Saturday, September 11, 2004

It seems hard to believe that three years have passed since Sept. 11, the day that stripped awary Americans' sense of security in their sanctity of their own borders.
That was one of those days when I kept thinking about what I would do if I were still editor of The Carthage Press and having to direct the paper's coverage of that event. I can't remember any problems with the coverage offered by The Press, the Globe, or any of the other newspapers in this area. Probably the only different thing I would have done would have to been to write some columns to try to bring some perspective to the event.
As it was, I had the opportunity to bring perspective of the event to an entirely different group. At the time, I was in my third year of teaching a writing class in a small trailer located by the Marlin Pinnell Gymnasium on the Diamond school campus. The middle school secretary, Missy Snow, came to the trailer and told me that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.
The television I had in my classroom was not very good, but it was better than most of the others in the middle school at that time. It only picked up one TV channel, KODE-TV, so the students and I watched, almost without words, as Peter Jennings anchored ABC's coverage of the most terrifying event to ever occur in the United States.
For some strange reason, the news department at Channel 12 had the horrible idea that the station needed to break away from ABC's coverage for about 10 minutes each hour to give local perspective. Unfortunately, the people they interviewed didn't provide much information and did little to help us understand what had happened.
However, those breaks gave me the opportunity to have discussions with my students and answer their questions to the best of my ability. I didn't know this until later but the elementary principal at Diamond had ordered that no students be told anything about the attack. Fortunately for the fifth graders in Chris Rakestraw's class on the other side of the trailer, he never received that order. He brought his kids into my classroom for a couple of hours to watch the coverage and to participate in our discussions.
The events of 9-11 have continued to provide fodder for many classroom discussions in the last three years. Students have talked about weighing civil rights against the need for greater security. We've talked about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, of course, we have talked about the students' personal feelings and how they dealt with news of 9-11.
Teachers across the United States played a huge role in the days after 9-11. The event helped make students understand the importance of history, a course some of them had never held in high esteem. It also provided opportunities for government teachers and for teachers of creative writing courses to help students understand what happened and to appreciate the way of life they have in these United States.
The blue ink on the flimsy piece of lined notebook paper has faded a little over the past 32 years. I keep it in a gray, metal box with some of my other valuables like important letters, contracts, insurance policies, and all of the other supposedly important things that these heavy-duty containers are designed to protect.
Debbie Kruse handed me that sheet and another one one day while she was a sophomore and I was a junior at East Newton High School. I was on the school newspaper, The Fife and Drum (that name is a perfect example of the danger of having Patriots as a school nickname), and Debbie wanted the poems on those two pages to be printed. The author did not know Debbie was going to do that. Both poems were done in free verse and they were quite good. I agreed to put them in the newspaper and after discussing it with the editor, Paul Richardson, the poems were added to the list of things that would go into the next edition.
"Remember the days, when we were young and free to roam and play like goofy kids." Those were the only few first words of Barbara McNeely's poem, "Remember the Days." When her poems were published, she acted like she was upset, but I could see she was secretly pleased about the universal positive reaction she received.
I don't know if Barbara wrote other poems. I never asked. I hope she did. She had a real talent for it. Her words became more poignant in September 1977, when Barbara, then a sophomore at Missouri Southern State College, was stabbed to death in the parking lot at Northpark Mall. Each year when September rolls around, I think of Barbara.
I can't imagine how her family dealt with that tragedy, Her parents, her brother, her baby sister who never had a chance to get to know Barbara. She had done some work for me, typing manuscripts as I tried unsuccessfully to become a published teenaged novelist. We were good friends. For years, I thought about her every day. I could hear her voice clear as a bell in my mind.
One of the saddest days in my life came a few years ago when it occurred to me that I couldn't remember what her voice sounded like. Every once in a while, it will come to me, but it makes me sad that I can't conjure up that voice when I recollect conversations we had and things she said. All I remember are the words.
. Her voice was silenced after she had barely spent two decades on this earth by a lunatic who mistook her for the mother he hated.. That man, a student at Ozark Bible College, was found not guilty of her murder after a rare successful use of the insanity defense. I will never forget how the good people from Ozark Bible College and Rev. Cecil Todd of Revival Fires, were far more concerned with the killer than they were with the family of his victim.
Barbara's murderer has been a free man for several years, thanks to the Missouri Department of Health and former Attorney General Bill Webster, who defended the department's decision to release the killer back into society. Last I heard, and this was several years ago, Barbara's killer was married, had children, and was working as an EMT. The last I heard, he was leading the kind of life Barbara should have had, but never had the chance.
That's why the poem is so important to me. I can't always hear the way she sounded, but her words will keep her alive in my heart forever.

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