Some Americans plagued by short memories

ALBANY -- As colonial America prepared to battle England for its independence, famed orator/patriot Thomas Paine offered perhaps the most memorable words to castigate the more timid among the colonists.

"These are the times that try men's souls," Paine famously said. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in crisis, shrink from the service of their country."

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, a wave of patriotism washed over Americans from sea to shining sea as fear, anger and sense of righteous indignation ignited a passion in Americans hadn't been seen in generations.

But now, 10 years after that fateful day, many are suggesting that much of the clamor that arose after the deaths of more than 3,000 of our fellow citizens was the cries of America's sunshine soldiers and summer patriots. There are others, though, who suggest that uniquely American concept of patriotism is never far from the surface.

"People in America do get complacent, but I don't think their patriotism is ever really not present," veteran Marvin Mixon, who is in charge of Albany's annual Field of Flags event adjacent to the Albany Mall, said. "I think it's always just under the surface, and all it takes is a little itch to bring it up.

"Americans haven't demonstrated their patriotism as much in the years since the attacks, but it's still there. Maybe a little dormant, maybe sleeping a bit, but you let something significant happen and you'll see it. That's something I think is unique to America."

Lee County's Ernie Elmore, who is chaplain for the local Marine Corps League detachment and serves in that capacity for seven other states, said the recent execution of Osama bin Laden may have actually dampened the patriotic fervor of Americans.

"A lot of people say that since bin Laden's dead, we should back off our vigilance," Elmore, a decorated Marine Corps veteran, said. "Over time, they seem to have forgotten the terrible loss of life and the cost (of the terror attacks). There's a general waning, a complacency in some Americans.

"I'm old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, but young people today, with all the distractions and the instant gratification, forget what's important. They tend to lose sight of what really happened."

Albany's city manager, retired USMC Col. James Taylor, said Americans' memories tend to shorten as time puts distance between them and significant events like 9/11.

"Unless we suffer a loss personally, we Americans tend to get involved with other things," Taylor said. "Those of us who don't live in New York City -- those who don't have day-to-day reminders -- well, our memory gets short.

"That's why I think memorial services (like those planned for the 10th anniversary of the attacks) are so important. They serve as reminders that we should not only be more appreciative of the sacrifices others made, but we should also be vigilant. (Such attacks) could happen again."

Taylor also said Americans should never forget the bravery many of their fellow citizens exhibited during and in the aftermath of the terror attacks.

"It is our duty to be grateful, to care and share for our fellow citizens," the Albany official said. "We can never forget the bravery of first responders, or the incredible heroism of those who foiled the terrorists' plans on Flight 93 (which was crashed in Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended target, the White House).

"Those are examples of Americans at their best."

That's why, Elmore said, Americans can't allow themselves to become sunshine patriots.

"It is our duty to stay focused, to stay vigilant," he said. "And we should always appreciate what we have."