"Stars and Stripes Forever"

We entered the campground office to pay for a second night, and the woman at the counter told us two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. My mind immediately formed a picture of small private planes, and learning they were commercial jetliners, I experienced a sense of shock and disbelief.
We had begun what was planned as a two-week camping vacation in Vermont and New Hampshire on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2001. We visited nephew Matt in New York, well north of New York City, on Sept. 9, drove north on Monday on the Taconic State Parkway into Massachusetts and Vermont, and that evening camped at Pine Hollow Campground near Pownall, Vt., south of Bennington.
We ate breakfast at Blue Benn’s Diner in Bennington on Sept. 11 and heard diner workers say something about a plane hitting the Pentagon, carving a 175-foot notch in it. In the Bennington Museum, we learned that a plane had been hijacked over Pennsylvania and later learned that it crashed near Pittsburgh. I called my parents from the museum and left a message, needing to make contact with home, and we listened to reports on public radio in the car.
Later that day in Bennington we watched videos of New York on a TV in a stationery store, close to closing time at 5 p.m., the first video we saw of the attacks. We learned that a small building, No. 7, in the WTC complex collapsed Tuesday evening. “Hearing about the collapse of the buildings caused a sense of disbelief again; this only happens in movies; it can’t be real,” I wrote that evening in my journal.
“The country is reeling in shock from today’s carnage and destruction. Thousands of people are dead, and many eyewitnesses have described seeing people jump to their deaths from the World Trade Center. Newscasters are already saying that the country has changed, that we have always considered our United States to be inviolate. The mind reels with possibilities; is this the end of the attacks, or was this the start of an invasion? Has some foreign state devoted years to learning our secrets and infiltrating our institutions? Will a foreign army herd us into camps? Will some religious group destroy our government? All that we hold dear is suddenly threatened. … Will we wake up to a different world, or will we hear that the government has leads on the identity of the perpetrators?”
On Wednesday we drove north to Manchester to visit Hildene, the home of Robert Todd Lincoln, listening to the news as we drove. “Public radio today was entirely devoted to coverage of yesterday’s attack,” I wrote in my journal. “Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld spoke, and some already believe that Osama bin Laden, of Saudi Arabia, has orchestrated this. Bin Laden believes that it is the duty of Muslims to kill Americans, that we are the evil empire. It’s amazing how quickly the clues are being traced.”
Annette toured the house, but I toured the grounds and walked in the woods, needing a mental break from museums. Coming out of the woods, I heard the organ in the house playing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the flags were flying at half-staff. “Yesterday’s tragedy has renewed pride and love for the United States,” I wrote. I also wrote that “three more WTC buildings collapsed today, and a skyscraper started to buckle.”
I’ve always enjoyed long camping vacations. When we camp, we’re removed from the comforts of home. We sleep on the ground with only flimsy manmade material protecting us from the elements, bears, rabid raccoons and criminals. Because we usually travel to places we’ve never visited before, we must study the map and ask for advice nearly every step of the way, whether looking for a campground or a good local restaurant. It’s difficult, but it’s enjoyable, and it creates a mild sense of insecurity, not enough to deter us from camping, just enough to make it interesting.
But after those attacks, the trauma, the uncertainty about what would happen next, compounded the mild camping tension, and we felt the pull of home, so we turned a two-week vacation into one week, and on Saturday, Sept. 15, we drove south from Vermont through Massachusetts and Connecticut, then west into Pennsylvania. The total absence of planes over busy cities was especially striking.
Our changed country was clearly evident as we traveled. “This tragedy has fostered a patriotism that should always be evident,” I wrote. “Flags can’t be bought for love or money; they are mounted on cars and flown from buildings, and many are still at half-mast. … Pennsylvania’s electronic road advice signs display electronic flags that alternate with ‘God Bless America’ or ‘Be Proud To Be An American.’ Another result of the disaster is paranoia. Every plane in the sky is a flying bomb about to crash; every Arab person is a terrorist.”
We were upset about the shortened trip, but I told myself I had “no business being upset about vacation plans gone awry when thousands of people have had their lives visited by tragedy this week.” Looking back, I feel we should have continued our trip. We accomplished nothing by going home, but we needed the security. It’s a security our country has lost, possibly never to be regained.

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