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9/11 impact reaches middle of ocean

David McCown knew he and his 10-year-old grandson, Kyle, were safe, perhaps the safest two people on the planet. But, if he had more information, McCown might have been worried about the rest of the world.

Ten years ago today, McCown, a retired attorney from Ironton and ex-Navy man, was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on board the U.S.S. Cleveland, surrounded by 800 battle-equipped Marines.

These were true patriots. Leathernecks who served their country and were chomping at the bit for some action. Men and women who had been willing to sacrifice everything to protect everything else.

When the news started coming in from across the country, the emotions were likely raw, running the spectrum that they often do. Shock. Disbelief. Concern. Fear. Grief. Anger.

“The quest was primarily for more information. What did happen and who did this?” McCown said. “Kyle, now a junior at OUS, says we will never have a problem remembering where we were. People don’t believe him, but it is one of those things you never forget.”

Their journey started in Hawaii as they boarded the ship, part of what is called a “tiger cruise” for family members of seamen.

About half way to California, where the Marines were to be dropped off at Camp Pendleton, the attacks happened.

The crew passed out live ammunition and had the ship’s guns loaded for bear.

“We were feeling the same emotions everyone else was feeling, that this was a horrible tragedy,” McCown said, noting the irony of the comparison to the place they boarded the ship. “There are parallels to the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. It was a sneak attack, a similar number was killed.”

Even hardened had to face the stark reality: America was at war, under attack from a nameless, faceless enemy. The casualties weren’t fighters who had a mission. No, this was an attack on innocents. Men, women and children.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a failed effort that ended in a Pennsylvania field because of heroic sacrifices.

The impact permeated every walk of life, regardless of demographics or societal labels. It was a turning point in history that changed our country and those in it, some in small ways and others more profoundly.

So, with his feet firmly on dry ground, what is McCown feeling on this anniversary?

“Just thoughts and emotions of sympathy for the innocent victims and the first responders who died trying to save, and in some cases saving, other lives,” he said. “So brave. A shame they had to lay down their lives.”

Ten years later, we must not forget the lessons learned from 9/11.

In light of the death of bin Laden and other al-Qaida, McCown says it also sends a message to terrorists.

“We have a long memory for things like this. … It may take awhile, but we pay the debts and hold those responsible.”

That may not bring back those who were lost in this tragedy, but it does offer some solace to loved ones and the entire nation.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.