OPINION

Fort Report with Jeff Fortenberry

Nebraska City News-Press

Thousands of people lined the streets of Omaha today for the transfer ceremony of Marine Corporal Daegan Page back to the city where he was born.  We remember his life.  We honor his sacrifice.  And we do not forget.  Thank you to all Nebraskans who poured out in support during this time of community grief.

The return of Corporal Page to his final resting place also gives us pause to remember the last 20 years of conflict.  More than 150 Nebraskans gave their lives in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those wars were fought in response to the horrific events we remembered on Sept. 11, when four planes were deployed as diabolical weapons of war against America.  

Around 3,000 persons were killed (including hundreds from foreign countries) and more than 6,000 wounded in what remains the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.  Among those killed were 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement personnel.

From the debris that floated in the wake of the World Trade Center’s collapse, thousands were physically, emotionally, and psychologically scarred.  The huge gash that cut a swath right through the five rings of the Pentagon also cut through our nation's impregnable sense of self, leaving many speechless and baffled.  

Like Pearl Harbor, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 9/11 set off a series of reactions that live with us to this day: a massive military buildup; a broad expansion of our intelligence and surveillance capabilities; a reexamination of the motives and values proposition of people who religiously believe in dark twisted ideology.

I remembered 9/11 at a ceremony at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.  My guest of honor was French military attaché, Air Brigadier General Cyril Carcy.  On Sunday, Sept. 12, the General and I traveled to Columbus to rededicate a memorial to native son Andrew Jackson Higgins, who, in the words of World War II Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was the man who won the war for us.”  

General Carcy spoke of the companion Higgins Boat memorial on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, also built by the community of Columbus.  That memorial sits at the spot where waves of American service members burst through Nazi lines and launched the liberation of Occupied France. 

More than 77 years since the D-Day landings, our generation faces another type of genocidal foe.  For 20 years, Corporal Daegan Page and his fellow service members kept our country safe from another 9/11.  

This ongoing existential battle for civilization will require the courage and creativity of The Greatest Generation, which lives on in Marines like Corporal Page and all service members who inspire us with their devotion, their determination, and their willingness to die for what is good.  Perhaps the unity of remembrance around Corporal Page’s service will allow us to again feel the unity of purpose we felt after 9/11: “One nation, under God, indivisible.”

The flag that honored Corporal Page at his burial was folded 13 times at the triangles, representing the 13 original colonies.  No red or blue stripe will be seen.  Only the blue field with stars.   It’s not lost that those last chaotic moments in Afghanistan took the lives of 13 of our best young men and women.  We grieve for the loss of this courageous young man.  We stand by his family in their sorrow.  And we pray for all those who serve and have served to protect America.  We do all these things in the hope of a more peaceful world.

Jeff Fortenberry