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    Homage, healing: remembering 9/11

    By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 1, 2002

    Tampa Bay's elegies to Sept. 11 will be numerous and heartfelt, from a candlelight vigil in New Port Richey to a patriotic sing-along in Seminole.

    Virtually every institution that shapes life in west central Florida will observe the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Churches will hold special services. Schools are asking students to wear the colors of the American flag. Businesses will observe a moment of silence.

    The dozens of expressions of grief and patriotism will be part of what one scholar calls a national "web of remembrance." But the fervor worries others who wonder whether introspection will be lost in a blizzard of red, white and blue and drowned out by those who will use the day for political gain.

    "At the best level, it's a reaffirmation of our faith in democracy, which most of us would find appropriate," said Ray Arsenault, a history professor at the University of South Florida. "At its worst level, it's an assertion of that feeling of American superiority. We put ourselves in an entirely different category when we suffer something other countries suffer all the time."

    At the center of the country's memorials will be a huge event at ground zero in Manhattan. The four major television networks will offer blanket coverage of its bagpipe processionals, recitations of historical speeches and a visit from President Bush.

    From the gash in the earth where the World Trade Center towers stood to the steps of the Hernando County Courthouse, the attacks will be analyzed and criticized, its victims memorialized and the U.S. flag glorified.

    Flag-waving patriotism will be front and center on Bayshore Drive in Tampa on Sept. 11, where Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, will speak to a crowd that is expected to exceed 15,000, including 8,000 to 10,000 schoolchildren. A group called the Bayshore Patriots is asking people to bring a flag and love for their country.

    "We are hoping that everyone will leave with a tremendous sense of pride in our country," said Janet Odioso, a spokeswoman for the group.

    The Bayshore Patriots' idea has spread to north Pinellas County, where people carrying flags are being asked to line Tampa Road from McMullen Booth Road to U.S. 19. In Pasco County, a Knights of Columbus chapter is hoping to line U.S. 19 from Holiday to Aripeka with flag wavers.

    However, organizer Fred Colucci is adamant that the event not be commercialized or politicized.

    "There will be no speeches and no soliciting," he said. "We don't want anybody selling anything."

    Politicians are welcome if they plan to quietly observe the solemnity of the day just like everyone else, he said.

    In contrast, an event at Seminole Mall will have a patriotic sing-along and speeches by four politicians, some of whom are up for election this fall.

    "It's not political," said Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni, one of those speaking.

    He said the event would be an uplifting experience. Morroni hoped the media and other event organizers would take a cue from Seminole and not emphasize death and sadness in the days before Sept. 11. It might discourage voters from going to the polls for primary elections the day before, he said.

    "Are people going to be so depressed that they're not going to go out of their house the day before?" asked Morroni, who does not face opposition in the primary but has a general election race in November. "Hopefully, it's not going to be a downer week."

    Excluding politics was a priority for New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who decided against allowing original speeches in the city's daylong observance. Locally, several observers said the public ought to expect Tampa Bay elected officials to offer comforting words without trolling for votes.

    "Are we so bankrupt of ideas that we can't think of anything to say in the moment?" asked Gary Mormino, a history professor at the University of South Florida. "Let's hope we have enough creativity and sense of appropriateness to say something meaningful."

    At St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral in St. Petersburg, organizers will offer a paucity of words. For eight hours, volunteers will take turns reading aloud the names of all who died in the attacks.

    "They're going to read each name, individually, with care, as if each name is a prayer," said the Rev. Canon Gigi Conner. "I think it will be powerful and meaningful."

    The victims will be individually honored in a slightly different way at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Spring Hill. Parishioners each will choose a slip of paper with a victim's name and spend nine days praying for their souls, said Father John A. Cippel, the church's pastor. Cippel estimated that 80 percent of the church's 10,000 members are from New York or New Jersey and knew people who died in the attacks.

    In Citrus County, where, according to U.S. Census figures, one in four people older than 18 is a military veteran, the celebrations also will harken to previous life experiences. Ed Wiltsie, the commander of the Beverly Hills VFW Post 10087, said he had seen a reawakening of patriotism. For instance, he has seen bingo players recite the pledge of allegiance with renewed emotion since the attacks.

    At the Beverly Hills VFW, they'll have a Wednesday morning remembrance service followed by coffee and cake.

    "We're going to try to keep the spirit alive," Wiltsie said.

    Governments and businesses also are giving people opportunities to observe the day. Pinellas County will allow employees who get clearance from their supervisors a one-hour leave to attend a remembrance service at the Harborview Center.

    In Brooksville, county and city governments are joining a local American Legion post to put on a 90-minute program that will include prayer, the posting of colors and remarks by military, government and emergency response officials.

    Two of the area's largest employers, Progress Energy and Verizon, will be observing a moment of silence Wednesday morning. Progress Energy is also allowing employees to decline to travel by air on that day and is offering employees two hours of paid leave to participate in a community event of their choice, said Keith Poston, a spokesman for the company, which has 16,000 employees in the Tampa Bay area.

    Bob Elek, a spokesman for Verizon, which has 12,500 Tampa Bay area employees, said his company lost five employees in the attack, and a conscious decision was made to take a somber, low-key approach to the anniversary.

    Ed Linenthal, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who extensively studied the American reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, said Americans were still struggling to put a frame around Sept. 11. Was it a single day of atrocities, or the beginning of a military, cultural or economic war?

    "It will take a good bit of time, perhaps years, to interpret what it says about our hopes, what it says about our fears, what it says about our convictions," said Linenthal, author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory.

    The first anniversary will establish the texture and scope of what he calls a "web of rememberance."

    "First anniversaries are very important as ways to think about ways to think about this," he said. "It will probably open as many wounds as it heals."

    -- Times staff writer Scott Barancik contributed to this report.

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