said unapologetically as I asked him to describe his love of America. I could not see his eyes because of the sunglasses he wore on a hot Washington afternoon. However, his voice cracked as he talked about the men and women who have given their lives defending the United States over the generations.
"They have made my life better," he said as his friends looked on. Behind us were other Americans who were walking the national mall between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. It was the day before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Officials had reported there was what they called "a credible but non-specific threat" they were investigating in Washington, New York, and elsewhere. Still, Americans were outside, living their lives, and enjoying their freedom. Freedom is precious and I am moved by those who understand that and speak to it.
We visited the Newseum, a privately-funded museum dedicated to the history of American journalism. At its 9/11 exhibit, there is the actual remnant of the radio transmission tower which was on the roof of one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.
"When the plane hit, there were six broadcast engineers up there manning their posts," said Susan Bennett, vice president of the Newseum. "They radioed, "Were still transmitting; we're still transmitting." Sadly, all six died when the building collapsed.
I thought about the bravery of those broadcast technicians who understood the gravity of the situation, but wanted to keep their signal going as long as they could. In many ways, each of us is transmitting our feelings to our neighbors. At times like these, we seem more prone to express our beliefs on the general goodness of the nation. I applaud that. However, the goodness of the nation is everyday.
I am thankful to live in a nation where I can express my views. We need only to look at many other nations where viewpoints not in concert with specific philosophies are not tolerated. That is what goes through my mind as I sit beneath a full moon within sight of the Pentagon. I can see American flags draped on many buildings in the distance as people in Washington are showing their support for the nation as we still grieve over the loss of lives September 11, 2001.
Ten years since then, we look back, remembering our wounds which are still sore to the touch. We think of those who died at the Pentagon, and at New York, and at Shanksville.
I think of the oldest victim in the attack on the Pentagon. He was a 77-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy who was aboard American Airlines flight 77.
I think of the youngest victim, a 3-year-old-girl on that airplane who was traveling with her parents. They were among the 184 who died either on the plane or inside the Pentagon.
As I look back at that time, I also celebrate our present and anticipate our future. I am among more than 300 million Americans. We are all celebrated in the documents which define us as a nation.
Although I may not have been included in the "we the people" when the Constitution was written, through a series of amendments to it over the generations, "we the people" has grown to include me -- and you.
As I grieve for the loss of life during this time of 9/11, I also celebrate the government. And the government is all of us. We are the nation -- We The People.
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