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Living our lives in honor of those who died on 911

Editor’s Note: Our Virginia Viewpoints columnist David Kerr was asked to make t he 911 presentation at the memorial in Aquia Harbour in Stafford. We are honored to be able to bring them to our readers this week.

I can’t deny that as I was preparing for this last night I was wondering to myself if I might have a little trouble getting through it all.  Ten years seems like a lot of time.  But it doesn’t feel that way.

Any High School history student will tell you that the bane of their existence is remembering dates.
You name it – The battle of Saratoga, the fall of Vicksburg, or the signing of the Versailles Treaty –

High School History Class is just one date after another.

But there are dates in our history that can’t be forgotten.  Not because of the event, at least not necessarily, but rather because these dates symbolize a dramatic change in the direction of our history and our people.

A good example, drawn from a long time ago, is the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbour.

This was the event that brought America into the Second World War.

The day began like any other day.  It was Sunday, there was church in the morning and a Redskins football game in the afternoon.

However, by day’s end, the world we had known, one that was relatively safe and familiar, was gone.  What replaced it was unfamiliar and dangerous.   Nothing about our country, the way we viewed the world, or how we lived our lives, would ever be quite the same again.

September 11, 2001, while certainly different in many ways from Pearl Harbor, was nonetheless one of those dates.  When the sun went down on Tuesday evening, ten years ago, nothing would ever seem quite the same as it had when the day started.

Everybody here has a story or a recollection of how the day began.  But almost everybody can tell you, that when that otherwise, bright, warm summer day was over, the world, “our world” had changed forever.

And like our parents and grandparents, 70 years ago, we had no idea of what would come next.
The past ten years have been hard.  The grieving for those heroes lost to enemy action ten years ago has never really stopped. And the battles against the terrorists, in lands thousands of miles away continue.
It sounds ominous and scary.  It is.
But the fact that we’re here, as a community, gathered in love, in the name God,  as neighbors, paying tribute to all those brave people, in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in that lonely field in Schwenksville Pennsylvania, as well as the thousands who have since been killed and wounded in fighting this enemy overseas, is proof enough that these evil doers didn’t change what’s fundamentally right about America or our resolve.

I have news for them.  They failed.  We brushed ourselves off, and got on with living.  It’s been hard.  But we did it.  The future they sought to put on hold, or worse, bring to a halt, kept moving on.

And if my words this afternoon leave you with any one thought, then that’s it.

The years since, have been tough ones.

Many of you know that I served on the county school board for six years.  It was a wonderful experience.

The recollection of all of those bright young people and all that energy still makes me, a middle aged man, with all the aches and pains, and high blood pressure that go with this part of life, feel remarkably young.

But by far, the most enjoyable part of every year was graduation.  We have five high schools, they’re all great, but I stayed close to home, and always went to Brooke Point.  It made me so happy to watch these fine young people as they received their degrees. It was almost as if they were my children and they were leaving the nest.

But as I look back, and I suspect, other school board members, teachers, and principles have reflected on this as well, I realize that in every class, there were students, in our military minded community that went to war.  Some even signed up the next day.  And I know that many of those fine young people have since been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, if it helps, what I will always remember, are those bright and smiling faces.  They are still alive in my mind and always will be. To me, they still inspire the future.

To anyone, who wants to offer any criticism of American youth, their commitment, their resolve, their kindness or their decency, well, they’re going to get one heck of an argument from me.

Many of you also know that I have something of a passion for British history and the United Kingdom.  I lived in the UK years ago and have visited it many times since.  I write about it whenever I can.  But there is one profound recollection of my travels that has always stuck with me.

During the First World War this relatively small nation sustained terrible casualties.  Particularly among its youth.  The numbers were daunting.  It could be argued that Britain never recovered from these losses.

Everywhere you go, even in 2011, “churches, (large and small),” “working men’s clubs,” “high schools,” “universities,” “libraries” and “town halls,” almost any place you can imagine, you’ll find, that even after nearly a century, there are the carefully cared for plaques with all the names of the killed and missing of that long ago war.
Reading them is haunting…

Nigel Robinson, 19, Edinburgh, died January 10, 1918, France,
Ian Rogers, 20, Perth, died February 12, 1916, Belgium
…and so on and so on.

If you visit the American Cemetery in Cambridge, England which honors our dead from the U.S. Air War on Germany, the list of names, of all those brave airmen seems endless.  It runs into the thousands.  They too gave their lives in a war against terror.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine, looking at the names, so carefully presented, that each one represents an individual.

They had moms and dads, sweethearts, wives, children, and I am sure in every case, hopes and dreams for the future.  But, now, all that seems left is that name on a list.  Hopefully, that’s not true in every case, but I suspect in many it is.

Today, as we honor the victims of 9/11, victims of the first enemy action in the war on terror, I worry about how they will be remembered.

This afternoon, those recollections, the people who were killed at the Pentagon, our neighbors and our friends, are fresh in our mind.  So is the pain – but what about the future?  What happens ten years from now or dare I say, forty years from now.

The answer is that I don’t know.

That is up to us.  They made their sacrifice, now it’s our turn to hold their memory dear for as long as we can.  To share their stories and to remind the next generation of who we lost ten years ago today.

Not all of this has to be somber.  Remembering people is easier than you think.  And once the pain dulls, and it will, it can even be enjoyable.  Though it will take time.  There are tales to tell, funny stories, embarrassing moments, and kind deeds. That’s what we need to preserve.

That way, their names won’t just be preserved in stone.  They will, through us, be preserved in our hearts.  A place, where I would like to think, it’s quite possible, they will live forever.  In a sense, these brave people, who we honor today, need to be as much a part of our future as they are of our past.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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