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A look at the soul of America

Posted: September 11, 2011 - 12:06am

On Sept. 10, 2001, my extended family was gathered around a beach fire to continue memorializing our father. After a Catholic mass and a military burial earlier in the day, we were quite a somber crowd. Eventually, my siblings and I lightened up and got talking about milestone moments in our lives … like Kennedy’s assassination. This led to my asking the younger generation huddled around the fire, “What’s your historical milestone? What globally historic event do you remember?” The answers ranged from my daughter remembering how we watched the demise of the Berlin Wall to the youngest nephew sheepishly answering, “Monica Lewinsky?” (groan).

The next morning, half the Troll families, headed out to airports and bus terminals. We were in upstate New York. The rest of us suddenly awoke to the news about a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. We turned the TV on just as the second plane hit the second tower... the image seared in all our hearts.

After everybody re-gathered back at the cottage, we settled in for the long haul it would take to return to Alaska. In the evenings we went through boxes of family photos; unleashing laughter and many, many stories. My son later remarked that he learned more about his family in those evenings than he had in his entire life. Through all the setbacks, we had discovered a silver lining to all the travel disruptions.

As we traveled on the first flight out of the State of New York, we caught a glimpse of how America was reacting. I remember hearing the cheers from different corners of the airport as flight crews began showing up. There was a fresh air of civility and patience among the throngs of people at each gate. People did not tolerate the one guy complaining to the agent about another delay. We all felt united in appreciation for our country and all that we have. From circulating conversations it seemed we were coming together as one nation... under attack.

Party politics didn’t matter anymore. President Bush was my president too. It was time to stand together to bring Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda to justice. Even the rest of the world was standing with us in our resolve to wage war against the terrorists residing in Afghanistan. This was truly an historic moment of unified resolve by freedom loving civilizations across the world.

I began to quietly wonder, could some good come from 9/11; particularly if the war in Afghanistan was short and effective. Then came our rush into war with Iraq, the country without terrorists. Not only did we squander the world’s goodwill by invading Iraq, we tore a country apart. Although there is a direct political link between 9/11 and the Iraq war and I can get all worked up about the ensuing harm and tragedy of invading Iraq under false pretentions, I prefer to draw a line at the memory of goodwill among the millions stranded at airports. I prefer to remember 9/11 in the context of having honored my father’s distinguished military career with a 21 gun salute. Instead of going down the slippery slope of musing over Iraq, it’s better to remember the heroes and the rescue workers whose stories of courage inspires us all, 10 years later.

Because we were all together at the lake, I associate strong family moments with the events of 9/11. My Dad’s passing and 9/11 are synonymous. They fuse in that moment of American pride, when we must and did come together as a country. For my daughter and son’s generation, they now have their Kennedy moment and more. For them 9/11 was the start of their first encounter with America’s soul, into what it means to be American.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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