Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the worst day in our country’s collective recent memory.
As the calendar turns, our memories grow just a touch hazier and interest wanes. The usual suspects — NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN, History Channel etc.— played remembrance programs or live-streamed memorial ceremonies. By the end of the day, however, they returned to other stories: the presidential campaign, which athlete kneeled during the national anthem, etc. Unlike recent years, most newspapers probably choose to recognize the anniversary with a larger front page display than usual.
But despite the increased attention that the horrific attacks received on this noteworthy anniversary, we are concerned the nation’s awareness and remembrance of the day is on a downward track.
Fifty years ago, Americans were likely beginning to lose a connection to Pearl Harbor, despite the attack’s world-changing impact. Today, you would be lucky to find a teen who could tell you Pearl Harbor occurred on Dec. 7, 1941, and resulted in more than 2,400 American casualties.
At some point in the near future, we will most likely stop holding regular local 9/11 commemorations until the notable anniversaries, such as the 20th, 25th and 50th, arrive. Nonetheless, nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans lost their lives 15 years ago in one of the most senseless acts of violence this planet has ever seen. They included mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Scores of families will never be the same because of the actions of a few terrorists.
Unfortunately, the impact of the 9/11 attacks extends far past those killed in the crashes and collapses, as more than 1,000 Americans have developed cancer after working in the wreckage of the World Trade Center sites in the days and weeks after, searching for survivors mostly in vain. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report totaled 1,140 cases of cancer caused by toxins in the dust and debris.
The efforts of those who rushed into the burning buildings and dug through the disaster sites searching for life should be held with the same amount of esteem as those on the planes.
Last week, President Obama also signed an extension of the post-9/11 state of national emergency — declared by President Bush three days after the 2001 terrorist attacks — for another year. Now in its 16th consecutive year, the declaration, which gives the president broad powers over the organization of the military, is a reminder that the ramifications of 9/11 have continued far past Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, thousands of American soldiers remain in Iraq and Afghanistan today in low-key advisory roles with local armies. They are still at grave risk in these war zones.
While we certainly hold memories of that day — and those unforgettable images — close to our heart this week, we ask that community also show its support by flying American flags this week. In the aftermath of the attacks, we comforted strangers and sought to become better citizens in a world turned upside-down.
Our local fire departments do a terrific job reminding us of the sacrifices of that day. Kent Island, Grasonville and Church Hill volunteer fire departments all flew American flags for passing motorists to see this past Sunday — other fire companies held special remembrances as well. Locally, one of the biggest commemorations is held at The Jetty Dock Bar, organized by volunteer Justin Davis. There, firefighters, police, emergency medical responders and soldiers gather for the “Salute to Heroes” — and flags are prominently displayed.
Let the flags remind of us of the patriots we lost 15 years ago and those who continue to serve us today, but let them also remind us that we can continue to be patriots for each other.