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Remembering both pain and heroism on key anniversary
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Depending on your age, there are milestone events that are forever etched in your mind. You know exactly where you were when John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King was killed. Maybe it was the day Elvis died.

It was 14 years ago when a group of terrorists launched an attack on our nation. The numbers 9-1-1 used to only be associated with an emergency call. Now, they remind some of us of a day that changed America forever.

I remember interviewing a man who recalled having a Sunday lunch with his future in-laws. Someone called their home and suggested they turn on the radio. An afternoon in early December 1941 was interrupted with the news of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

At the time, few Americans knew much about the Hawaiian Islands. The same was true 60 years later when we learned more about the lower portion of another island, Manhattan, and a place that would become known as Ground Zero.

I can remember hearing stories of the doughboys who served in the U.S. Army in World War I. Now they are gone and only those recollections that were recorded in earlier years exist.

Fewer than a million of the 16 million who served in World War II are still alive.

While we still observe Veterans Day, it now lacks the passion and pride so evident just a few years ago.

But think about this: Today’s high school seniors were just 3 years old when the attacks happened on 9/11. We are at or near the time when students will only know what took place on that day as history.

Our only local victim, Edna Stephens, was living in Washington and worked at The Pentagon. Returning to Gainesville was a retirement dream she never realized.

Somehow, we must not forget 9/11 and the days of uncertainty that followed.

I had been working for a company that was in financial difficulty and was laid off that Sept. 7. I remember watching in horror as my country was attacked.

A few days later, my church paid my way to New York, where I volunteered for the next few weeks. I will never forget the smoldering ruins of the buildings and constant cloud of smoke that hung over lower Manhattan. I will never forget the faces of people who had lost a loved one when the towers pancaked to the ground.

You saw them, too, in the TV coverage. Please remember them in a few years when your first grader is studying 9/11 in history class.

We must also remember those who served our country, including those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Remember the service of your granddad or any family member who wore our nation’s uniform in wartime.

In a few years, the few remaining World War II veterans will be gone. A decade later, our Korean War veterans will be gone and a decade after that, the same fate will take place in the lives of Vietnam era vets.

The willingness to serve and the dedication to our country is what made us great.

Tell your children and grandchildren about what has made this country the greatest on earth.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.

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