© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2002
It's true: We didn't forget. Observed Wednesday around North Pinellas as America remembered the trauma, the confusion and the heartache of Sept. 11, 2001:
-- Hundreds of people turned Tampa Road in Palm Harbor into a red, white and blue scenic highway Wednesday afternoon. They gathered between 2 and 3 p.m. to wave flags in what was probably North Pinellas' most boisterous observance of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The flag wavers, rewarded by lots of motorists honking their horns as they drove by, brought lawn chairs, babies in strollers, children still wearing their school backpacks, umbrellas to ward off the periodic rain and handmade posters containing patriotic slogans. They set up coolers and refreshment tables under colorful tents. The flag wavers were young and old, hearty and in wheelchairs, wearing knee braces or sensible shoes. And they seemed ecstatic to be able to express their patriotism for an hour.
-- In the quiet sanctuary of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo, people of all colors and backgrounds gathered Wednesday morning to pray, hear the remarks of local political and religious leaders, and listen to the church choir and local jazz singer Belinda Womack. They held hands in the pews as Womack sang, "There's no foe that can defeat us when we're walking side by side." They listened quietly as Don McMillan -- a retired minister and Vietnam veteran, who said he initially returned from Vietnam with a "heart full of hate" -- urged them to love their enemy.
"It's so easy for great sacrifice to be totally forgotten," he said. "We must not forget, but that's not enough. Jesus said we must love as he loved us, and he loved us sacrificially. . . . We must live our lives in sacrificial love. We're to love our enemies -- now that stretches a person."
During the final prayer at the end of the ceremony, dozens of people filed to the front of the sanctuary to kneel at the prayer rail. As they walked back to their seats, some wiped away tears; and sniffling could be heard throughout the room.
-- Many stores that had changeable message boards on their signs took down their commercial messages Wednesday and used the signs to express noncommercial sentiments. Up and down Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater, Tampa Road in Oldsmar, U.S. 19 and other commercial corridors, the messages were similar: "We remember 9-11," "We will not forget," "Remember our heroes," "United we stand," "Land of the free and home of the brave," "Remember today and always."
-- Many schools had observances geared to what they thought their children could understand. Children were given the opportunity to express themselves at those ceremonies, or through song or art. But some students threw down small American flags handed out at ceremonies or threw them in the trash. Is there a lesson we need to teach our children?
-- A man walked his fluffy white poodle in the rain. He held his umbrella in one hand, and the leash and an American flag in the other hand.
-- Four golf course workers, wearing identical T-shirts and work pants, hopped out of their golf cart to wave flags at passing cars on a North Pinellas street.
-- While there were lots of large, public displays of sentiment Wednesday, there were hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of small, more private expressions. People attached flags or balloons to their mailboxes; draped red, white and blue bunting above their garage doors; put flags back on their cars. You didn't have to have a lot of money to display your patriotism Wednesday. At a very modest house in Dunedin, residents draped a large, worn flag on the end of their house and propped an old blackboard below it, on which they wrote a message urging people to remember 9/11. A man on a bicycle, apparently a transient, rode with an American flag tied to the back of his bike seat.
-- Can a business be more uniquely American than DQ? The Dairy Queen in Oldsmar showed its colors Wednesday. Not only was the building painted in patriotic colors, but the structure was draped in flags and red, white and blue rope lights.
-- A couple in a snazzy silver sports car sped through the sprinkles with their convertible top down so the tall American flag they had anchored in the back seat could wave above the car. They smiled.
-- One of the largest public observances of the day, and surely one of the most emotional, was a "Service of Remembrance" sponsored by the Pinellas County Fire Chief's Association and the chaplains for county emergency services at Clearwater's Harborview Center. Hundreds of people, many of them emergency workers from throughout Pinellas, gathered in a darkened meeting hall where red, white and blue lights bathed the walls.
Police officers and firefighters wore their dress uniforms pressed to perfection, brass polished, shoes gleaming. A bagpiper played the plaintive sounds of Amazing Grace. The crowd listened to a recording of the last alarm issued by the New York City Fire Department to mark the deaths of firefighters when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. They gave two standing ovations to 10 sad-eyed New York firefighters who were guests at the event and afterward filed past them to shake their hands. And they quietly wiped away tears as they watched a video of the attacks on the twin towers and listened to a haunting song, Canyon of the Souls:
Sleep well, heroes;
Sleep well my friends.
You are not forgotten;
This is not the end.
We still hear your voices;
They still echo . . .
In the canyon of the souls.