Friday, September 12, 2008

9/11 at Sampson State Park

I've been on vacation this past week, taking a trip through time with my Dad. In the late spring of 1945, Dad did his Navy boot camp training at Sampson NTS in Romulus, New York - today the site of Sampson State Park. Dad, who was certainly never an officer in the Navy itself, has been an officer in a veterans organization whose members were trained by the Navy during WWII at Sampson.

At one time, there were 6,000 Navy veterans in the organization (out of the 411,000 young sailors who passed through that camp in the early 40's). Their numbers are rapidly declining, and the organization is making arrangements to dissolve. Over the past 20 years, the organization raised money and worked to establish a museum at the park that will continue to tell their story after the last of them has passed on.

On September 11 this year, a group of 253, including members, their wives, and a few of their sons and daughters gathered at Sampson State Park for a picnic luncheon, followed by a memorial service.

It was a poignant ceremony, a moment for those men to remember their boot-mates, family members, and friends who died in the war, and to recall their own experiences in the earliest moments of their adult lives during a time of total war. It was also a time for all of us to reflect on the so-called "events of 9/11" - the tragedy and heroism, the grief and loss, the courage and sacrifice.

Of course, our thoughts included our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those of us who pray asked God for their safe return home - a wish we all shared.

I am proud of my Dad, and of all these men. Straight arrows, every one. They were called to fight in a terrible war and they did what they were asked to do. Now they stand side by side as friends, preserving the memory of those who did not return home from that war, and honoring the sacrifice of those who wear the uniform today.

For me, the anniversary of 9/11 has always been an intensely sad day. But I am wiser now, and going forward it will also be a day to celebrate the many brave men and women who volunteer to serve in our military. I wish them peace, and thank them for their service.

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