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Utahns look back

9/11 pain, patriotism endure

Erin Moreno wants her young sons to better understand what the nation lost two years ago. So today, her husband will take time out from his New York City business trip to call the family from ground zero.

"Their dad is going to be there at the spot, so I think that's definitely going to hit them," the Sandy homemaker, 33, said. "He's going to describe the whole area, and he's going to describe how people are feeling. . . . That's very important to me. I want my kids to know how it feels for the people who are there."

The couple's four boys, ranging in age from 4 to 10 years old, know little about the day terrorists crashed jet airliners filled with passengers into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.

"We didn't really push it on them the day of. I felt they were too young to appreciate what was happening. I felt that they would be scared, they would wonder if it was going to happen to them," Moreno said.

They learned a little more about the aftermath of terrorism earlier this year when the United States went to war against Iraq. Still, Moreno said she worries that for her children and others, the horror of 9/11 is "just something that happened on TV."

Moreno, a member of a panel of Utahns assembled in November 2001 by the Deseret Morning News, KSL-TV and KSL 1160 Newsradio, said in the two years since the tragedy, her family is focused not on fear but on getting the most out of every day.

"I don't want to say I have a sense of peace, because I don't. I have a sense of sorrow for what happened, but you know what? It woke us up to a better way of living," she said. "Those people didn't die in vain because they helped millions of other people to realize that."

Another panelist, Pastor Kristian Erickson of Christ Lutheran Church in Murray, would probably be heartened to hear Moreno's assessment of life after the attack on America. Last year, he observed the positive changes many people professed to have made might not last.

"The crisis of it sparked people for a while, but just for a while," Erickson, 44, said. "It's not a hot topic any more in my experience. It's not good, but I'm not surprised. Because it's a life-or-death matter, I think it says something about our attention span on crucial matters."

His parishioners, Erickson said, are no different. Every Sunday, they pray for the nation and for the soldiers sent overseas. A banner on the wall of the church lists names of troops with ties to the congregation.

And yet, he said, they don't discuss 9/11 unless prompted.

"I try not to make judgments," he said. "I only know I don't hear people talking about it very much. I wish they would. That there is a trust that things have returned to relative normalcy either means we're naive or we're confident because nothing major has happened."

Erickson said he continues to feel as patriotic as he did just after the attacks.

"I do believe — and I don't know who I might shock by saying this — being a Christian and being an American is not identical. My patriotism is certainly related to my faith but quite distinct from it. I love this country because it allows me to preach the gospel."

Noor Ul-Hasan, a 39-year-old homemaker from Rose Park on the panel, recently started wearing the head covering traditional to her Muslim faith. After years of blending into her adopted homeland, the hijab is a way of asserting her beliefs.

"I did not wear it because I thought I would be perceived as being a person who is forced to do something and is backward," she said. The events of 9/11, however, helped change her mind about embracing a visible sign of her religion.

"I was oblivious to a lot of things. I never discussed politics or religion with anybody before that. I used to be a banker. I thought that was something you just don't do," Ul-Hasan said. "I looked like everybody else."

The changes in her life began shortly after the terrorist attacks, when she decided to give up a high-powered career to stay home with her son, 10, and daughter, 12.

Ul-Hasan didn't start covering her long, dark hair in public until six months ago, after thinking about it for nearly that long. She said she was "afraid of the backlash that I thought may occur," especially while traveling with her children.

And there have been unwelcome stares, including some from students at her son's school. But there are also questions that are opportunities for her to help people better understand Islam. That's a responsibility that Ul-Hasan said she didn't recognize until two years ago.

"That's the difference with Sept. 11. I lost a lot of my life, living my life in the Western world," she said. "What little time, two years out of my soon-to-be 40 years, I've had to right a wrong impression about a whole race."

Melissa Dalley, also a panelist, worries that people are forgetting. "They just get back into their everyday lives and don't remember the effect that it had. When that happens, that's when some other dumb idiot out there gets an idea to do something."

Dalley, 24, recently lost her job due to the downturn in the economy and lives with her parents in West Jordan. She said at the check printing company where she was working, employees marked the first anniversary of the attacks with a memorial.

"We did things to show we are proud to be American. We had hot dogs and lemonade," she said. "We had a moment of silence for everything." Employees wrote notes detailing why they were thankful to live in this country. The notes were slipped into balloons that were let go.

This year, though, there was less enthusiasm for the event. "It was kind of a mixed reaction. Some people were like, well, we really need to remember those people. Other people were like, well, we really need to move on and quit celebrating this."

That upsets Dalley, who said 9/11 "really opened up my eyes to how lucky we are to be here. . . . I really never had anything affect me to where I was grateful for what I have. Because of what happened, it will probably stay with me forever."

Loata Toki, a 17-year-old senior at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center downtown, sobbed softly as she described how she can't stop thinking about that shocking day two years ago.

"Sept. 11 is always on my mind," Toki said during an interview of a group of students that was arranged by the high school. "Every time I see an American flag or something, I'm always reminded."

She also has something else to remind her of 9/11. Her father, a truck driver who is on the road for months at a time, made a trip to New York City this summer to see the site where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

"He went to ground zero. We have a picture of him there," Toki said. The brief visit was emotional for her father, too. Her mother hadn't wanted him to go, fearing what might happen there.

But Toki encouraged her father and recounted his reaction to the scene. "He just started crying. He said he was happy that he went and got to see ground zero. And that was just for like 10 minutes. I was really happy that he went."

Don McClenny, 51, a former military and defense department employee who now owns a business in Sandy, is struggling to maintain the optimism he felt for this country after the attacks.

"I guess I'm disappointed," McClenny said. "I believe that the opportunity for increasing patriotism has been lost. . . . Those people outside America watching us, we've given the Muslims plenty of ammunition for their jihad."

That ammunition is this country's moral ambiguity on many issues, he said.

"The threat is the United States' continued insistence that everybody else in the world has to accept our moral values and our culture and not find what we do offensive," McClenny said.

The events of 9/11, he said, were "a wake-up call that we are only part of a global culture, and many, many nations outside America see us as a poor example and, as a matter of fact, a threat."

Manaza Akhtar, 16 and a junior at Horizonte, said she and her family endured insults after the attacks. Someone drove by her grandmother's house and yelled that the Indian-Pakistani family should go back where they came from.

"People suspect you. They always wonder. They look at you different now. Different after 9/11," the soft-spoken Akhtar said. "We were in fear at first. It didn't make us more patriotic. Why would people turn on Americans?"

Still, she said she was able to travel to Pakistan last year without incident. And the future international affairs and business major is more determined than ever to succeed, "to show them we're not just terrorists."

Teenagers have a different perspective on the attacks, she said, because they're growing up with the images of the day's death and destruction played over and over. For example, she questions why the war on terrorism isn't targeting domestic hate groups.

All this has, however, given her a new appreciation and pride for her family's heritage. "I was born and raised American," she said. "I thought I was American until they told me I wasn't."


E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com