Editor’s Note: The following editorial is reprinted from the Sept. 12, 2001 issue of the Shelby Promoter and Cut Bank Pioneer Press. The story that follows also appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the Promoter. Smith was the editor of the Promoter and is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col.
So, this is how America felt when it learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, the day that still lives in infamy, just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted it would.
So this is how it feels the day war comes to America again, Sept. 11, 2001, when just three months shy of 60 years later, a day of terror may surpass even that day of infamy in its death toll, mostly of civilians.
So this is war.
War hits you hard, doesn’t it? By turn, we are in shock, denial, grief and rage that an enemy could kill military members and civilians in America, and Palestinians could be dancing, full of glee, in the streets.
War hits you in the gut, the head and the heart. In Smalltown, America, our stomachs grow wings at the sight of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. Our minds cannot grasp the surreal sight of falling bodies. Our hearts reach out to those fleeing in panic, our knees grow weak as we walk away from our television sets. New Yorkers, whom we smirked at Monday for their liberal views, and Washingtonians, who somehow were both the symptom and cause of our cultural demise, are today our brothers and sisters in battle. We turn from the television images with tears in our eyes for those American victims of tragedy.
No, make that casualties of war.
For, make no mistake about it, America is at war. We have not declared it, but it has been visited on our shores in the most horrific way.
War. Imagine the fear of those hijacked passengers as they saw themselves flown into American targets, virtually riding terrorist bombs to their deaths. Just imagine.
War. Imagine the disbelief of those in the Twin Towers as they saw the planes coming, as they leaped in horror from flames, as they felt the building give beneath their trembling knees, burying them and people below in rubble. Imagine and weep for them.
Everything on our to-do lists is blowing in the winds of war that have struck America, blowing like the debris on the streets of New York after some macabre ticker tape parade.
We lower the flag, or nameplate, of The Promoter as a symbol of lowering the nation’s flag in honor of those who died. Still, everything in this paper – the regular news, the meetings, the sports events, the election, the heated editorial page blasts – have been rendered marginal, if not, meaningless. Because war has struck at the central command of our military, at the heart of our nation’s capitol, at the symbols of our culture, no matter how we feel about our culture. The nation’s air transportation system has been shut down with as much finality as Iraq’s during the Gulf War. Federal and state offices are closed.
Yes, war’s effect is felt even out here on the remote high plains.
In this small town in Montana, we drive down the streets in the morning, waving a greeting at every passing motorist, no doubt puzzling many a New York tourist. Today we barely see the faces of other drivers, so engulfed are we in our personal emotions. Twenty times the population of our town wouldn’t fill the World Trade Center, and we can’t get a grip on that scale of devastation.
Family members of people who work in this area are already reported missing in action. Others cannot be contacted.
What can we do at a time like this, dear God, what will we do?
We will pray, of course. The door of one church here literally stands open to welcome those who will turn to God for answers.
We will reflect on how trivial our pursuits have become in the wake of this act of war, that we have entertained ourselves by watching people eat rats and writhe with snakes.
We will flail about, certainly. On a family picnic in the Great Smoky Mountains, when three bears terrorized us all, sending us into the car behind slamming doors. From the back seat came the sound of metal clicking against metal. As my youngest, desperately seeking one last safety measure, fastened her seatbelt.
We will buckle up in America, too, momentarily paralyzed by fear, grief and uncertainty, seeking comfort in things that cannot give us comfort. Laying blame on past politicians and intelligence agencies.
We will then get on with the business of burying our dead, cleaning up the rubble and recognizing the heroics of thousands of heroes who will emerge.
But eventually we can and will respond in kind. It is as inevitable as America’s reaction to Pearl Harbor. And is likely to be as horrific as those final, ruthless acts of war at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because this is war.
Yes, an act of war has killed perhaps thousands of innocents. And it has slain the innocence of millions more. A nation that has been divided over thousands of issues will be galvanized into unity by this single, surpassing day of a new war’s first strike.
America will mobilize itself and the rest of the civilized world against terrorists once and for all.
Americans, who have been remarkably complacent about terrorism in the wake of other dreadful acts, will now rise up and call for an end as final and ruthless as that which ended World War II.
Because, although an isolated act of terrorism can paralyze a segment of a country, an act of war of this magnitude demands a strike against the perpetrators and those nations or individuals who would protect the terrorists, The war has already been felt in regions as remote as Shelby. Every death will have a million mourners. Nobody in this nation will remain untouched.
This is the day, Sept. 11, 2001, that America was changed. An enemy attack has altered Americans as surely and as radically as it altered the skyline of New York City and took out a wing of the Pentagon.
Take measure of these sights and sounds and feelings, Americans, no matter how far away from New York you live. This is how it felt all over the country 60 years ago on that day of infamy.
This is war.
Toole County’s Lt. Col. Marshall assists with Sept. 11, 2001 Pentagon rescue
Lt. Col. Ward Marshall, a former North Toole County resident, was working in the E-Ring of the Pentagon Tuesday when he felt the blast of superheated air.
“We were standing in the office when the aircraft hit,” Marshall said Tuesday afternoon, just hours after he volunteered to re-enter the Pentagon to help evacuate casualties.
“A huge gust of hot air came down the hallway. It blew papers off the desk, people in the hallway began hollering, ‘Get out, get out.’”
Marshall left the outside ring of offices in the wing of the building opposite from where terrorists had just guided a hijacked jetliner into the national military command center and symbol of America’s military might.
Marshall, a graduate of Sunburst High School and former commander of the National Guard tank company stationed in Shelby, said, “It still wasn’t apparent what had occurred. But then casualties started coming out with flash burns, their hair singed and their skin burned.”
At first, he said, he began helping a doctor treat the walking wounded.
“Then, they started forming volunteer groups to go back in and look for survivors. I went in with the doctor to help her out.”
Although a segment of the Pentagon burned with the spilled jet fuel, Marshall said the building stood up to the impact remarkably well.
“We were working in the inner courtyard, but it hadn’t been damaged. It was amazing how well the building took it. Pieces of aircraft had broken loose in the impact, he said, but nothing of the airliner remained after the fire.
“You couldn’t tell there even was a plane,” he said. “None of it was visible – I mean none of it.”
Marshall said, “The medical people responded in an unselfish manner. The courage of firefighters was indescribable. I was amazed at how many people wanted to help.”