Remembrance of Wars Not Past

Each day 200 pieces of mail are still delivered to 10048 -- the phantom zip code once assigned to the World Trade Center in New York City.

Like the post office deliveries, which have dwindled from a high of 85,000 pieces a day in 2001, the grief that enveloped the American psyche after the 9/11 terror attacks has waned.

Now, six years later, the memorial service has been moved to a nearby park, final designs for the new towers are on display and some question why the ritual reading of victim's names should continue.

Time has even elapsed enough that public schools teach the events of that day as history.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released earlier this week revealed that 60 percent of all Americans feel safer today than they did at any point after 9/11.

But 2,191 days since the terrorist attacks, many – like those who have not updated their address books with a new zip code – are still psychologically anchored at Ground Zero.

"My friends worked on the flight, died on the flight and put the terrorists on the plane," said Trina Massa, who worked for United Airlines in Boston when Flight 175 was hijacked and careened into the South Tower.

Massa, now 32 and a special needs teacher, was finally able to visit Ground Zero last year. "Part of the growing process is healing and moving on," she said.

The War Drags On

Still, many say that the war in Iraq that made it impossible for a nation to heal. The number of troop casualties – 3,700, according to the latest government statistics – have now exceeded the near 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bomb plots in Europe, a deadly fire at the vacant Deutsche Bank building and a recent tape from Osama Bin Laden are haunting reminders that on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the world is still a dangerous place.

"Everything we are feeling is because the war is going on," said Michael Ragsdale, a Columbia University videographer and archivist who has chronicled the recovery effort since the day after the attacks.

Ragsdale's collection of ephemera -- 6,000 posters, flyers and brochures for religious and political events surrounding the tragedy -- fills 65 three-ring binders. Much of it has been displayed in city exhibits.

"The death and violence continues – first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq," said Ragsdale. "We're fatigued. Many people tell you in the aftermath they are so tired of seeing the death and violence. You can feel it in the struggle to rebuild Ground Zero."

The ABC News poll also revealed that 66 percent of all Americans fear there will be another terrorist attack.

'Matter of Time'

"It's only a matter of time," said small business owner Mark Kusich. 55, of Belmont, Calif. "The rest of our lives we'll be in the war on terror."

Kusich and his wife took an overnight flight to Zurich, Switzerland, on their honeymoon on Sept. 10, 2001. They landed to find police shouldering machine guns and wide-screen televisions airing the plane hitting the second tower.

"I think Americans have forgotten how bad that day was," he said. "It's as if someone you really love dies. After a period of time, time heals wounds that shouldn't be healed."

Gregg Lopez, 48, of Long Island, agrees. He worked 18-hour days for 11 months on the "pile" at Ground Zero – "on the bucket brigade with the body bags."

He has the scars to prove it – a lacerated stomach, sinusitis, hearing loss and chronic lung disease. Lopez said that Americans have forgotten the rescue workers.

"A month before September each year, we all start to hurt," he said. "We can send $4.5 billion to Africa, but we can't take care of our own."

Lopez understand why Americans are tired of war, but says, "it's better we fight them there than over here. Bush did the right thing, but it's time to bring the boys home."

But for others, cynicism over the war colors attitudes toward the annual remembrances at 9/11 memorials.

Dr. Jeff Harris, a retired anesthesiologist from Harvard, Mass., was critical of Bush's invocations of the terrorist attacks. "He used 9/11 to start the war, and he's going to use it keep it going."

Memorials and Monuments

In rural Bristol, Vt., where U.S. fighter jets could be heard patrolling the nearby border with Canada in the anxious days following 9/11, the initial fear has subsided, but residents like Louise Blake are still traumatized by the memory.

Blake, who works at a local bookstore, had spent the weekend hand-sewing a dress that she wore to work on that fateful Tuesday morning.

"I haven't been able to wear that dress since," said Blake. "It was so shocking. How can anyone move on after that? It's always in the back of our minds."

A majority of Americans -- 54 percent – think the U.S. campaign against terrorism is going well and only about half the public believes the government is doing all it can to prevent future attacks, according to the ABC News poll.

Like Blake, worry is higher among women. The poll revealed 74 percent of women feared future attacks, as opposed to 58 percent of men.

Born in England, she says her adopted country missed an opportunity when it went to war in Iraq.

"It was a pivotal time," she said. "We could have said to the Middle East countries, 'What is it that we're doing that is making you so angry? Why do you hate us? What can we do,' instead of invading Iraq.

The poll showed that Americans, by nearly 2-1, disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, 65 percent to 34 percent. His broader job approval rating is almost identical.

Louise Blake's husband Rich celebrated his 21st birthday in the Vietnamese jungle as an infantryman in the first air cavalry – the same unit that was portrayed in the dark anti-war film by Francis Ford Coppola, "Apocalypse Now."

Today, Blake plays bagpipes at weddings and funerals. Like many Americans, he finds parallels between the Iraq and Vietnam.

"The left wing is totally fed up and the right wing is impatient," he said. "Bush is treating Anbar Province like Robert Duvall's great success story in the movie," said Blake. "It's not victory any more than the smell of napalm in the morning."

Vermont's Burden

Even veterans from the first Gulf War are critical of current U.S. policy.

Vets like Barry Martel of Wilton, N.H., an avid hunter who has taught his children to kill and eat squirrel, supported President Bush when he ordered troops into Afghanistan and later into Iraq.

"We went in and got Saddam and did the job," said Martel. "But now we're only policemen."

The Vermont National Guard has paid one of the highest prices in Iraq. According to the Poynter Institute, the state leads the nation - "at somewhere between double and more than triple the rate of residents who die in Iraq" compared to larger, urban states.

Marianne Doe, a high school English teacher in Middlebury, Vt., knows many of the families who have lost sons in the war. Two or three of her students' parents left New York City after 9/11 to seek refuge in rural Vermont.

Now she has been touched personally. Her daughter's brother-in-law will leave for his tour of duty in Iraq in October.

"We think that if we wave our flags higher, we will heal as a nation," said Doe. "But it's the damn flag and dollar-bill waving" that has fueled the anti-American sentiment.

"We are luring these kids to war to restore dignity to our country after being attacked, but we don't address why we were attacked," she said.

In the minds of many Americans, the war in Iraq has been irrevocably linked to 9/11.

Grace Christ, a Columbia University social worker who has counseled the families of fallen fighters, agrees that 9/11 has been exploited by politicians.

The war and other tragedies like Hurricane Katrina make healing more complicated, she said. "Each one of these reverberates and reminds of the other," said Christ.

"Every disaster struggles with this after five years," she said. "How do we deal with the variation in how people want to honor it?"

Grief on a grand scale never follows the usual patterns of recovery, and individuals deal differently with the pain. Though most people are adaptive, according to Christ, others are "immobilized."

"Some want to get up and get on with it," said Christ. "They say, 'Aren't you over it yet?'"

Eventually grief subsides, but it "it never goes away," said Grace.

The national grief also wanes, like the misdirected mail that arrives at Ground Zero -- probably, according to the post office, because companies haven't updated their mailing lists.

Or perhaps, because Americans still cannot forget.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...