The Call to Remember September
Larry Anderson is a Vietnam Veteran. I’ve (host Tom Schultz) known and admired him for decades. He was also a former Missoula city council member and Missoula county commissioner, and served on the staffs of U.S. Senator Conrad Burns and U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg. He spoke at the annual 911 memorial service in Missoula, where he reminded us all that “a nation that forgets its past has no future,” (Winston Churchill). Below are excerpts of his speech.
Listen to today’s Voices podcast as Larry talks about his memorial address, the importance of remembering events in the context of history, and the struggle to erect a veterans memorial in Missoula. (Photo Credit: David Mark)
We are gathered here to remember the greatest attack on the US mainland since the war of 1812. It cost the lives of nearly 3,000 US citizens who were just going about their daily lives. This attack occurred 18 years ago and I am concerned that if it weren’t for events like this one here today we will be slowly erasing this from our collective memory. So I would like to thank all of you that join us in remembering those who have fallen victim to terrorists both foreign and domestic.
The attacks that have occurred since 911 are periodic reminders that if we erase these events from our collective memory we do so at our own peril. If you were three years old when 911 occurred you would be twenty one today. Did you spend any time learning about this in HS social studies or history class? Was there an event at the college you are attending to commemorate this vicious attack? Probably not.
There are groups today that think we should eliminate those reminders of things they do not agree with, but what do we lose in that process? Take Charlottesville for instance. The attempt to tear down the statue of Robert E. Lee, because some people believe he was a racists made national headlines for weeks. One innocent person lost their life in that incident. The killer has been brought to justice.
In my opinion, that statue, like so many monuments and memorials, represent a snapshot of that persons’ life. It doesn’t tell the full story. We have to put it into historical perspective. I don’t believe the Statue of Robert E. Lees told the story of his attending the US Military Academy at West Point and receiving his commission as an officer in the Union Army. The plaque didn’t mention that one of his early combat missions was to lead a troop of union soldiers and Marines to Harpers Ferry, VA to retake the Military Arsenal back from John Brown and his band of Abolitionists. The inscription on the Statue didn’t reveal that when he was asked to lead the Confederate Army by CSA President Jefferson Davis, he knew if he said yes he would be facing many of his former graduates from West Point in Battle. Think of what a horrendous decision it was for him to make to switch sides. However, he felt he could not lead troops against his home state of Virginia. I don’t believe the statue mentioned that his family’s former estate is now the National Cemetery at Arlington, VA. A decision that prevented him and his family from returning to his family home.
I don’t believe the people wanting to tear down that statue had any idea of the feelings and emotions of that time in history. The Civil War was the greatest challenge to our United States, that conflict tore apart families and long held relationships. The civil war cost hundreds of thousands of lives of our nation’s fellow Countrymen. Yet, it set the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation. We can’t judge past events by today’s standards because we don’t always understand how we arrived where we are today. History shows us the path and it is not always pleasant.
What if the people in Missoula who protested against the Vietnam War decided we should remove the Statue behind me? As a Vietnam Combat Veteran and a member of the committee that built that memorial I know we would lose far more than the Bronze Structure.
First, removing the Statue would dishonor, over three hundred, Montanans who paid the ultimate sacrifice in that conflict. Second, they would also dishonor the thousands of combat veterans who still carry the physical and mental wounds of serving their Country during that period. Third, and most important in my opinion, is that, during the process of building that memorial we overcame the protests by those opposed to the war and our own veterans who didn’t want to open old wounds and memories. In spite of the challenges I believe that we were able to separate the Warriors who fought, from the leaders who continue to get us into conflicts that they do not have to fight. I believe that if we had not built this Memorial, that the Memorial on the UM Campus honoring those Montanans who gave their lives in the world wide conflicts in the war on terror would not have been located on our campus. We can’t erase our history. We do so at our own peril.
With the conflict going on at our southern border there are reports of increasing numbers of people coming across the Southern border from non Central American countries. Many are from countries on our terror watch lists. Do they plan to do us harm? We don’t know and that is why we can’t forget our past. We need events like this to remind us of what happened eighteen years ago. We must remain vigilant. As we have seen in the numerous attacks since 911 these terrorists are patient and ruthless. They can make a mistake and try again, but we have to be right every time to stop future attacks on our citizens.
While we have focused on those first-responders who lost their lives responding to those burning and collapsing buildings in this event, we cannot forget the first-responders, contractors and rescue workers who spent months combing through the “Pile” searching for remains of the victims scattered through the debris of the Twin Towers and other buildings. Now eighteen years later Congress has finally seen fit to continue funding for those families of searchers who contracted numerous diseases related to the building materials and chemicals contained in the debris. The death toll of those contractors, health care workers and victims that contracted those diseases now exceeds the deaths of those victims of the initial attack. Over 4,000 people have died of diseases relating to the 911 attack and the cleanup. That is in addition to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attack on the Twin Towers September 11, 2001. Those families have suffered untold financial hardships with medical costs and loss of income of the breadwinners in those families. This is another reason why we cannot forget this event. We need to advocate for those victims of collateral damage. The 4000 flags in front of you represents those victims.
This number parallels the tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who have suffered from physical and mental injuries incurred during that ten year war. The number of victims who have succumbed to their injuries both physical and mental far exceed the 58,000 service men and women killed directly in that conflict. That is why we cannot forget our history. The lingering consequences of these events must be addressed as well.
I am issuing a challenge to you today. I used to have a full head of black hair, what’s left of it today is now gray. The honor guards are aging and their ranks are thinning. Who of you out here will pick up the banner and continue holding these events that honor life changing events in our county’s history, warts and all. Please consider taking part in these events, we have a lot to offer but we lack the energy of youth. This event was started by Allie Harrison a college student at the time. Perhaps one of you can become involved and engage your friends.
I will leave you with a quote from Winston Churchill. “ A nation that forgets its past has no future.”