After 9/11, the American spirit charges on and takes new paths 

click to enlarge Sacrifice: Following the 9/11 attacks, many young adults joined the service and headed to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight terror. (AP file photo) - SACRIFICE: FOLLOWING THE 9/11 ATTACKS, MANY YOUNG ADULTS JOINED THE SERVICE AND HEADED TO IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN TO FIGHT TERROR. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Sacrifice: Following the 9/11 attacks, many young adults joined the service and headed to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight terror. (AP file photo)
  • Sacrifice: Following the 9/11 attacks, many young adults joined the service and headed to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight terror. (AP file photo)

The significance of Sept. 11 cannot be accurately measured. The events of that day 10 years ago impacted us in so many ways, through so many thousands of lives — lost and saved — that its meaning defies explanation.

Yet as much as 9/11 changed us, the decade since has revealed us. If we can take anything from that day, it’s that our country is resilient, resurgent and, in a way, rejuvenated.

Americans won’t take things for granted anymore, not our security, not our dominance, not our place on the globe. If we felt a nation apart not long ago, we are now linked to the rest of a world marred by the constant threat of violence. And as much as we may hate war, in some strange ways it has united us.

We will never forget the attacks on U.S. soil, but we will also remember the response — an outpouring of compassion and generosity and spirit that could only be described as somehow uniquely American. People gave their time and money for a thousand projects. Men and women signed up for the Peace Corps and the Marine Corps. Voters steered both right and left, trying to figure out which was the correct path.

We never stopped spending. We never stopped borrowing. We placed faith in our corporate structure and it failed us. And still we press on.

The fight never stops. It took the U.S. 9½ years to chase down and kill Osama bin Laden, the fanatic behind 9/11, and for a brief time, the country could celebrate. But the rejoicing gave way to reality: People are more concerned with jobs and money, soaring deficits and runaway health care costs. They want their leaders to fix the problems, but keep electing those that cannot.

They want quick responses to long-building issues but refuse to budge beyond their own political beliefs. They have more faith in technology than government. Yet they somehow still believe in this thing called America, a place they think is still infused with the traits they saw that fateful day; courage, hope and unflinching resolve.

We believe because there are people we love who remind us we should. My niece, Gloria, recently joined the Marines as an intelligence specialist. Will she go to Afghanistan or Iraq? Maybe, probably. She could have gone to college, taken an easier way. But she believes in her mission. She believes in sacrifice. And that’s good enough for me.

The son of my old friend and colleague Steve Wright seemed like one of the most unlikely kids to ever become a soldier. His mother, Lori, is a Lutheran minister. Steve, for years a top editor at the San Jose Mercury News, would be, in these parts, considered something of a hippie. A peace flag flies in front of their home in Dublin.

Yet something stirred inside young Dylan Wright that day, when he was just in middle school. A few years later he visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, and it moved him to tears. He told his parents that he was going to become a soldier — he felt compelled to become a protector.

“We felt very conflicted initially,” Steve told me. “But he considers it the ultimate sacrifice. And we were just proud that if somebody was going to join the military, it would be someone with complete and clear conviction.”

Dylan was part of the 2007 surge in Iraq, the bloodiest time of the war. He spent 15 months there in combat and returned in 2009 as a tank driver.

He’s been promoted to staff sergeant and will soon be transferred to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, more than likely for another tour in a war zone. His goal is to attend the Army Ranger school.

I think about Dylan and Gloria and those brave passengers aboard Flight 93 whenever I think about 9/11, and how one horrible act transformed average citizens into a new generation of heroes. I think about the firefighters, police officers, soldiers and rescue workers who reveal courage each day in uncommon acts.

You don’t have to be at ground zero or in Basra to understand sacrifice, or that, 10 years later, the word ordinary no longer applies.

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Ken Garcia

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