Friday, September 11, 2009


It is hard to believe that this is the sixth year in a row that I am writing about 9/11 on my blog.

In fact I just went through the archives of my original blog (the blog I updated religiously before I was a mommy) to look at the posts written on 9/11/2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

And honestly, I don't really feel like rehashing anything I have already said time and time again.

And I don't want to get soap-boxy or preachy.

And I don't want to make this all about me, because even though this is MY blog, and even though 9/11 touched each and every one of us in our own unique way, 9/11 didn't destroy my immediate existence quite in the same way that it tore too many other families to shreds.

I've told MY story a thousand times, about being on day two of my honeymoon and not knowing that anything had happened until a full six hours after everything was over and done with. By the time I first heard the news, it was already history. I am not going to retell what I experienced that day. Instead, I can recount something that happened a few days later.

The image that has been coming back to me today, over and over, is that of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. When we booked our honeymoon trip to Hawaii, there was no doubt that we wanted to spend the first five days doing as little as possible. I wanted to (needed to) come down from the 21-plus-months of wedding planning and thought that Kauai would be the perfect setting for that.

We couldn't decide which island we wanted to visit next, and though we had been told that Oahu really shouldn't have been our selection, I kept going back to it, saying that it was important to me to visit Pearl Harbor. For some reason that I couldn't really explain at the time, I felt that I just HAD to see it. And though the travel agent tried to convince us that five days in Honolulu was much more than we needed (she was right!) we selected Oahu so that I could go to visit the Arizona.

Our second full day in Kauai was 9/11/01. We were scheduled to fly to Oahu on Friday 9/14, but we had no idea if the airports would reopen by then. We didn't know if we would be "stuck" in Kauai indefinitely. We were informed early on Friday morning that air travel across the United States would resume that day, and that we should get to the airport four hours before our flight. We did, and it took the full four hours for us to get through security to take our twenty minute flight to Oahu.

Saturday, 9/15: We drove to Pearl Harbor, and learned not surprisingly that the memorial was closed due to the attacks earlier in the week. We returned Sunday, 9/16: closed. Monday, 9/17: still closed. Any idea if or when it would reopen? Unfortunately, no.

I was disappointed. Basically the only reason we came to this island was because I had insisted on seeing this, and chances were pretty good that we would not get that opportunity. Tuesday would be our last chance.

Tuesday, 9/18, exactly one week after the largest terrorist attack had occurred on our nations' soil, we arrived at the guard shack of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to find that they were reopening that morning for tourists.

What I remember from that morning was the near silence on the boat across the water to the sunken wreckage. We were just two other tourists among many others from the mainland, from Japan, from almost anywhere. But, unlike any other typical group of tourists, we were silent. There was little conversation. There were few smiles, and no laughter whatsoever. There were somber faces. There were tears. There were blank faces and sad gazes skyward. There was a heaviness that blanketed the vessel, and followed us onto the viewing platform above the sunken ship.

I remember my eyes welling up with tears as I saw the oil bubbling to the surface of the water, oil that has been surfacing from the damaged ship every few minutes for over sixty years. I remember the strangeness of being on the site of what had been, only seven days earlier, the exact location of the biggest terrorist attack our country had ever encountered. Not anymore, I remember thinking. I was at a historical place, but knew in my heart that I would need to visit the new memorial much closer to home and pay my respects there, soon. (I visited Ground Zero in New York City only five months later, amidst an astonishing amount of debris, destruction and ash that I could hardly believe was still there).

The image that my brain kept replaying for me today was that of the employee at the Arizona whose job it was to raise the American Flag over the monument. There is a flagpole at the memorial, and back on the island they have a gift store that sells American Flags that have been raised over the Arizona. This employee had a stack of American Flags, and one at a time he would affix a flag to the post, raise it, let it wave for a moment or two, and then lower and remove. On the one hand, I could hardly believe that this was an actual JOB that someone did; on the other hand, I thought it was kind of cool, almost reverent in a proud-to-be-an-American kind of way. I stood for a few moments watching him raise flag after flag, until it hit me that what he was doing on THIS day was different than usual.

Each flag was being raised, but only to half-staff.

I immediately went from being impressed to the point of amused, to deeply DEEPLY saddened. I cried, once again being painfully reminded of the thousands who lost their lives on September 11th. Reminded at the same time of the thousands who lost their lives on December 7th, the thousands who were entombed only a few feet below the structure on which I had been standing. The juxtaposition of both past and present terrorist attacks was a bit overwhelming, and to this day I have a hard time thinking about 9/11 without being taken back immediately to Pearl Harbor, without seeing our nation's flag waving proudly, but briefly, at half staff.

I guess that is appropriate, right? In a way, it is how I have learned to never forget. Never forget the victims of eight years ago; never forget the victims of sixty-eight years ago; never forget the horrible events in our history that have shown both the very worst and the very best of humankind.

Never, ever forget our flag, and what it stands for. Never forget the freedom that our flag promises to all of us, and the value of that freedom. Thousands before us have died to preserve that freedom, and thousands more continue today to give their lives to that end.

Today, this is what I remember. I promise to always remember. I promise to never, ever forget.