Memories of Another Morning

Memories of Another Morning

Quiet Courthouse ceremony begins Arlington’s Sept. 11, 2003.

Standing in Courthouse Plaza, Mindy Thompson and Jessica McGraw were dressed casually, with Thompson in a white maternity blouse. They were not dressed in their police uniforms.

“We both worked with the police department on Sept. 11, but right now we’re on light duty,” said McGraw. Eyeing Thompson, now in her late second trimester, she said, “Some lighter than others.”

It was a different sort of Sept. 11 for the two, and the other police officers, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies gathered in Courthouse last Thursday morning. Two years ago, they were all on alert, on the street for days, weeks on end.

Last year, they were caught up in national observances of the one-year anniversary, and community members gathered around a larger bell, taking turns ringing it 184 times.

This year, there were some 200 people gathered around the plaza, listening to short speeches by politicians. The real purpose of the morning came later, as an Arlington police officer, firefighter and sheriff’s deputy tolled a small bell 184 times, once for each victim of the attack on the Pentagon, all over in 20 seconds.

Last year, the county marked the Sept. 11 anniversary with a concert near the Iwo Jima memorial. This Sept. 11, that concert was still to come. The only singing was “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by sheriff’s Deputy Paul Lee.

Lee began the song alone, his voice quavering slightly. But gradually, the crowd around the plaza took up the song, first murmuring then singing aloud, supporting Lee’s amplified voice.

The low-key second anniversary was fine with Thompson. “I think it’s enough for me to remember it,” she said. “For everyone to remember it in their own way.”

<b>DECKED OUT</b> in memorial gear, Dick Chandler shared Thompson’s sentiments. This year’s memorial observations did seem smaller, said Chandler, who wore a New York Fire Department t-shirt and carried an American flag emblazoned with the pre-Sept. 11 New York skyline.

But smaller didn’t mean people were forgetting, he said. “There were a lot of people for the first year, but I don’t know that people are losing interest,” said Chandler.

Nearby, three employees of the county’s Department of Public Works waited for the ceremony to start. Bill Everingham, James Gilliland and Brian Moore, who work on mapping for the county, took advantage of the ceremony’s proximity to mark the two-year anniversary.

“We wanted to show our support,” said Gilliland. Moore and Everingham agreed. “We wanted to remember people.”

At 9:41 a.m., the county began to remember the Pentagon dead, and the bell tolled until 9:50.

<b>FOR THOMPSON AND</b> McGraw, remembering was a mixed blessing.

“I was in the academy,” said McGraw. “It was our first experience” on the street. But I think public opinion toward police is a lot more positive than before.”

“It was a hard time for a lot of officers,” Thompson said. “A lot of us don’t live near here – I live in Southern Maryland. I didn’t get home until I collapsed in front of a magistrate – he said, ‘Go home.’”

She came home to rediscover her family. “I took my wet child out of a tub, and threw her at a neighbor’s house for a week,” said Thompson.