9-11: Three years later, what has changed?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

It was three years ago yesterday that terrorists heartlessly rammed two airplanes into the World Trade Center, bringing the towers, and many Americans' sense of safety, crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust, destruction and heartache.

From the ashes, a more unified America emerged, as the country canonized its heroes and proudly brandished the stars and stripes as a badge of honor that told the world that Americans would not be broken.

Patriotism surged to new heights, carried into homes across the country on the images of those falling monuments to freedom and Democracy. But time, as many say, heals all wounds.

Email newsletter signup

Today, America remains a changed nation, without question. Still, some believe that many people have already started to forget the sacrifices made on and following 9/11, in part because of the division that has sprouted up in the midst of a close presidential race and a costly war in Iraq.

So, the big question remains: What has changed since Sept 11, 2001? By most accounts perspective and awareness remain the biggest alterations.

Vietnam veteran and member of the local Purple Hearts chapter Charles Meadows remembers the fateful day perfectly - and painfully - even after three years.

"By being in Vietnam War, getting shot three times and running around here with one leg, it bothered me quite a bit. I was glued to the TV. I have been in mental health counseling for a number of years, but it threw everything back to me," Meadows said. "It had been 30 years, but when I saw the first body bag, I had to get up and walk away from the TV."

Did Sept. 11 have lasting impact on everyone? Meadows is not so sure, in part because the war in Iraq continues and people may forget American soldiers are still dying in Afghanistan.

"When this thing first took place, for the first 6 months, I had never seen so much patriotism," Meadows said. "You saw flags on cars, houses. There were flags everywhere you looked. Now, I don't see as much. … After 6 months, it started to disappear."

Ironton business owner Joe Coburn agrees that the wars have started to divide the nation again.

"It kind of looks like patriotism is still there but people fall back into the old groove. You really don't see as many flags on cars, flags in the yards or ribbons," he said. "Now that we have lost more than 1,000 troops in Iraq, sort of stemming from 9/11, people want to know 'How many more are we going to lose.'"

But, from a law enforcement and emergency services angle, the public perspective remains changed, even if the outward signs are not there.

"I think here in small-town America, we have always had our share of patriotism and belief in God and country," Sheriff Tim Sexton said. "I think there may have been a little bit of (a slip), but not much. … I think the majority of the people still are affected and believe in what our country is doing."

From a security stand point, Sexton said much has changed, probably most important is the awareness.

"The nation as a whole became more aware, from small towns to the big cities, that this can happen here, it has happened," Sexton said, adding that 10 years ago no one would ever fathom that this was possible. "Terrorism is real and we have to realize that."

On a tangible level, the sheriff said funding has been another issue that has changed. Funds that would have previously gone to law enforcement are now sent to Homeland Security agencies. So it may have created a loss of grant funding for a local office such as his, Sexton said.

However, the funding issues can be a two-way street. Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon agreed that 9/11 has changed some aspects of public service when it comes to funding.

"A lot of things set in motion at that time are just now coming to fruition county-wide," Runyon said. "There have been a lot of administrative changes. We have seen different types of equipment availabilities."

Talking about public perception, Runyon said he does not believe it has taken much of a step back at all.

"As usual, that does taper off a little bit, but our public relations have been very good," he said. "I think people see more of a value now (for emergency services workers.)"

Organizers of local events such as today's recognition at the courthouse (separate story below) hope that the community never forgets those who lost their lives and the painful lessons the nation learned three years ago.