With bagpipes and bugles, flags and flowers, Columbia County residents marked the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks along with the rest of the nation.
From elementary school pageants to government ceremonies, citizens young and old joined this past week in observing the first Patriots Day.
As the echoes of Taps fade away, however, a question remains: What do we do next year?
Our nation already has patriotic holidays galore: Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day - even D-Day, V-E Day, V-J Day and Pearl Harbor Day, for that matter. Those observances, for the most part, grew from a military spark. Patriots Day, in contrast, sprang from attacks aimed at civilians.
Even so, the more painful memories of 9-11 involve not just the deaths of everyday citizens in the plane hijackings, but the hundreds of emergency workers who died while trying to save others.
They include 41-year-old Paul Tegtmeier, a Bronx firefighter whose sister lives in Martinez. Joanne Kennelly speaks of the comfort shes received from knowing there still are fellow citizens who care about the loss of her valiant brother.
That message seems to be the prevailing undercurrent of Patriots Day as firefighters came into the spotlight. Happily, Martinez Fire Chief Doug Cooper said the requests for firefighters participation in Wednesdays events kept the departments ranks stretched thin.
It is a normal human response to seek out heroes, especially in times of trouble. Firefighters and other emergency services workers have provided ready-made symbols of the kinds of selfless service to others on which Patriots Day seems destined to focus.
Its already common to hear people say 9-11 shouldnt become "just another holiday, and theyre right. It will never be federalized by marking it on a Monday; like Independence Day on July 4 and Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7, the date of Sept. 11 will forever ensure the commemoration falls on a different day of the week each year.
That also means the date will usually fall during the week, which brings us to this hope for the future of Patriots Day: The best observances, by far, combined school children with living heroes. Whether it was retired Air Force Maj. Derek Detjen raising the flag at Stevens Creek Elementary School, or firefighters like Mark Meier eating lunch at Evans Elementary, or Gold Cross EMTs mingling with kids at Columbia Middle, the meaning of Patriots Day hit home when our children met face to face with living examples of service and courage.
When next year comes, then, the pattern is already made: Patriots Day should become not a day of mourning, but instead a time to celebrate the living patriots who make our nation strong.
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