Letter about 9/11 just as vital in today’s vitriolic climate
There are a lot of good lessons lurking in an old storage area. Recently, my husband, Don, and I have tackled the straightening up of our pole barn on the farm. Through the years, I have stacked things in this saving place that I thought were important or that I might use some day.
When Frank died while serving as the governor of the state, staff members boxed up everything they thought would be of value in the future and sent it down to Corydon. In my condition of bewilderment with all the changes and loss, I simply had the sorted boxes put in the family pole barn at the farm.
Now, 13 years later, we are attempting to appraise what is in those white shipping containers.
Along with our discoveries have been some pretty emotional and sentimental moments, remembering wonderful experiences, challenging happenings, tough decisions and thousands of terrific Hoosiers.
We opened a file box marked ‘correspondence’ and pulled out the first letter that popped free. I want you to discover for yourself the timely richness of the words written following the terrorists’ attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001. This message by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon, written Nov. 20, 2002, to Scott D. Britt of Peachtree City, Ga., is as vital in the vitriolic climate of 2016 as it was years ago when it was written and filed away for our enlightenment today.
Dear Mr. Britt:
Thank you for your letter about the events in our state in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
I was at home, getting ready for work, when I got a telephone call about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I turned on the television to get as much information before heading into the office, where I knew my presence was needed.
As I ‘ like all other Americans ‘ waited to learn exactly what had happened, many thoughts went through my head. I remember feeling very much like I felt 60 years earlier, when I was a small boy playing football with my brother in the side yard, and our parents called us in to tell us that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. At that time, I couldn’t fathom why someone would do what they did.
That’s the same thing that many people, including me, have wondered since Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, we now have a little more insight into the thinking behind the attacks, but that sort of thinking remains so foreign to our American values and our American psyche.
Over the course of the day of Sept. 11, 2001, we had many decisions to make without much information. After learning about the second attack in New York, and then the downed plane in Pennsylvania, we had many frightened state employees who feared that state capitals may be targets. On advice of experts, I did not shut down state government ‘ doing so would have meant the terrorists won ‘ but we allowed employees who wanted to leave to do so.
I spent much of the day with my advisers, mulling such questions. But I also made two statements to the public because I think people want to hear from their leaders during trying times. I tried to reassure our citizens as best I could by telling them that we were on a state of alert and taking precautions to ensure their safety. All troopers of the Indiana State Police were placed on standby; our Indiana National Guard was ready in case it was needed; our public buildings’ security was put on alert; military sites in Indiana were secured with state personnel assisting in protecting their perimeters; and the state’s Emergency Operations Center was activated.
A month after the attacks, I created the Indiana Counter-Terrorism and Security Council to coordinate public-safety efforts, to detect and prevent terrorist threats or attacks that might occur in Indiana and to coordinate and expand preparedness plans that are already in place.
We’ve learned a lot in the year since the attacks. We’ve learned ‘ or been reminded of ‘ what makes America, and Americans, great. We bond together in times of adversity. We do not let such hideous acts break our spirit. We support one another. Some of us literally endanger ‘ and give ‘ our own lives to help others.
I also think we’ve learned tolerance. In the first few days after Sept. 11, there were attacks on some people who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. Those attacks were roundly criticized by good people who know that it is wrong to judge a person by his color or his place of worship or the style of his clothing. Indeed, that’s what the terrorists did; they victimized thousands of individuals because they don’t like America. Thoughtful people should condemn such acts, whether committed by terrorists or by people here in America.
Unfortunately, at the same time that the terrorists stole thousands of lives, they also stole our sense of security and even a little bit of our children’s innocence.
None of us old enough to comprehend what happened that day will ever again be quite as carefree as we used to be. But we must resolve to mold our feelings from that day into something positive: a commitment to do good things, a resolve to help one another, a pledge to honor all that is right about America.