Five years and a couple of days ago, the reality of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks was just beginning to set in. As workers dug through the rubble of the World Trade Center, stories of local connections to the Twin Towers, to the Pentagon and Flight 93 were surfacing.
It took a few days for the country to wrap its collective mind around the enormity of the disaster. Five years later, our nation's biggest loss in the war on terror still casts a strong influence, even locally.
Consider these two examples:
• Before 9-11, motorists barely received more than a wave when they passed through the gates of Fort Gordon. Now, every driver without a post permit must show identification, and might even be searched upon entry. Conversely, the fort is now having to work harder to market its amenities to the non-military public.
• Before 9-11, emergency services grants were generally small, usually few and far between. Now, deficit-funded federal FEMA spending has all but opened the floodgates,purchasing such things as Columbia County's $449,000 Mobile Operations Center.
Some of the after-effects of 9-11 have been less lasting. Blood donations, overflowing after the disaster - with excess blood discarded - have tapered off; just 5 percent of the population still donates the nation's entire blood supply. Church attendance, which spiked after 9-11 as citizens sought comfort in a higher power, have leveled off or dwindled.
Sadly, too, our national unity after 9-11, manifested in public service and in patriotic fervor, has diminished, too. Columbia County's close ties to Fort Gordon continue to grow stronger, but much of the country is embracing a skeptical, if not cynical, view of our military response to the 9-11 attacks. It's even fostered the warped idea that true patriotism is defined not by unity, but by ever-sharpened criticism.
Monday's local ceremonies and services, while echoed across the country, provide examples that Columbia County citizens still understand that there's little patriotism in tearing down our country while we're at war.
Even more promising is that, in the more than 400 essays from local children explaining the need to remember 9-11, it's clear that the leaders of tomorrow understand, too.
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