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One of the most emotional events of my adult life came on the day that the Twin Towers were attacked in New York City. September 11 had been a happy day in the lives of my husband Harrell and me because it was the birthday of our son. On that particular day, however, Harrell had suffered a stroke and was lying in the Spinal Cord Unit at the VA Hospital in Dallas, and I was sitting at his bedside. The overhead television was showing some early morning program. Suddenly the television showed a plane hitting the huge tower. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I looked around at the other patients in the spinal cord unit. They were all incapacitated to various degrees. Harrell had COPD and at the time could not speak. It was very quiet. I could feel the electric sparks of emotion. One patient was unable to move at all. His wife communicated with him by asking him to blink his eyes when she pointed to letters on an alphabet card.
Can you imagine how these veterans, all paralyzed to some degree, felt being unable to do anything; and then the second plane hit! I’m sure it brought back to many of them their traumatic moments when they were in battle and had suffered their disabling wounds. But I don’t remember their making any great outcry. Perhaps they were too stunned. One particular young man had to lie on his stomach on a gurney which he rolled around by himself. Thank goodness he still had strong arms.
These patients had survived their military service but were now unable to do anything but watch the television screen with unbelief.
There were hospital employees with relatives and friends in the vicinity of the twin towers in New York that morning. During that day many frantic phone calls went out from Dallas while families and friends struggled to locate one another.
Police, firefighters, and mayors of every town in the nation were empathizing with the first responders in the Big Apple that day and the many days following when Ground Zero became the focus of our attention along with the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania — the other terrorist targets.
Looking back on that special time of testing of our nation’s courage and ability to work together in extreme circumstances, we must feel thankful that we came through it. But just as those who suffered loss of loved ones in the Oklahoma City bombing and the earlier World Trade Center attack, there are those survivors of 9-11 who can see that they still have not received the financial help they needed and may even have been promised. Probably there are first responders who have suffered post traumatic stress syndrome. There is no getting around the fact that our world took a turn in 2001 which set us on a course on which we find ourselves today. It’s like Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” The direction we took that day has propelled us down a road which we had not foreseen.
Can you remember when we felt relatively safe getting into an airplane because it had been a while since a hijacker had misdirected a passenger plane to Cuba? Now, think back to the Cuban crisis when we had our freezers full of frozen water in milk cartons. In fact the entire time of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was marked with fears that a touch of a button could set off a nuclear holocaust.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King Jr. are emblazoned on the minds of all who lived through that era as well.
The racial riots and protests against the war in Vietnam kept us in a turmoil. And the so-called Korean Conflict, which everyone who participated in it called a war was the event which controlled the attitudes during my youth in the ‘50s.
On this years Day of Remembrance, it is good to recall that our country has traditionally functioned best when both political parties come together in a compromise. Railroading has never had a very good effect, no matter which side has used it. On Sept. 11, 2001, a spirit got loose in the U.S. of A. Let’s try to keep it ROLLING!
Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org