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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Never Forgotten

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's been seven years since it happened; move on with your life, many have been told. Many are left without closure, and even far from the scene of New York's destroyed Twin Towers, locals still stuggle to make sense of the terrorism.

Bill Feis, who teaches American History courses at Buena Vista University, hears people comparing 9-11 to Pearl Harbor.

"It was definitely a historical event. It has reshaped American culture, entertainment and politics," Feis says. He vividly remembers going to class that day and seeing his students dumbfounded. "They were trying to make sense of something that didn't make sense," he said.

He says Americans will never forget 9-11, and that they will always unfortunately link it with Iraq and Afghanistan, and their own government's response. "I don't think we'll know the true impact until we know the impact of our choices."

The legacy of the tragedy can be seen locally today in security measures.

"9-11 changed a lot of lives, and we are certainly more aware of security issues as a result," reflects Bob Christensen, director of emergency management for Buena Vista County.

"I hope that the legacy isn't that people are afraid in their lives, because this is still one of the safest countries on earth to live in - but I do hope we have learned to be more aware."

Locally, homeland security as a result of 9-11 can be seen in Storm Lake's mobile command center, in metal detectors at the courthouse, and emergency radio units and warning sirens added around the county.

For emergency officials, everything has changed. "In this area, it means ensuring the safety of the food supply, something we always took for granted. It means tightening security on people coming into the country. It means a presidential mandate to achieve a certain level of emergency response training, and to get all federal, state and local agencies on the same page so that we can all communicate if there is a disaster," Christensen said.

Earlier this year Freedom Quilter Betty Nielsen received a call from the World Trade Center National Memorial and Museum to come to filming in New York for the Service Nation Summit in August to help promote volunteering. Some 500 leaders including presidential hopefuls Barrack Obama and John McCain will view the tape.

Nielsen and her husband also visited 'The Tribute Center,' created to provide information to the many visitors who flock to Ground Zero each year. Peoplewho were personally affected by the event, family members, rescue workers prticipate in the tours. "When they talk about their loved ones it's hard. People kind of give them that look that they need to move on," says Nielsen. Nielsen remembers asking one woman, "You're not all right are you?" The woman replied "No, I'm not." Nielsen said many of the tour guides shared their stories of lost loved ones with visitors.

"It's done very respectfully, nothing gaudy," reflects Nielsen of the museum. "You come out of there with a sense of more respect, you learn more about what happened. It gets you a little bit more grounded."

For the taping Nielsen was asked to share why she started the Freedom Quilts project to make memorial quilts for all families who lost a loved one in the terrorist attacks, and why she continues the project even after seven years.

Nielsen said the reason for the video project is they want to encourage others to volunteer. "They want the whole country to join in and volunteer and not be afraid to volunteer," she says. People from across the nation will mobilize on Sept. 27, a day of action to demonstrate the impact that service has had and could have on the nation and around the world. Dr. Martin Luther King once said "Anyone can be great because anyone can serve."

Nielsen said the video featured other volunteers like a sister of a man who had died in the towers. The sister had travelled to Africa to help children which is something her brother had dreamed of doing but never got the chance to. Some volunteers came to donate blood others brought food and water, Nielsen came with comfort and warmth through the the handmade qulits to hand out in December 2001. Since the beginning of her project she has made close to 6000 quilts for fallen soldiers and victims of other tragedies like Hurricane Katrina and Iowa flood victims.

One man Nielsen met during the visit was Lee Ielpi, a retired NYC firefighter who lost his son Jonathan when the south towers collapsed. Nielsen says since then he has worked tirelessly to bring comfort to others who have lost loved ones. Three months after the attack the body of his son was found. Lee is also President of the September 11th Families Association.

Nielsen says she is going to make a quilt for the tribute center but also make a quilt to dedicate to honor the memory of Lee's son. Nielsen said she'd bring the quilt to Lee, but he told her he'd like to come to Iowa personally to pick it up. Nielsen said they also met with Jan Ramirez, the chief Curator.

The Freedom Towers which are being constructed are projected to be completed by 2012.Nielsen said as she looked at the Ground Zero site she wondered how they could finish by then. After seven years crews continue to clean the site carefully looking for thousands of missing remains.

Nielsen says she still sees some fear in the families even after seven years. "They're still going to counselling, still dealing with nightmares. Some of the kids don't smile," she says. "They put on a front."

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