Things we’ll remember, things we won’t
SUMMIT COUNTY – The people trapped in the burning building looked to the sky and trembled at the sight of the jet quickly closing in. It was a Sept. 11 they would never forget – if they lived to remember it.
Any American who read the previous two sentences might naturally assume, on this, the second anniversary of the most violent single attack on United States soil, that they refer to events two years ago. Those sentences could refer to Sept. 11, 2001, three hijacked commercial airlines, a crash in a Pennsylvania field, the Pentagon in flames and a nation watching in shock as two symbolic New York towers collapsed.
They could just as accurately reflect Sept. 11, 1973. Twenty-eight years before there was a War on Terror, the terror was in Chile. After years of CIA-induced fomenting dissent, Chile’s military forces rose up in a coup over President Salvador Allende. Tanks and infantry chased Allende and his supporters to the presidential palace, where jets bombed the first democratically elected Marxist leader in Latin America. Allende shot himself with an assault rifle given to him by Fidel Castro as troops stormed the palace. With the cooperation of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s administration, Allende was succeeded by the brutal dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years.
The events of 2001 will likely overshadow other Sept. 11 events throughout history, even more so as time passes. Twenty years from now, who will remember the other anniversaries? There are many:
n In 1789, Alexander Hamilton was named the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury – on Sept. 11.
n In 1814, two years after declaring war on Britain, the United States handily defeated a British squadron on Lake Champlain, and the British abandoned the battle of Plattsburgh, retreating to Canada. The Sept. 11 battle led to the Treaty of Ghent and America’s victory in the War of 1812.
n At the Castle Garden Theater in New York City, Americans went wild for “the Swedish nightingale,” Jenny Lind, a famous soprano singer. Sept. 11, 1850, marked the first of a 93-stop American tour and what historians would call “Jenny Lind Fever.”
n Sept. 11, 1936: In a key moment in the history of the American West, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Boulder Dam, now known as the Hoover Dam, in Nevada.
n John, Paul and George recorded “Love Me Do” on Sept. 11, 1962. Ringo played tambourine, while Andy White played drums for the Beatles.
n Sports fans will recall it took seven hours and four minutes – 25 innings – for the St. Louis Cardinals to beat the New York Mets, 4-3, in the longest National League night game and the second-longest game ever in baseball: Sept. 11, 1974.
n Sept. 11, 1977, shoe-banging, barred-from-Disneyland Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev died, marking a turning point in the Cold War.
If you learned any of this in history class, there’s a reason you don’t remember it now.
“It’s all relative,” said Drew Atkins, a Summit High School history teacher. “Dec. 11, Jan. 11 – every day can have significance. It’s what matters in your life. And for people alive now, Sept. 11, 2001, was a catastrophic event, like nothing else since Pearl Harbor.
“It’s a good question: Aren’t these other events important?” Atkins asked. “But when somebody smacks you in the face, says something mean to you, you remember it. For a long time.”
Atkins, a young teacher, isn’t sure how long he’ll teach high school. But, he said, he can’t envision a time in the future when he and his students don’t pause on Sept. 11 for reflection. Teachers will conduct varying lessons today, Atkins said, tying in themes from the terrorist attacks and surrounding issues into their class curriculum. In his class, he said, that means extending lessons on Constitutional amendments and how legislation such as the Patriot Act affects Americans’ rights.
There is a historical phenomenon, Atkins noted, that has happened at least once a generation in recent times: Something happens, something big that touches many lives, something that stays with people. And even though they can’t remember exactly what year it happened, or what the exact date was, they remember perfectly where they were and what they were doing.
For 30-year-olds, Atkins said, that moment is probably the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle (Jan. 28, 1986, for the record, and also the 211th anniversary of the death of Russian Czar Peter the Great). For their parents, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963 – 27 years before Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, would resign).
“The kids in my classes, they weren’t in New York, they weren’t there, and they’re going to remember it,” Atkins said. “It’s ingrained in them because they saw it on TV. The one thing all these moments have in common is the media. Media plays a huge role in history now.”
And imagine if Sept. 11 happened to be your birthday. The staff at Summit Medical Center report that no babies were born there on that fateful day in 2001. Two were born the day before and one on the day after, though. On the first anniversary of Sept. 11, two babies were born.
Those children join a host of famous Sept. 11 birthdays: writers O. Henry and D.H. Lawrence; former Louisiana governor and writer of “You Are My Sunshine,” Jimmie Davis; football coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Tom Landry; the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart and crooner Harry Connick, Jr.
Breckenridge resident Doug Vaivada turns 42 today.
Two years ago, Vaivada and some friends traveled to Denver to watch the Broncos play a Monday night football game. They woke the next morning, Vaivada’s birthday, and turned on the TV to find mayhem, fire and smoke.
“We thought it was a movie,” Vaivada said.
Vaivada and his friends returned to Summit County that afternoon. Vaivada said the full reality of what had happened – and how his birthday would forever be changed – hit him when he went out to the bars in Breckenridge to celebrate. No one was drinking, he said. Everyone was watching TV.
Today, a few friends will come over with cake and presents, Vaivada said. He has trouble envisioning a birthday in the future that he won’t recall the 2001 anniversary. He has trouble imagining anyone missing the connection when he tells them the date of his birthday. But that’s OK, he said.
“It will be hard not to think about it, but that’s not necessarily bad,” Vaivada said. “We’ve got to remember the victims. We’ve got to remember them all.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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