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When I awoke a few days after Sept. 11 to the sound of a jet taking off from the Juneau Airport, it was as if everything was the way it should be. Later at work, when I saw and heard my first floatplane and helicopter in over a week of silence, it validated what I had felt earlier. I had long ago associated the sound of helicopters and planes with freedom.
The relentless "chop" of the helicopter in Nam meant several things. Personnel were on the way to their assigned duty stations. Maybe they were returning from an ops mission. Cargo - from military hardware to food supplies to toiletries - was being delivered somewhere. Whatever the scenario, the sound and flight of these aircraft indicated to me that people and commerce were moving.
I, too, had grown complacent over the years. But I think it's natural to take certain things for granted. The defense of our nation is one of those subject matters that most people leave up to our government to ensure it is carried out. Did we feel betrayed by the events of 9/11? Did we place too much trust in our own government to keep us safe? Maybe.
More importantly for me though the question is: How and what can I do to guarantee freedom? I certainly don't have all the answers. Each and every one of us will have to find our own way. The tragic events of Sept. 11 have led me to a catharsis that only seems to surface when my emotions are pushed by extreme happiness, fear or acute sorrow.
For me, it's just under the surface. I'll start tearing up or even crying - for seemingly no reason at all. But then I remember losing a childhood friend in Vietnam, or thinking of my dad wading in a cold, wet and bloody atoll called Tarawa in the Pacific or my mom staying up with me all night to break a 106-degree fever or my memories of all the great times with my brothers and sisters or finding the love of my life and our wedding a couple of years ago or my son running up to me in the airport shouting daddy-daddy or witnessing my daughter giving birth. I'll remember all of the lives lost on Sept. 11 and all of their loved ones. Each one of these memories is unique and invokes thoughts that feel like they've gone through a blender at times.
To answer the question: How and what can I do to guarantee freedom?
I'll continue to honor and validate who I am at this moment in time. I'll continue to strive to be a loving and devoted husband. I'll continue to make every effort to be a parent that loves unconditionally. I'll continue to lend a helping hand to relatives, friends and neighbors alike. I'll continue to respect all of our men and women in uniform. I'll continue to live my life to the fullest.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, life will never be the same. Thank God!