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Gwin Mitchell Paden Recalling World Trade Center trip — and most deserving 9/11 heroes

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Gwin Paden

Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:59 am, Sat Sep 10, 2011.

Ten years have passed all too quickly since a malevolent, fanatic enemy chose to strike unexpectedly at symbolic buildings in New York and Washington. Like the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, innocent people were violently killed while going about their own daily lives, civilian or military.

I have not been to Pearl Harbor, with its poignant memorial, but some 30 years ago or so I did visit one of the towers. It was a unique experience: swooping up and up in an elevator, than farther up on an escalator which went to the viewing level and all those gigantic windows.

I did not realize how much a building that high could respond to regular winds until I saw the supports between windows move against stationary smokestacks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. In front of all the windows on all four sides, there were tiers of concrete steps/seats where one could look straight down to the street (the windows slanted inwards at the bottom). That was another dizzying experience.

Climbing a short flight of steps led to the open walkway on the very top of the building. The view was magnificent — and the wind was strong. I was thankful that the walkways were well in from the edges; I have no head for heights at all!

Those who worked in or visited the buildings felt secure; there was no reason not to. And those who worked in or visited the Pentagon felt secure, too. (I visited that building in 1946. It was a mystic maze!)

But that feeling of security vanished on Sept. 11, 2001. Our country was brought face-to-face with the fact that we were — and are — up against an enemy with no sense of tolerance for any other way of life, or even existence, than their own.

Just as Pearl Harbor was a shot across our bows that started the largest of "civilized" wars that people were used to fighting, the attack on the towers needs to be seen as a similar prologue to a possible war of an entirely new sort; guerilla warfare on a gigantic scale.

I sincerely hope that we can stay alert and prevent this kind of devastation from happening again. There are so many more areas in which we are vulnerable that it will take all of us, not just military or governmental leaders, to keep this country safe. During WWII, the whole country came together in loyalty and personal selflessness.

For a short time, that happened after 9/11. It's time we realize that patriotism is a real and necessary factor, if we want this country to stay the way it was meant to be — a republic of free citizens.

The ordinary citizens on the plane meant to target the White House fully realized this, and unselfishly chose a deliberate death for themselves rather than let the enemy triumph in more destruction. If anyone is honored on Sept. 11 on this or any other year, it should be these patriots.

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