St. Louisans go to Forest Park for many reasons – to ice skate and sled down Art Hill in the winter, to boat, fish, jog, bike, play tennis, golf and handball. We go to enjoy outdoor, musical theater at the Muny, explore the zoo, view great painting, sculpture and artifacts at the Art and History Museums or constellations at the Planetarium; to picnic and to wed.
But today we went to remember 2,977 innocent victims of a terrorist attack on the morning of September 11, 2001 and to show our solidarity with their mourning families and friends.
This was a picture perfect day in St. Louis – just like the fateful day ten years ago when so many Americans went to work but never returned home because they were scattered in a Pennsylvania field, crushed inside the Pentagon in Washington, DC or buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s massive, twin towers in New York City.
Former President George W. Bush referenced September 11, 2011 on Saturday as the single deadliest day in U.S. history since the Battle of Antietam in 1862. On that horrific September day 23,000 of the more than 600,000 Americans to perish in the Civil War lost their lives – a staggering number still, almost one hundred and fifty years out.
I’ve been reading two great books over much of the summer – Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond and 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart; the first brilliantly conceived by a professor of geology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and the second, deeply insightful – the work of an historian and journalist.
I’ve found myself reflecting a lot upon the similarity in political tone and rhetoric between the U.S. of 2011 and the contentious, divisive U.S. of 1861, and wondering whether this daring, experimental republic of ours can survive, whether we, as a society will survive.
I’m hopeful that we will. For in spite of past injustices and continuing inadequacies the United States of America remains a beacon and a refuge for much of the world. A 2009 International Gallup Survey revealed that some seven hundred million adults would migrate to another country if they had a choice. Nearly 24 % of these (more than 165,000,000 persons) would choose the U.S. Canada came in second with 6.5 %.*
Much has changed since September 11, 2001 – in the nation as a whole – and in St. Louis. And yet one of our greatest strengths has remained constant. We are an ethnically diverse, culturally rich nation of people.
I was reminded of this, this afternoon as I walked around the Grand Basin and climbed Art Hill with my husband, both of us capturing images and hearing the many accents of the people of St. Louis – Russian, Sudanese, Hispanic, Vietnamese and American – just in the little while we were there.
One decade to the day of the greatest terrorist attack in U.S. history this republic remains intact. We are yet one nation, under God, multidudinous in our beliefs, opinions, talents – often fractious – but constitutionally indivisible, offering liberty and working to achieve justice for all.
September 11, 2001 Commemorations began in St. Louis, here on Art Hill in Forest Park timed to the moment the first airplane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on September the 11th 2001. The sweeping display of American flags, one representing each victim of the multiple attacks, was the initiative of Rich Randall of Pace Properties.**
A March to the Arch and Interfaith Service followed the opening ceremony with the day’s beautifully orchestrated events culminating in an evening concert and candlelight vigil back here on Art Hill.
St. Louis joins the rest of the nation in remembering all of those who were lost ten years ago today – nearly half a continent away and yet part of us, and in celebrating the courage of those who went to their aid.
Irregardless of where we were on September 11, 2001 none of us will ever forget what took place that day and how it shaped our dreams for a future of peace and of security.
Photo Credits: Ground Zero – File: September 17, 2001.jpg – by Chief Photographers Mate, Eric J. Tilford, United States Navy. All other photos: Thomas Kavanaugh and Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, author of this blog. To enlarge any photo simply click on it.