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Patriot’s Day: A tradition worth fighting for

Chicago Firefighter Ricky Alberts volunteering at Ground Zero, with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Photo courtesy of Alberts.

Sept. 11, 2023 - On Sept. 10, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld declared that the Pentagon’s wasteful bureaucratic system had put America in a vulnerable position. “They know the taxpayers deserve better. Every dollar we spend was entrusted to us by a taxpayer who earned it by creating something of value with sweat and skill … An average American family works an entire year to generate $6,000 in income taxes. Here we spill many times that amount every hour by duplication and by inattention.”

The next morning, the world witnessed one of the deadliest attacks to take place on American soil. Before several planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the average person had spent their typical early morning commuting to work, arriving to school or feeding their babies. Terrorism was not a common concern among American citizens that morning; however, the next few years it would dominate the discussion.

On Dec. 18, 2001, the U.S. Congress proclaimed that Sept. 11 would become Patriot’s Day, an annual holiday to honor those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. Since then, some Americans have held the tradition of observing a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., along with the flag being flown at half-staff.

In addition to Patriot’s Day, the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act were two other ideas born from the 9/11 attacks; except there has been bi-partisan criticism surrounding each of these:

  • The John Birch Society, a conservative-leaning organization, states on their website, “Marxists use many strategies to defeat their opponents and one of them is instilling fear in them … Another is called “The Action is in the Reaction,” and an example is the reaction to 9/11. Terrorist attacks caused the government to react and create Homeland Security and the surveillance state.”

  • The American Civil Liberties Union has prompted the Department of Justice to host a webpage titled, “Dispelling Some of the Major Myths about the USA PATRIOT Act.” The DOJ asserts that one of those myths attribute the Patriot Act to expanding “terrorism laws to include 'domestic terrorism' which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.”

Patriot’s Day is an opportunity to be reminded of the sacrifices made for American freedom, and how it feels to be defenseless. As Secretary Rumsfeld indicated in his speech the day before the attacks, efforts to restore integrity to government, making it work to protect its citizens and not the other way around, requires immediate and constant attention. Most people share a common mindfulness of patriotism through recognizing bravery and sharing pain with those who lost loved ones; but how are they turning that mindfulness into effective action?

In an interview with a Ground Zero volunteer and a leader from Moms for Liberty, we explore how Patriot’s Day is commemorated today and how we can keep the tradition alive.

Cassi Schabell, Social Welfare Organizer: What made you decide to go to Ground Zero?

Ricky Alberts, Retired Chicago Firefighter: I’ll tell you the truth, a bunch of us were sitting at the bar when we got off duty and we saw what happened. Seven of us got together and jumped in my truck and another guy’s truck, and we drove straight through. About a day later, we got there and went right to work.

Schabell: Karen, do you remember where you were when the attacks happened?

Karen Strayer, Chapter Chair, Moms for Liberty: I’ll never forget where I was that day, I was working a shift as a registered nurse. When that came on the TV, it was silence throughout. All the patients were watching, we were crying, and just praying all day long. I ended up being there longer than my day, just to stay and help. I wasn’t on the outside, and I thank you, Rick, for having the bravery to go there.

Alberts: No thanks necessary, there wasn’t a doubt.

Schabell: Some people have contemplated if 9/11 was an inside job. What are your thoughts on this?

Alberts: I don’t even know. To me, whether it was or not, I just know that 343 firemen died. I would hate being an American like I am, to think that. And it would make me sick. I’ve read all the conspiracies, but I don’t even know what to think about that to be honest with you.

Strayer: Until the most recent things that have come out about our government, I never really gave it a second thought. I also have explored some of the conspiracy theories, but if it was … There are so many people in America, that love America. To know that people hate us within our own boundary, it’s just sad.

Alberts: Yea, I’m with you 100% on that. I don’t even want to think like that, but would it surprise me? Yea, it really would. That’s a tough one for me to answer. I just know I still have friends that I keep in touch with from there. I don’t even want to think like that. Like you said, the things that are going on today, God only knows what’s really happening behind the scenes.

Strayer: Exactly.

Schabell: How have you celebrated Patriot’s Day?

Alberts: I wouldn’t call it a celebration, but on the 20th anniversary I was out in Pensacola Beach. We have a bridge there, and I went back and forth across the bridge 20 times while people were honking. I just don’t think people even think about it anymore, or remember it. Kids don’t even know about it anymore. So much has happened since then. I wouldn’t call it a celebration, to me it’s more of a memorial.

Strayer: I agree with that. Moms for Liberty has Constitution Day Sept. 17, and we will be distributing constitutions, but we’re also doing it in memory of Sept. 11. In fact, we went to Philadelphia for our summit, on our way there we stopped at the Flight 93 memorial. They tend to be forgotten because of all the stuff in New York.

Alberts: I went to the memorial one time in New York, and maybe I just picked the wrong day, but to me it’s just like hollow ground. It was more like they were selling stuff, like a destination holiday. It just sat wrong with me for some reason.

Schabell: Rick mentioned that there are some people that don’t even know about or remember what happened on 9/11. Are there any groups or individuals that you view as patriotic these days?

Alberts: It just doesn’t seem like kids are patriotic at all anymore. To me, it just seems like it’s just something that happened. The only time you heard about it is when they compared it to the “insurrection.” More people wanted to know, “What was 9/11?” That’s the only reason it really got any publicity. Don’t even get me started on that because they’re not even night and day. They’re just not even the same.

Strayer: Right. Well, we’ve worked with Turning Point USA, they’re getting representatives in Kentucky. They have a college rep., for getting kids to be more patriotic. In the past month, we’ve gotten an 18-year-old who’s going to work with the high school students. So, I do know groups in Kentucky that are trying to get the patriotism back, and I know we work very hard at it. Moms for Liberty, Boone County Republican Party, we’re all working very hard for that.

Alberts: Just a little side-bar to that, I’m from Chicago and I don’t really see it there, but now I live in Pensacola Beach. It’s more of a military type area, and there is more here. Only because it’s more military families. Because you have Air Force Bases, Blue Angels, it’s much more military. So, I see more of it there. But it just seems it depends more on the geographic location you’re at, as far as the patriotism goes.

Schabell: Since you share the sentiment that there are some voids relating to the presence of patriotism, what kind of participation would you like to see in order to change that?

Alberts: My niece is a teacher. I remember when we grew up, we learned about World War I, II, Korea. I feel like it should just be part of the curriculum. That it’s not even talked about in schools, so they don’t have a chance to ask. I mean, it’s been over 21 years ago now? 22? God, am I old!

Strayer: I can say that is one thing with the schools we are pushing. Back to more education, and I hate to use the term, but less indoctrination. I do see in the private schools and especially the church private schools, they do the Pledge of Allegiance. In Kentucky, we have statute. At least in elementary schools, to do the Pledge of Allegiance. I was very proud to see my 6-year-old, great-grandchildren, I’m with you there, getting up there with you, Rick. And I was born on the Fourth of July, so I remind everyone.

Alberts: My brother, he’s a principal at an all-boys school, they were able to push that. But it seems like in the public schools it’s just not as pushed anymore. Unfortunately, it just all comes down to politics anymore. And that’s the shame of it all.


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