By Bob Smietana | The Tennessean
The banner on the table at Jamie Craig's house in Spring Hill read "Thank You" and "9/11" in red and blue letters.
Around the table, Craig's daughter, Anissa, and some friends were busy adding pictures of flags and personal messages.
The banner is one of five they will give to local firefighters and police officers on the anniversary of 9/11, along with meals and cards from local school kids.
As the kids worked, images from news reports that Craig had videotaped from her television on Sept. 11, 2001, played on a big screen.
Craig has no personal connection with anyone killed on 9/11. But she was so moved by the event that she wants to pass on the meaning to her children.
"This is one of those days that need to be remembered," she said. "They need to remember that 9/11 is all about recognizing the heroes."
Over the past decade, millions of Americans like Craig have commemorated Sept. 11 with community service projects and ceremonies honoring the victims of that day's terrorist attacks. But some worry that as the years pass by, the memories of those attacks will fade and 9/11 could become just another day on the calender. They are determined not to let that happen.
Chief Jamie Steele of the Hendersonville Fire Department said it's human nature to forget historic events.
That's why, for example, few people take time to honor Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7, he said.
"It's not that you don't want to remember," he said. "It's that if you don't make a conscious effort, you will forget."
That's one reason the Hendersonville Fire Department commemorates Sept. 11 with an official ceremony at the city's memorial park every year.
Steele believes a new memorial, which includes a 4-foot section of a steel beam from the World Trade Center, will also keep the memory of that day alive.
Steele said that he once visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, which made Pearl Harbor Day more real to him. Not everyone is able to make that trip, he said.
But now people can put their hands on a piece of the World Trade Center closer to home.
"9/11 has been brought all the way home to Hendersonville," he said.
Redefining the day
It's not easy for an event like Sept. 11, which started in tragedy, to become an enduring holiday.
American holidays tend to be ones that have some kind of positive message for the future, said Len Travers, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
The Fourth of July, he said, is easy to celebrate because it commemorates a happy moment that defined America's future.
"Sept. 11 was a tragedy," he said. "It is not a feel-good moment."
And it took years for Americans to embrace a feel-good holiday like the Fourth of July.
Travers said that a few big cities, including Boston and Philadelphia, held annual celebrations on Independence Day, in the years after the Revolutionary War. But the day wasn't celebrated in small communities.
"There was a time -- after about 10 years -- when its longevity was doubtful," he said.
The first city to make the Fourth an official holiday was Boston in 1783. The city already had a Revolutionary War holiday on March 3, the day of the Boston Massacre. But its popularity was waning.
So the city's leaders dropped the Boston Massacre holiday and replaced it with the Fourth of July, which they saw as a happier occasion.
Travers said that Independence Day has endured because it became seen as a day that defined America's future rather just remembering the past.
The same has to happen for Sept. 11, he said.
"It has to become something that people want to rally around," he said.
David Paine agrees.
Paine is a co-founder of My Good Deed, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based nonprofit, that organizes the national community service event called 9/11 Day.
He said that groups like his have tried from the beginning to link Sept. 11 to community service.
"We were all concerned about the long-term reality that America would forget the significance of 9/11," he said. "We had to redefine the day into something that people would rally around for years to come.
Community service is a way to remember how the country came together after the terrorist attacks, Paine said, as well as to honor those who died on that day.
"That way the terrorists don't get to define what 9/11 means for us and our country," he said.
Paine believes that people are beginning to embrace the idea of Sept. 11 as a day of service over the long haul.
Last year, Paine said, about 30 million Americans did some kind of community service on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. This year they expect that number to be closer to 10 million.
That's still significantly higher than the ninth anniversary, when only about 3 million took part, he said.
My Good Deed was one of the groups that lobbied Congress to name Sept. 11 as a national day of prayer and remembrance, which it did in 2009.
On Friday, President Barack Obama's official proclamation for the Sept. 11 commemoration asked Americans to once again join together for the good of the country.
"Today, the legacy of Sept. 11 is one of rescue workers who rushed to the scene, firefighters who charged up the stairs, passengers who stormed the cockpit -- courageous individuals who put their lives on the line to save people they never knew," he wrote.
Last year about 900 people took part in community service in Clarksville, Tenn., on Sept. 11 said Rita Arancibia, program manager for Hands On Clarksville.
Arancibia said this year volunteers will put in about 500 plants at a new garden at Fort Campbell, do fall cleaning at a food pantry and a homeless shelter, and renovate several houses.
She, too, fears the memory of Sept. 11 is fading in people's minds. "We just don't talk about it the way we used to," she said.
She sees community service as the best way to honor those who died on Sept. 11 as well as the members of the military who have given their lives in service to the country since 2001.
Besides, that's what Americans do, she said.
"We step up to the plate. We stand up and help each other. That is the spirit and the soul of this country," she said.
In Spring Hill, Jamie Craig and a group of friends plan to spend the day visiting with local firefighters and police officers. They'll deliver banners to three fire stations and two police stations in the morning, along with breakfast donated by local restaurants.
Later in the day they'll return with donated lunches and dinner, along with thank-you cards from students from her daughter Anissa and Anissa's classmates at Longview Elementary School.
Doing the cards was Anissa's idea, Craig said.
Anissa took a break from decorating the banner to say that it's good to say thank you to firefighters and police officers on a day like Sept. 11.
"At 9/11, people died and they had to rescue them, and it was really hard because a lot of people were hurt," she said.
Contact Bob Smietana at email@example.com or 615-259-8228.