“Eventually, Sept. 11 will be a date on the calendar; it’ll be like Pearl Harbor Day. For those of us who lived through it, it will be a day we’ll never forget.”

— George W. Bush

You may not remember what you ate for breakfast today or what movie you watched last week, or the dates of what should be important personal milestones such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

More than likely, even those events are not remembered as much by the day of the event as by the year.

Sept. 11, 2001, though, is a day you recall vividly, in minute detail.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was in what proved to be my second phase of buying newspapers and creating my own media company. I was trying to buy a newspaper in Texas, where I lived at that time.

The acquisition was moving slowly, to say the least. “Snail’s pace” would be an accurate description.

I had the quintessential “small business startup office,” above my garage at our ranch. It was a short walk from the kitchen table to the desk.

On the morning of Sept. 11, now known in dark simplicity as 9/11, I was settling in at the desk and preparing to begin banging the phones to the paper’s sellers and then to banks who were potential lenders.

Before I could make a call, the phone rang.

The conversation was short and one-sided. “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. Turn on the TV.”

I turned on the television and saw smoke pouring from one of the Trade Center towers. Then a second plane plowed into the other tower.

Like most other Americans, I watched in horror as the story unfolded. Buildings burning and collapsing. Panicked New Yorkers rushing through the streets of Manhattan and, later, streaming across the Brooklyn Bridge. News anchors trying to piece together scraps of information and speculation in search of a plausible explanation.

The second plane made it clear this was no accident. Before long, the conclusion was inescapable: The United States was under attack. We were at war.

As former President George W. Bush said in a 9/11 anniversary interview on the National Geographic Channel, no one who lived through it will ever forget it. But how will we remember?

We’ll always recall where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. But how will we think of the attacks and their aftermath?

Could the overwhelming emotions we felt that day — the shock, the grief, the fear, the anger — fade from our hearts and minds until the most traumatic day many Americans have ever experienced is just, as Bush predicted, a date on the calendar? A chapter in a history book?

It seems odd to say this today, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, but it’s hard to avoid the nagging suspicion that our memories have already begun to fade. A decade after al-Qaida’s horrific terrorist attacks on the United States, some Americans seem to remember 9/11 the way we remember natural disasters such as storms and earthquakes — as something that happened rather than something that was done to us.

An argument can be made for putting aside the painful memories, for relinquishing the lingering grief and the simmering anger. We can’t change what happened; replaying that tragic day again and again may serve the worthy purpose of honoring those who died but it does not bring them back. What’s to be gained, we could ask, by perpetuating the anguish?

But there is danger in allowing the wounds to heal too fully. We still face a vicious enemy that lives to destroy us — our economy, our culture, our institutions, our entire way of life. The killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs this spring was satisfying — Bush used the words “closure” and “justice” in the National Geographic interview — but it didn’t end the war on terror. There are those who will pursue bin Laden’s goals and even use his death to fuel the hatred of our country that motivated him and his followers to attack us 10 years ago.

We hear a lot of jokes about Americans’ short attention span, about how quickly we move from one interest or cultural fascination to the next, and even from crisis to crisis, as if we somehow thrive on traumatic disruptions to the routine business of surviving in a challenging world.

But 9/11 was, is, different. The attack on our homeland was an assault on our national identity, our beliefs, our values, our very existence.

We should never forget what happened that day, or what it meant. And we must never let it happen again. 

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:

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