Remembering Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville
As the parade rounded the corner, you could see an almost undersized, Navy-blue woven straw hat, Fedora-style, covering not very much grey hair for a 75-year old, a dark blue windbreaker, plaid shirt and grey pants topping his working-man black shoes. But it was that ever-present cigar that signalled my Grandfather's arrival, large jowly cheeks framing a slight smile leading the way. It was the Fourth of July and his birthday, which the whole Country celebrated, he perennially pointed out.
He led the small-town parade proudly seated in the open-air cab of the lead, bright-red fire engine with the obligatory gold lettering spelling out "West Pittston." He occupied the honorary seat as the oldest and only remaining charter member of the hose house, which is what they called the fire station in his day. Oh yes, and the so-tiny-you-almost-couldn't-see-it red, white and blue flag pin in his jacket lapel, my Grandmother's last-minute parting touch to his outfit as he headed out the door.
It was America as I knew it growing up in the late 1960s.
I followed him down the parade route, my bike festooned with crepe paper, playing cards clothes-pinned to the fender supports, clapping loudly against the wheel spokes, sounding, I thought, like one of those fancy motorcycles the Shriners drove, with tiny U.S. flags Scotch-taped everywhere to the frame, streamers flying from my handlebar red vinyl grips, glittering in the sun.
And then a plane crashed into a World Trade Center tower, and then another. People ran as the buildings collapsed, smoke billowing everywhere in downtown Manhattan. Imagine. The World Trade Center, the heart of our financial district.
Then the news flashed to the Pentagon in flames. Imagine. The Pentagon, the command center of our military.
Finally, reporters wildly speculated about another plane somewhere above Pennsylvania, presumably headed for Washington, D.C., who knows where. Imagine. Knowing what they knew, American citizens acting to protect our nation's capital.
I still fly the flag on July 4th, remembering my Grandfather, but also on September 11th, remembering my Country.
They're both the America I know now.