Ground Zero: a sacred site |

Ground Zero: a sacred site

The summer of 2001, our family took a trip to New York City on an uncommonly crystal-clear, azure-blue-sky day. We took our best photos from the rear of an Ellis Island ferry with the famous Manhattan skyline profiled in the background – the Twin Towers standing tall.

Little did we know the pictures would become eerie three months later. We could hardly look at them.

Little did America know terrorists could achieve such destruction on U.S. soil that Sept. 11.

This past summer, our family returned to the city, and on a particularly dark, rainy night, we headed for Ground Zero. It took some discussion on whether we really wanted to view the gaping hole in the ground. In the end, the decision was to visit a place that will be forever memorialized in history, just as are Pearl Harbor and the Gettysburg and Antietam Civil War battlefields.

Ground Zero is sacred ground.

For me, the visit brought the calamitous World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks into full focus, putting a final sense of reality to the many pictures we all saw. In this televised age, where we see tremendous destruction and death masquerading as entertainment, it was hard to believe the Sept. 11 events were occurring before our eyes.

Who can forget seeing the second plane hit the second tower? It was surreal. It was like the nightmare where we beg ourselves to awaken and end a personal tragedy, like falling off a cliff. We always wake up and life is good again.

On Sept. 11, we couldn’t will away the nightmare. We never will. Ground Zero is a killing ground in a different kind of war. In this battle, unwitting civilians – from many nations, by the way – were the fallen soldiers.

A look into Ground Zero today, and forever more, will be like standing over the sunken hull of the battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Oil still leaks from the clearly visible hull, which entombs sailors forever more. For the uninitiated, the emotion floating over the hull is stunning.

It also will be like looking down from the top of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pa., thinking how in 1863 the 20th Maine, out of ammunition and at half strength at best, charged the Confederates. There was nothing else left to do. They saved the Union. The 140th anniversary of Gettysburg is July 2-4.

Sept. 16-17 is the 140th anniversary of the worst loss of life in U.S. military history, the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Md. On Sept. 17, 1862, alone, 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or counted as missing.

Ground Zero invokes the same sense of loss – and resolve to win the greater war for a peaceful, civilized world – as do these other sacred sites.

I know it. I was there.

Sept. 11 has spawned a newfound sense of patriotism and love of the flag in our country. In a number of stories in today’s editions, Summit Countians explain how this spiritual transformation is driving them to live better lives, to understand the world around them better, to create a stronger community.

How comforting it is to see patriotism recaptured from political exploitation and liberated from the domain of fringe groups. Some remark in today’s paper how patriotism had become passe, unimportant in today’s society. Yes, the ever-present disease of apathy can be blamed, but I submit that many were disturbed at how patriotism was corrupted, something to be worn like a tattoo.

It’s OK to be patriotic again. That doesn’t mean slapping one more stars-and-stripes bumper sticker on the SUV or cheering extra loud because the U.S. Open finalists were all Americans.

It means following the pathways described today by our local citizens. The best way to support our armed forces and our country is to build a better world where we live.

Jim Pokrandt is editor of the Summit Daily News.

He can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 227 or e-mailed at

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