CHARLOTTE, September 4, 2011— The date was September 14, 2001, three days after the horrifying terrorist attacks in the
The soft autumn light was particularly radiant at the memorial where cotton-ball clouds dotted a cerulean sky which blanketed manicured grounds that sloped gently toward a cobalt blue, white-capped sea; a place where timelessness merged with infinity.
Lengthening shadows angled from the graceful elegance of thousands of white crosses and Stars of David; their charcoal silhouettes made even more distinct by the contrasting brilliance of the green lawn.
The setting was landscape architecture at its finest, where the unification of earth, sea and sky had been harmoniously achieved to perfection. Sublime elements of nature entwined with human inspiration in eternal gratitude to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that are the cornerstone of our American identity. Freedoms that will be forever cherished, even by generations unborn.
Shortly before noon a ceremony began, unannounced. A small procession of locals solemnly marched forward, forming a line in front of the 22-foot bronze statue symbolizing The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves. They faced the rectangular reflecting pool with the chapel in the distance. Moments later the chimes of the carillon poignantly rang out with the American National Anthem followed by three minutes of silence, a rifle salute and the haunting music of Taps. And then it was over.
It was a heartfelt expression of sympathy observed in a brief span of six or seven minutes to honor the innocent victims who perished in the
Though the past thousand years of
With thoughts of the noontime tribute etched into my soul, I somberly, almost aimlessly, wandered the grounds of the memorial. Then, as I was leaving, I strolled past the Statue of American Youth for the last time. I noticed something that had not been there before the ceremony. At the base of the sculpture was a single basket of flowers which had been left by an anonymous donor. Tucked behind one of the flowers, to hold it in place, was a picture.
The picture had been taken from the front seat of a car while crossing a bridge. No doubt the work of an amateur. A tourist. Someone who had once visited the
But there was something even more telling about that tiny, unidentified tribute, for I knew it had been put there by someone who had survived the Battle of Normandy in 1944. The answer was written in four simple words along the sash that draped across the basket. Words that read, “We have not forgotten.”
It has long been my quest in my travels to seek out stories with a message; vignettes of life that extend beyond guidebooks and bring other destinations, cultures and points of view into perspective; meaningful narratives that provide greater understanding of who we are as Americans by observing the world through new eyes.
Through it all I never fully understood the source of my passion in that search. Then unexpectedly it all became clear. Compassion validated my passion. It happened on an autumn day in September, 2001 in
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