TERRE HAUTE —
We love labels.
For the past two weeks, as America’s two major political parties conducted national conventions, the U.S. population formally split into three groups — Democrats, Republicans, and none of the above. Each of those factions have been further divided and branded — liberals, neo-liberals, conservatives, neo-conservatives, “new” Democrats, moderate Republicans, Reagan Republicans, independents, Libertarians, and tea partiers. And, of course, each of those sub-units pin unwanted labels on their rivals — right-wing wackos, radical leftists, birthers, wild-eyed fringers, extremists, and reactionaries.
Sadly, the division too often goes beyond political affiliations.
Tuesday marks the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Ceremonies are planned at the three sites where hijacked jetliners crashed — the financial district in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a hilly mining field north of Shanksville, Pa.
A year ago, on assignment for this newspaper, I visited those places, along with my wife and daughter. At each spot, we heard powerful stories about lives lost, painful memories, heroism, and the will to go on. Among dozens of gripping conversations, one still stands out.
Inside a tiny country chapel, created as a memorial to the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, I listened to Ed Root describe his first-cousin, Lorraine Bay, who was to him “like the big sister I never had.” Most of us have heard some version of this story during the past 11 years. It hits deeper when the narrator is a victim’s loved one, standing in the area where the unthinkable happened.
Bay, a flight attendant, and 39 other crew members and passengers died on 9/11 when Flight 93 slammed into the grassy hillside of a mine operation at 10:03 a.m. Forty-six minutes into the flight, intended to go from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, four al-Qaida terrorists overwhelmed the pilot and co-pilot and rerouted the jet toward Washington. Through discreet cellphone and airphone calls from the back of the plane to family members and emergency operators on the ground, passengers learned that three other hijacked planes already had hit national landmarks in New York (the Twin Towers) and D.C. (the Pentagon). By 9:30, Flight 93 was less than 20 minutes away from Washington and the Capitol and the White House.
The passengers and crew, who began that clear-skied Tuesday thinking of sunny California, faced the decision of a lifetime.
Sit tight, hoping that outside forces would intervene and prevent a crash and widespread loss of life and chaos in the nation’s capital, or fight back.
Root, a retired business analyst from Allentown, Pa., explained the situation in a quiet voice, poignantly, as he and I stood talking in the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel last year.
“The people of Flight 93 wanted to live,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. They didn’t want to die that day.
“They wanted to get control of the plane and, if possible, to survive,” he continued. “But they knew, from all the phone calls, that if they didn’t do something, it would be far worse. So it really is a comparison of philosophies, of a free society versus a terrorist society. One is, their cause is death; the other is, their cause is life. And that’s what makes [the Shanksville site] worthy of a national memorial. That’s what makes this worth being remembered.
“The physical courage, to me, is amazing and wonderful, but it even goes beyond that.” Root said. “These people, in a half-an-hour, got information, sat down together, discussed it, shared information, decided to act, and then acted — in a half-an-hour. We all have to think, ‘What would I have done if I was there?’ And I think that’s one of the reasons that make this place so moving for people, because I think that you can’t help but have that cross your mind.”
These folks chose to fight back. Their uprising forced the hijackers, clinging to the plane’s controls, to crash it short of their target.
Ed was right on the money, too. As you stand atop the serene hill overlooking the Flight 93 National Memorial, the silence forces a visitor to comprehend the unity those 40 people, mostly strangers to each other, summoned in a matter of a few harrowing, chaotic minutes.
Suddenly, those everyday people weren’t Democrats or Republicans, social conservatives or fiscal liberals. Two passengers were born in foreign countries, but divisions, borders and labels no longer mattered.
Instead, together, they acted, and saved lives while sacrificing their own.
Thus, that question visitors ponder in Shanksville, “What would I have done?” leads to another, “What am I first?” What label that we wear shapes our decisions, demeanor and interactions with other people? If that label doesn’t matter at the brink of life, should it significantly influence our day-to-day existence?
In two crises late this summer, the two candidates for president made statements of far more lasting relevance than the flavor-of-the-month arguments churning through the political ads this fall.
After a crazed gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 more in a Colorado movie theater, Republican nominee Mitt Romney said, “Our hearts break with sadness of this unspeakable tragedy. I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American.”
