This year holds fewer observances of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but central Illinoisans find ways to remember

Scott Hilyard

Mary and Henry Reiter aren’t about to forget.

Or let their neighbors.

Or anyone else who drives by their home on a Peoria Heights side street.

"I’m a veteran, my wife’s from a family of veterans," Henry Reiter said Monday outside his East Samuel Street home festooned and illuminated in red, white and blue to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "We’re patriots. It’s a patriotic thing."

Six years removed from the commercial airplane attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash of a third jet in Pennsylvania, the emotions of that day remain embedded in the minds, hearts and guts of Americans. But here in central Illinois, half a big country away from Ground Zero, the compulsion to gather in groups and mark the deaths and horrors of Sept. 11, 2001 — the norm in the years following the date — has clearly diminished. Public events flourished in 2006, on the fifth anniversary of the attacks. This year, there are noticeably fewer events planned.

"I would say that the Sept. 11 attacks will be memorialized less and less for the obvious reason — time is distance," said Andrew Hartman, a history professor at Illinois State University in Normal. "But also because it is becoming less of a blunt political weapon. There was a time when all President Bush and the supporters of the war had to do to quiet the critics was invoke the memory of Sept. 11. But the nation’s patience for such a tactic has worn thin. This speaks to how all historical events are memorialized. Historical memory has less to do with the past than with the present."

Last year, the Peoria police and fire departments conducted a Sept. 11 ceremony at City Hall to honor the officers and firefighters who died that day.

An interfaith service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria included a performance of "Requiem" by Opera Illinois and concluded with remarks by Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

Bradley University hosted an observance in the Michel Student Center ballroom that included remarks by then-president David Broski and by Andrew Myers, who survived the attack on the Pentagon.

Students at Illinois State University observed four moments of silence at the times the planes crashed and the Twin Towers fell.

Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington held a prayer vigil in the morning and again in the evening.

There are ceremonies and remembrances in schools, churches and throughout the area today, but of those past five events listed — each the embodiment of what President Bush asked Americans to do in 2003 when he proclaimed Sept. 11 to be forever known as Patriot Day — not one will occur today.

"The memories of the day are vivid for most," said Ross Kennedy, a history professor at ISU. "It just becomes difficult to sustain the amount of public interest as the years add up."

Whatever level of national public interest remains, Kennedy said the attacks themselves continue to have a major effect on the course of American history.

"I think 9-11 will be viewed in the long term as a very, very significant event. It’s not going to diminish in time, but probably gain significance" he said. "The event and the way the government reacted to it triggered changes in domestic and foreign policy that will leave a lasting legacy."

Changed domestic policy includes the expansion of presidential powers in areas like surveillance and intelligence gathering and how enemy combatants are identified and detained, Kennedy said.

"Some people see the changes as serious infringements on their Constitutional rights," Kennedy said. "Others are willing to accept the infringements as necessary in a dangerous world."

There are area 9-11 events. The city of Pekin will be hold its annual observance in the City Council chambers at 8:30 a.m. today. The program should last approximately 30 minutes.

"We did consider not doing anything this year," said City Manager Dennis Kief. "But the staff and mayor and council all agreed that it was a nice tradition that should continue."

Illinois Central College will hold a 7:30 a.m. Patriot Day Flag Ceremony on Circle Drive on the East Peoria campus.

Students and employees at Western Illinois University are invited to observe the sixth anniversary of the attacks with a moment of silent reflection.

At 9 a.m. today, members of the Western Illinois University campus community in Macomb are invited to join together in a moment of silence. The Sherman Hall carillon will play "America the Beautiful," and campus gathering sites will include the Sherman Hall flag pole and the University Union plaza directly north of the Union.

Anyone else need only drive down East Samuel Street in Peoria Heights to be reminded of Sept. 11. Among the regular yard decorations of ceramic bunnies, squirrels, foxes and a chipmunk, frogs riding bicycles, glass balls and a statue of the Virgin Mary, Mary Reiter has created a patriotic tribute to the victims of 9-11. Three large American flags hang on the front porch of the home — two show the skyline of New York City stitched into the blue field of white stars. One large banner reads "God Bless America. Never Forget"; another reads "Remember Always Our Heroes. In memory of the heroes and those who perished." A U.S. Army banner flies next to a U.S. Navy banner. Two spotlights light the display at night.

"My wife decorates for all of the holidays," Henry Reiter said. "You should see what she does for the Fourth of July."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or shilyard@pjstar.com.