A vivid reminder of 9/11 is also a call to action

Today, all over America, will be a remembrance of the day 10 years ago that changed the world.

We will have our own special remembrance too.

The whole world was stunned 10 years ago at the news so shocking it would be almost unbelievable if it weren't playing out on TV screens around the globe.

In an editorial in a rare extra edition published by the Tri-City Herald, we called the attack "monstrous in its magnitude."

At that writing, on Sept. 11, 2001, we did not yet know where the people behind the attack came from, but we all knew they were terrorists.

The most familiar images burned into our minds were those at ground zero -- the burning tower, then both towers of the World Trade Center in flames, followed by their collapse.

But there were horrifying events at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

Some cynics said we would soon forget.

Some still say it.

But we have not forgotten.

Nor have we forgotten how we came together as Americans in those early days.

Our national memory of the shock of Sept. 11 is not fading. That memory will endure through all the present generations. And probably beyond.

The terrorists thought they would drive us apart. Instead they saw us come together.

We proclaimed that no attack, no enemy, would change the soul of America. We spoke protectively and proudly of our way of life.

Flags blossomed like fields of wildflowers all over America.

The feeling of America's loss was shared by all our friends and even some occasional foes overseas.

The move into Afghanistan drew worldwide support.

When the focus shifted to Iraq, to a war some erroneously thought was linked to the 9/11 attacks, the fervor ebbed.

Eventually, cars that once sprouted tiny flags, whipped to shreds by the wind, switched to magnetic ribbons: "Support Our Troops."

Most of us follow that advice with all our hearts.

For those in the Tri-Cities, thanks to generous contributions by individuals, businesses and city officials working with other volunteers, a central point rises today on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

It should help to revive any waning feeling of the unity and pride we all felt in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

Today a sacred memorial will be erected at Southridge.

Twisted steel is at its heart -- three beams reaching 35 feet into the sky.

Nearby two basalt columns remind us of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The steel beams are from ground zero, plucked from the rubble of the destroyed buildings.

As is so often the case with memorials, it will soon be completed, but the effects of the events it memorializes will last for generations.

Deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field reached nearly 3,000 that first day -- those first moments.

And as a result, the deaths go on to this day -- in Afghanistan. Iraq. New York. Around the world.

And the illnesses, the civilian lives cut short, the absent family members and the first responders and the military who followed them also mount.

What we can do is to make ourselves heard.

First responders are dying as a result of cancers that the bureaucrats dismiss as having no "proven link" to 9/11.

Yet, "Firefighters who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, selflessly exposing themselves to the toxic dust that clouded ground zero, were 19 percent more likely to develop cancer over the subsequent seven years compared to their unexposed colleagues," according to research conducted by the Fire Department of the City of New York.

"The study clearly shows that World Trade Center exposure in these firefighters led to an increase in all types of cancer," said David Prezant, FDNY chief medical officer and one of the co-authors of the study published in The Lancet.

As for the troops, we have heard both of the remarkable breakthroughs in artificial limbs for our military casualties, and that more of our troops survive terrible wounds than in previous wars because of battlefield medical improvements.

But we also are aware of the frustration and even agony continuing to this day of military veterans dealing with the bureaucracy of the Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.

We should remind our lawmakers, who usually run on the label of compassionate champions of the military and first responders, that they should put those people first in line for financial and material help from government, not just in the first lines of their speeches.

If any are prone to forget, the memorial at Southridge should serve as an eternal reminder of our spirit and our debt.