A few weeks later, with Hurricane Isaac bearing down on New Orleans just seven years after Hurricane Katrina, President Obama said, “When disaster strikes, we’re not Democrats or Republicans first, we are Americans first.”
Political labels, divisions and feuds seem so small in that rural Pennsylvania field.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
At times, labels, divisions and feuds seem very tiny
TERRE HAUTE —
We love labels.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: Blessings of a long, cold, snowy winter
As spring, summer arrive, Hoosiers will appreciate icy months (well, maybe a little)
MARK BENNETT: Healing Indiana’s Achilles’ heel
Illinois served as the easy target.
At that moment.
MARK BENNETT: Yeah, yeah, yeah... For some grownups, first impression not so fab
We’re pretty smart here in middle America.
Our DNA carries the common-sense chromosome. From birth, Midwestern culture begins honing us into the most rational and perceptive of human beings. Sure, our prisons are full, but generally, we mean well. And we’re wise.
MARK BENNETT: Remembering the less glitzy days on Manning’s road to the Super Bowl
A blur of memories.
They’ll flicker fast and furious tonight, like a spinning Rolodex, when Peyton Manning runs onto the MetLife Stadium turf in Jersey City, as a Denver Bronco, playing for a Super Bowl ring against the Seattle Seahawks. Most Hauteans will experience flashbacks, too.
MARK BENNETT: A lengthening climb
The American economy is improving.
Confidence has risen since the government shutdown by the polarized Congress last fall. Indicators in various sectors show promise.
MARK BENNETT: Tackling entrenched economic problems could brighten local forecast
Without a DeLorean, there’s no going back to 1995.
MARK BENNETT: What is Indiana’s image in the eyes of the world?
A bus pulled up to the curb near the riverfront in downtown Chicago. An unusual advertisement was painted on its side.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
MARK BENNETT: One-ring blues?
Minutes before kickoff tonight, the Lucas Oil Stadium tech crew should play Sam Cooke’s classic, “(What a) Wonderful World” over the sound system.
MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County
Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute native Tommy John belongs in Cooperstown for pitching like a Hall of Famer
Few players in history left a greater impact on baseball than Tommy John.
And he did so through his performance on the field.
MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused
“Must See TV,” where have you gone?
MARK BENNETT: Popularity Contest: Congress does little to improve its standing with Americans
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
MARK BENNETT: Transparency in public decision-making includes sincerely listening to the people
Transparency isn’t universally accepted in public entities.
MARK BENNETT: This Little Light: Remote chapel keeps a light shining on story of Flight 93
Father Al explained the meaning of the lamp. He asked me to light it.
The reverence in his voice offset the raspiness, left by his latest battle with cancer. Clearly, he saw this place as special.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections on the Wabash
The series “500 Miles of Wabash” wrapped up last Sunday after a five-week run. Readers offered some enlightening insights, memories and photographs as the series unfolded.
MARK BENNETT: Current Information: Put your Wabash knowledge to the test … or quiz
Just for fun, ponder a few questions concerning the large waterway flowing through Indiana and Terre Haute, as the Tribune-Star’s series, “500 Miles of Wabash” concludes in today’s editions. Those who’ve followed the five-part series of stories, photographs and videos about people and communities uniquely embracing the Wabash River may have a head start. If you’re just catching up, check them out in the online editions at www.tribstar.com.
- Answers to the Wabash River Quiz
MARK BENNETT: Pedestrian paths across the Wabash few, so far, but appreciated
The future tends to sneak up on you. Planning for it offers no guarantees, but it helps.
MARK BENNETT: Questions of fairness, impartiality, public trust legitimate in wake of school rating controversy
The discovery of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — weakens trust. The acceptance of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — erases trust. Indiana needs to draw a clear line between the former and the latter, and not cross it.
MARK BENNETT: Living downstream: From source, Wabash bears mark of mankind mile after mile
Something was missing. I’d never visited this spot before, but the view looked familiar. I’ve walked the banks of the Wabash River and its tributaries countless times, catching crawdads and skipping rocks in Honey Creek as a kid. On the other side of the state, where the Wabash crosses from Ohio into Indiana, trees arched over the water as it ran under a bridge on a quiet country road. It looked like western Indiana, except for one absent element. Litter.
MARK BENNETT: We are Hauteans (ho-shuns)
I fielded an hilariously disturbing question recently. A friend asked if the word “Hautean” is meant to be a derogatory label.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river