There are dates we remember. Most of them are for happy things, like wedding anniversaries or birthdays. Other dates stick in our memories because of the extraordinary events that occurred on them.
Americans of the World War II generation can tell you exactly where they were when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. FDR was correct — Dec. 7, 1941, was indeed a date that has lived “in infamy.”
Not every Baby Boomer can immediately recall the date it happened (Nov. 22, 1963), but most can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. And I’d say the same is true for all Americans who — 10 years ago today — watched the dreadful images of the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center.
I was in Elizabethton on that sunny Tuesday morning interviewing patrons at the seniors’ center there. Most of the regulars where in the common area watching TV. They were both horrified and baffled at what they were witnessing. Several told me they felt the same grief and anger they had experienced on Dec. 7, 1941. Then, most had learned of the Japanese attack hours later by radio. On Sept. 11, 2001, they watched on TV in real time as the World Trade Center burned and crumbled.
“It’s like a bad dream,” I recall one elderly woman telling me.
The entire nation was immediately impacted by the attacks. All commercial aviation was grounded. I looked up on the morning after 9/11 and — for the first time in my life — I did not see a single jet vapor trail crossing the skies.
We now know 9/11 has forever changed security at airports. Airlines and government officials have decided it’s better to err on the side of draconian caution, regardless of the inconvenience their actions might cause passengers.
In the weeks after 9/11, Americans prepared for another terrorist strike. They stocked up on canned food, bought batteries and canceled trips overseas. Sept. 29, 2001, found me in Mountain City where I interviewed the owner of a military surplus store in the downtown area. He told me he could not keep surplus gas masks from the American and Israeli armies in stock. He had sold more than 500 in the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
A few months later, we struck back hard in Afghanistan by hitting al-Qaida and the Taliban government that had aided and abetted its terrorist ways. I remember interviewing one local resident who told me: “We ought to bomb those people back to the Stone Age.”
He didn’t realize the Stone Age was not that far removed from what Afghanistan looked like before the war. I don’t think most Americans understood that aside from combatants holed up inside deep caves, there really wasn’t a lot to drop bombs on in Afghanistan. Congressman Phil Roe, who has visited the country, said the United States military had to build what passes today as Afghanistan’s only international airport.
That’s not to say Afghanistan has been a cakewalk for American military operations. We’ve suffered far too many casualties and a native of Carter County was among one of the first.
Donnie Davis of Watauga was a member of an Army special services unit charged with protecting Hamid Karzai (who was being groomed to be the George Washington of Afghanistan) in the opening months of the war. Davis, known by his colleagues as J.D., and two other solders were killed on Dec. 5, 2001, when a bomb was dropped too close to American forces. Karzai was slightly wounded in the blast, but would later be elected president of Afghanistan.
Davis and his colleagues sacrificed themselves for Karzai, who — at times — has seemed a bit erratic. His eccentricity and duplicity continues to frustrate American leaders.
I reported on Davis’ death when I was this paper’s bureau chief in Elizabethton and I was there when family, friends and colleagues laid him to rest in the Happy Valley Memorial Park. He was eulogized as a man who never passed up an opportunity to help those he cared for.
“When we, his country, asked him to do this last favor, he left his family and home and went,” said David Beireis, a friend and former colleague. “Now, he’s home again, and he lives in our hearts.”
Since 9/11, this country has asked the men and women of the military to make sacrifices. Some of them, like Davis, made the ultimate sacrifice. I think this country should do the service people in Afghanistan a giant favor by getting them home now. This nation should not have to observe another 9/11 anniversary with fighting troops in Afghanistan.