Trouble in Cedar Key: Patriot Day - Lest we forget

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By Gene Benedict

It was September in 2001. It had been a hard year. I'd had my first major bout with the disease that nearly took my life. Dad had had a couple major surgeries on his circulatory system. He had been a smoker for about sixty years and his arteries were plugged with deposits once known as hardening of the arteries. Mom had been sick for several years partly due to smoking half her life. It was complicated by Temporal arteritis, a rare disease, that left her with large wounds on her head, blinded in one eye with poor vision in the other. Then she contracted shingles leading to more suffering. She died in the spring. Anne's mom had dementia and we helped move her from Decatur to North Carolina where she could be close to a son.

Anne and I needed some time off. A vacation. We had talked for a couple of years of working our way up the east coast, taking our time, and sharing places from our past lives. The time was right. She arranged to be away from work for several weeks. My health had improved such that we could be away for a long while and travel. We were leaving the second week of September to cross the state to the east coast and go north. We had no itinerary, no reservations. We were free to go, to be.

The trip was delayed for a day, and on a Tuesday we left the Cedar Keys heading up Route 24. We stopped at Otter Creek, at Hershel's, for some breakfast biscuits and then back on the road. There was a crowd at Hershel's, eyes glued to the television. As we watched, the second of two planes flew into the World Trade Center. All were in disbelief. Then we saw a rerun, the same. Another plane had hit the first tower just a few minutes earlier. My God. What just happened? What do we do?

We left Hershel's stunned and speechless. We kept on going up Route 24. The radio was off. We were in our own thoughts. I wondered if those two planes were it. Is it over? I knew that those two incidents were connected. What next? How big is this thing? We'd been attacked by our own planes, filled with citizens, civilians, non-military people, on our own civilian targets, and on our own soil.

A storm was brewing off the east coast, a tropical storm. We went to Fernandina Beach and watched the waves eroding the beach, cutting into the dunes. The winds were up and fierce. It clouded over. We left there and drove north to Georgia, to Jekyll Island, to the beaches. No one was there except service people. And they had not a clue as to what to do. We still had money, cash, with us. We got a room.

I wondered what we'd do when the cash ran out. Would checks still be valid? Would credit still work? It was dark. We went to the bar to be around people. The big screen television was on. No one was there to take orders. Most staffers had gone home to be near family. It was raining in sheets, sideways rain. We couldn't walk over the dunes to see the ocean. The storm was ferocious.

No one slept, eyes glued to the sets. Finally we heard from the President after what seemed days. He had been in the air, aboard U.S. One, in control as best he could from there. His early words, "...we are at war..." Another commercial plane had crashed into the Pentagon and one was lost some where over Pennsylvania, too close to Washington to be discounted. All other aircraft except military were grounded. When will this end? Will this end?

When daylight came it was grey and windy and stormy and foggy and depressing and sad. Anne and I headed inland looking for sunlight. We crossed Georgia, then South Carolina, North Carolina, and stopped near Asheville. It was clear, cold and windy. The Blue Ridge Mountains were spectacular. From there, we traveled inward across Tennessee and Kentucky.

Across the Ohio River and into Indiana, we spent a couple of nights with my brother-in-law, drove around through the Heartland, went to a gathering on a heavily guarded military installation. We joined in a several hour concert of patriotic barbershop renditions. America the Beautiful... America...Battle Hymn of the Republic... Marine Hymn... Navy Hymn... Star Spangled Banner... awesome.

We later headed home, back to the Cedar Keys. Flags were flying everywhere in the Heartland. People were out. This year, harvesting took on a new meaning. We had been attacked. Civilians, men, women and children had been murdered on U.S. soil, using U.S. technology and taking advantage of our freedoms to pull it off.

September 11, 2001...

When will it end? It hasn't and likely won't anytime soon. We will be vigilant. We shall never forget...

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com