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More Than Entertainment

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If you think of Jan “The Juice” Herman as just an entertainment reporter, think again. See his report on two pilgrims to New York’s 9/11 commemorations:

    The shadow of 9/11 that fell across the nation a year ago Wednesday has darkened our souls in different ways. For Hasmukh Patel, a soft-spoken immigrant from India who runs a newsstand on Wall Street, it has meant sleepless nights and tears of sorrow. For Mitch Mitchell, a motorcycle-riding carpenter from South Carolina, it meant carving a cedar dummy of Osama bin Laden and towing it in a black casket 800 miles across America to Ground Zero.

    PATEL AND MITCHELL couldn’t be more different. But they would understand each other.

    “I hope nobody’s getting any pleasure out of this,” said Mitchell, as photographers swarmed around the open, red-lined casket parked across the street from the fenced perimeter of Ground Zero. “I made this in remembrance of all the people who lost their lives.”

    In the darkness — it was 5:30 a.m., three hours before the World Trade Center memorial ceremony began — Mitchell, with his trim white beard and cowboy hat, looked like a carnival barker on the midway. But he was dead serious. “I got some pretty fishy looks on the way up,” he remarked, clearly unhappy about being taken for a spectacle. “It’s a sad, sad situation.”

    Before Wednesday, the last time I had seen Hasmukh Patel was the day the New York Stock Exchange reopened, a week after the World Trade Center towers had collapsed and 2,801 people were killed. He was standing in his kiosk. Tears were streaming down his face. National Guard soldiers manned the checkpoint at the corner, screening traders on their way to work. Patel kept saying, “I feel so bad. I’m so upset right now.”

    ….LOOKING INTO AMERICA’S SOUL
    Looking at that graveyard fence was like seeing America’s soul. Yet for all the solemnity of the day — the reading of the names of the dead, the mournful sound of the bagpipes, the recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the playing of Taps — there was a sense that the patriotism on display was personal.

    Many spectators wept, comforted by others. Some broke down and couldn’t stop crying. It was humble and plain and touching in its depth of feeling.

    “This is personal,” said Josh Blakemore, 23, who had taken a 10-hour bus ride from Wheeling, Va., to come to Ground Zero for the memorial. “This is history. If I was just being patriotic, I would have joined the Marines.”

Herman captures what is most important about the anniversary: not the displays, the pomp, or even the patriotism, but the personal relationship that most Americans have with that day and the feelings that have burrowed into our souls and become a part of us. “If I was just being patriotic, I would have joined the Marines,” indeed.

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About Eric Olsen