TGIF: Some days of infamy we know, others we know about
For my grandson, 20 years ago is ancient history. For me, well, not exactly.
September 11, 2001, was as much a “day of infamy” to one generation as December 7, 1941, was to another. That’s how President Franklin Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the United States into World War II.
Such moments in history have become more poignant since I toured Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial in 2016. For a baby boomer like myself, World War II was indeed “ancient history,” but it became much more real after standing where it happened.
You could envision the Japanese aircraft flying low, dropping bombs and spitting bullets.
You could imagine how that peaceful Sunday morning was shattered by explosions, destruction, and chaos.
You could appreciate the heroism of military personnel and civilians who jumped into action trying to counter-attack or rescue the injured.
The short boat ride from the shore to the site where the Arizona went down gives sightseers the opportunity to reset their attitudes from enjoying a carefree vacation in Honolulu, to showing well-earned respect and awe.
Visitors are reminded that the memorial built over the USS Arizona is a graveyard, and our conduct should reflect that. The remains of more than 900 crewmen rest beneath the memorial where tourists now walk. Their names and hundreds more who died in the attack are listed on a large wall.
Oil from the hull of the Arizona continues to puddle on the water’s surface.
Inside the open-air memorial, a display features a photo of National Park Service divers who in recent years took the cremains of a survivor of the attack, and placed them in a hole in the sunken ship. “It’s a large hole and we place the urn through and then you can kind of feel it release,” a dive team member wrote. “I tell the family, when I feel that pull, it’s the ship accepting one of its own back.”
I haven’t been to New York City since the attacks that morning in September 2001, but I’ve been told that emotions also run high for visitors to “Ground Zero.” I’m not surprised.
Everyone old enough then to understand what was happening will never forget their personal timeline that day. Perhaps you were watching or listening to news when you found out. Perhaps you were busy doing something else and didn’t know until later.
I was working for a newspaper in South Texas and heard the news on the radio as I got ready for work. They said an airliner had crashed in New York City, so I turned on the television set — only to see the second jetliner slam into the other World Trade Center tower. Suddenly, it became apparent that neither crash was an accident.
I called the news staff already at the office, and they were busy planning coverage. The morning was consumed with decisions about that afternoon’s edition. Local angles were explored. Reports were posted on our website, a medium then still in its infancy.
In December 1941, Americans suddenly found themselves at war, although that may not have surprised Brown County residents. Construction of Camp Bowie had begun more than a year earlier, in September 1940. Work began only a few days after the War Department authorized the Army encampment here. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, Brownwood had become a bona fide military town, and the base continued to grow through the end of the war in 1945.
In 2001, however, the war this country initiated was a different type of response against a different type of enemy.
Within a few days, late night comedy shows returned to the air, even though subdued. Prime-time television schedules and daytime soap operas resumed. Airlines started flying flights again, but enhanced security measures were established at airports. That included a heavy presence of armed officers. This may have assured some, but for me it was a reminder that we feared something horrible could still be coming. Life as we knew it had changed drastically.
Pivotal moments are scattered throughout American history, and it seems the negative ones are what we remember most. The dates in 1945 when Germany, and later Japan, surrendered to end World War II are not as memorable, but we still remember December 7. And we still remember September 11.
Fortunately, tragic dates like these don’t happen often. We’re naïve if we believe it can’t happen again. But we can pray — and also work to ensure — that nothing like those days will happen again.
We remember, and we pray.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.