Few moments in history are identified in everyday conversation solely by date.
The Fourth of July is one of the few. Most commemorated historic observances go by names like Veterans Day (which used to be called Armistice Day as it signified the end of World War I) and Pearl Harbor Day.
The day whose solemn anniversary we mark this weekend, however, is one of the few whose frightening and painful memory, and whose hard legacy, can be brought to the forefront of any conversation simply by mentioning a date: 9/11.
A decade after the terrorist attacks that killed thousands, leveled two of the tallest buildings on earth and left the nerve center of the U.S. Armed Forces in flames, it's easy to forget that, as that beautiful late summer morning wore on, the more frightening it became, especially for those of us in Harford County and other locations along the Eastern Seaboard.
New York had been attacked. The Pentagon just outside Washington D.C. had been attacked. Another plane had crashed a relatively short distance away in Pennsylvania. And there were other potential targets all around: the four pinch-point bridges across the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace, Conowingo Dam, Aberdeen Proving Ground, the public water system, the many nearby nuclear power plants. By midday Sept. 11, 2001, a lot of things that seemed stalwart the day before seemed terribly vulnerable.
The list would grow to include infrastructure and public buildings. Fears of attacks involving public buildings would prove well-justified. In the aftermath of 9/11's pain, the U.S. Postal Service became the conduit for an attack involving the deadly bio-weapon agent anthrax. Given the Edgewood Area of APG's long history in dealing with warfare's dark art of chemical and biological weapons, it again appeared Harford County could end up a player in a sad turn of events.
News would trickle in for weeks about people with local ties who had been killed or survived.
Then came the wars. Then came slain warriors from our hometowns. The names and stories of those linked to Harford County are recounted elsewhere on these pages. Their particular strains of American heritage are varied, but there is unity in at least one aspect of their legacies: family members and friends describe each one as being of fine character and exceptional ability.
Their stories remind us of what we had to lose by going to war: some of our best and brightest.
The wars linger and many from Harford County remain in harm's way 10 years after the attacks. This bitter reality belies another harsh truth: there is no easy solution. Failing to answer the initial attack would leave the nation vulnerable to more of the same; going to war against an enemy with no territory is a difficult — and, as it turns out, protracted proposition, even for our best and brightest.
Going back to the days immediately after the attack, spontaneous signs of hope could be seen at fairly unlikely locations: the overpasses that cross I-95 almost unnoticed.
There was no public call for it, nor was there a meaningful organization behind it, but within days, U.S. flags were flying from every overpass along the interstate, not to mention any number of other highways not only around here, but also across the country.
In retrospect, it seems to have been kind of an unusual response: going out onto the infrastructure that seemed so vulnerable and doing something sure to appear out of the ordinary. From another perspective, though, the spontaneous planting of flags along our roadways makes perfect sense. It was as if the roadways and other infrastructure that link our nation were being reclaimed for the American Republic, one flag and one overpass at a time.
In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, our nation has regained its balance, so much so that, even as our warriors fight overseas, we remain as politically divided and argumentative as at any time in our illustrious history of spirited political disagreement.
So long as we have the freedom for such disagreement, the republic remains sound and the efforts of those who attacked us remain unfulfilled.
Even as we disagree on many things, the kind of unity that resulted in flags being draped from overpasses across the country after 9/11 is a solid indication that our nation remains as strong as ever.
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