Every generation has a certain date where everyone knows exactly where they were and what they were doing. For some, it was the sinking of RMS Lusitania. For others, it is the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. For my generation, it will always be September 11th, 2001. The image burned into my mind is not that of the towers falling or of the people running in terror.
Instead, the image that promptly comes to mind is one very much like the one above, that of the Appling County Courthouse. My family and I were on our way to vacation at Jekyll Island. Well, it was a vacation for Mom and I. Dad was going to a conference. That morning, heading south for one last week of fun in the sun before we said goodbye to summer, we heard the news on the radio. It was more than my sixteen year old brain could wrap itself around. We got he early reports about an hour form the house. As we drove, more and more radio stations abandoned normal programming and went to straight news feed. By the time we got to Baxley, it was obvious it wasn’t an accident. That’s where the veterans memorial in a rural south Georgia town comes into play.
It sits next to a red light. That red light stopped our progress towards the beach, or by our thinking at the time, cable news. Sitting at that light in our old, forest green Chevy Blazer, I looked to the right and saw those flags. There are five of them around the memorial. The two on the left were at full staff. The two on the right were at half-mast. The one in the middle was being lowered. The rest of the week has faded into a horrific blur. That is the moment that stands out.
It has been running through my mind all day. But, there rose good news from the smoke and the ashes of that horrid day. The United States came together and became unified in a way I had not seen before. We worked together. We moved forward. The American spirit is strong enough to survive a crisis. In fact, crisis purifies and strengthens that spirit and makes it even stronger than before.
As the smoke cleared away, Al-Qaeda was faced with a harsh reality. Like Admiral Yamamoto before them, they soon found that instead of bringing the United States to its knees, they had only succeeded in waking a sleeping giant. And that giant is still awake, and this country is still strong. The American spirit survives.