On several choice occasions during my 35 years as a professional writer, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a project that makes me pinch myself and thank the heavens for all those years I read books, wrote in different styles, listened to teachers, worked newspaper desks and dreamed of meaningful undertakings in life.
To say that I am humbled and honored by my most recent writing and editing job is an understatement. On Friday, the magazine I had the privilege of co-developing and editing, Saluting the Spirit of American Unity: 9/11 Remembrance Publication, hits newsstands nationwide. Already, the distributor asked for a press run well in excess of what publisher Charles Warner of Innovative Properties Worldwide had forecast.
My relationship with this magazine began seven weeks ago … or, more likely, 10 years ago, when Chuck Warner and I sat in a magazine office in Clearwater, FL and watched together with horror as the second plane hit the South World Trade Tower. Chuck, an Army veteran, called me in late July — some 4 ½ years after I’d last worked on a magazine — and asked if I’d saddle up for one more ride. Honestly, I would’ve felt unpatriotic had I said “No.”
What followed was a month of August that … well, when you’re driven to do something for a cause greater than yourself, and you believe wholeheartedly in it, you find the energy and magnetism, and the right people find you. How else can I describe the magical series of events we just completed that enabled our tiny core team of Chuck, administrative assistant Ellen Somerville, advertising director Jonathan Wilson, creative director Stacy Kovatch, my associate Lisa Maine (who doubled as photo editor), the sales force and I – plus some fine contributing writers and photographers – to push reasonable deadlines aside and not only get this done, but to get it done with style, class and excellence?
“The most important thing I wanted to convey as a veteran, is that supporting our troops and first responders is more than just saying you support the troops, or hitting a ‘like’ button on a website,” Chuck said, explaining his vision and purpose for creating the publication, which is aligned with the 9/11 Remembrance Las Vegas commemorative events taking place Sept. 9-11. “We want actions to speak louder than words through volunteering, donating, or spreading information about causes and creating awareness.”
The beauty of this 80-page tribute to 9/11 begins with its full-color content and gripping photography. While we recalled the horrible events of a decade ago, we also focused on the hope, sense of community and spirit of a people who turned tragedy into opportunity and renewed life purpose. We interviewed first responders and others who survived 9/11, worked with military servicemen and women who have served multiple tours, and got to know the many service organizations that now help returning veterans overcome their injuries (Wounded Warrior Project), find jobs (HirePatriots.com), find homes (Homes for Veterans), as well as organizations that fund other groups (AmericanFoundation.org, whose co-founder, Sergeant Major of the Army (Ret.) Jack Tilley, wrote our welcome letter). We also delve into traumatic brain injuries — the “signature injury” of the past 10 years of war — talk with people who send care packages to the troops, and interview musicians who have changed the face of meaningful music just as 9/11 changed the face of their lives.
But for me, two interviews I conducted reminded me of just how deeply 9/11 brought a greater spirit of service and camaraderie to this country. I interviewed Kevyn Major Howard, who played Rafterman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket. Kevyn has poured his life savings into Fueled by the Fallen, a collection of American muscle cars with which he tours the country to honor the fallen — the 3,000+ 9/11 victims, the 343 first responders who died at the World Trade Center while trying to rescue the trapped, the 6,000 servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and police officers who have died in the line of duty in the past 10 years. Their names are painted on the sides of the cars.
In talking with Kevyn, you get the sense of how absolutely committed this man is to keeping the names of the fallen alive in our minds and hearts. It’s his form of service. “What tickles me is that a four- or five-year-old kid will see the cars, love the cars: ‘Look Mommy, look at those cars!’ and then get around to asking a curious question, ‘Why are those names on the cars?’ That’s when both the kid and the parents experience the ‘Wow’ factor,” he says. “That’s when the dialogue and awareness start. “
The other comment that really struck me came from David McBride, marketing officer for Thorlo Socks, which provides environment-specific socks to the troops. McBride and I share something in common — fathers who served as officers in Vietnam, and were subject to the horrible treatment many citizens gave them upon returning home. I asked McBride about this. “I feel good about what we’re doing now,” he said. “Whether you agree or disagree with these wars, these people volunteered to help us. I feel good about helping them. And I feel good about the way our country has supported them since 9/11.”
Like millions of others, I will spend Sunday partially in silence, partially in quiet conversation, reflecting on the day that changed the world as we know it. I will also be forever thankful that I was called upon this summer to serve in a different way — by commemorating, through this publication, the hope and spirit of community that emerged from 9/11. It’s one of those endeavors for which my late father would’ve offered up an “atta boy,” and one is never too old to receive those.