United States commemorates anniversary

A total of more than 350 days have passed, which leaves just about one week now, until 365.

One year.

Already, from memorial services to concerts to moments of silence, plans are under way to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, one of the deadliest days in the nation’s history.

From the first moments after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the buildings fell to the ground, after the Pentagon was struck and a hijacked plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, Sept. 11 has been compared to Dec. 7, 1941 _ the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II.

But if memories stay fresh and emotions remain raw, Sept. 11 could begin to look more like something else: Memorial Day.

It is much too early to say if the day will take on that sort of permanence, though some historians and others say it will likely be observed for the next few years. And how the day is commemorated this year, the first year, they say, will shape future years.

“If it’s something really good and moving in New York, that could lead to it,” said John Cooper, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

However, if the day is politicized, more crass than comforting, the result could be different.

“Will the president use the war for political advantage? That could work against it,” Cooper said.

In any case, the memorial events _ some of them focused on 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the first tower _ will be well-watched. Television networks are planning morning-to-night coverage, with documentaries mixed in with memorial services and concerts, such as the “Concert for America,” to be taped two days earlier at Washington’s Kennedy Center.

Networks are limiting, or in the case of Fox and the Fox News Channel, not accepting any advertising for their Sept. 11 coverage.

President Bush plans to visit New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania crash site, all on Sept. 11.

In Washington, a prayer service will be held at the National Cathedral. And the National Museum of American History will open a special exhibit looking back at the day. A few days earlier, on Sept. 6., Congress will convene in New York for a rare special session, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero.

One tribute, the singing of Mozart’s “Requiem” will travel across the country and around the world. At least 30 choirs have signed on to sing it at 9:46 a.m. Eastern time. A group of Seattle singers is organizing the effort.

Expect a renewed focus on firefighters and police officers, the new American heroes after hundreds were lost trying to save others.

The anniversary could be much like Sept. 11 itself, when a focus on the attacks was all-consuming.

“If there is a media blitz, you might get some sort of a sense of backlash,” said Illene Noppe, professor of human development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “People will say `Enough already, let’s get on with our lives.’ ”

Noppe mentioned other factors in whether Sept. 11 will become an annual remembrance: how long the “War on Terrorism” lasts, whether more terrorist incidents occur in the United States, and how strong communities other than New York feel about the remembrance.

Noppe, a New York native, recently visited Ground Zero.

“When you’re in New York, you really have a much more immediate sense of what happened,” she said. “You look at a subway map and their routes are rerouted. When a plane flies down low overhead, people are looking up. In the Midwest, in Green Bay, people will talk about it, but it’s much more on an abstract level.”

Nevertheless, colleges and communities around the state are planning events to mark the day.

Nationally, many concert tours _ including the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, the Goo Goo Dolls and others _ have purposefully left Sept. 11 open. Others, such as Jewel, according to a recent check by billboard.com, plan to perform that day.

This year, Sept. 11 falls on a Wednesday, but in the years ahead _ especially 2004 and 2005 _ people may avoid the weekend for weddings, said Connie Reilly, a wedding consultant and owner of Your Wedding in Thiensville, Wis.

“I suspect people will be really conscious of that,” she said. “I suspect there will be fewer dates planned (for that time). It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be.”

It is natural, of course, to mark the one-year anniversary of something. It fits easily into the calendar. The first year and then all the key numbers, the fifth and the 10th and the 25th. A truer test of where Sept. 11 will fall may come on the second year, or the third or the fourth or the 14th.

Consider other national holidays _ and days that aren’t national holidays.

Commemoration of the Nov. 11, 1918 end to World War I, began the following year, with parades and religious programs and moments of silence. It wasn’t until 1938, though, that what had become known as Armistice Day _ now Veterans Day _ became a federal holiday.

Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, can be traced to honoring those who died in the Civil War. Residents of Waterloo, New York, began decorating the grave sites of soldiers in 1866, a year after the war’s end. The first national observance came in 1868.

However, other communities contend they were the first to mark the day. An indication of how widespread and spontaneous the effort was in an age before the world was connected by TV, radio and the Internet.

It took years and years of lobbying and pushing in Congress and state legislatures to create a holiday marking the birthday of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. It still hasn’t been adopted by every state.

In contrast, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy is fixed in people’s memories, but Nov. 22 hasn’t become a national day of mourning.

And just five years ago, in 1995, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City killed 168. While a memorial is now on the site, for most people, April 19 already passes with little thought.

On Dec. 7, 1942 _ a year after Pearl Harbor _ the nation was deep into the war effort, and area residents joined others across the United States in marking the day.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, church bells rang and factory whistles blew at 1:30 p.m., the hour of the attack. There was a half-minute of silence, during which residents faced west _ toward the enemy. That night, there was a war bond rally at the Auditorium.

Cooper, the UW-Madison history professor, said if there’s a groundswell of support, and even a lobbying effort, Congress may one day look at declaring Sept. 11 an official holiday.

“To be crass about it, though, the timing isn’t terribly good because it’s right after Labor Day,” said Cooper, though he noted Veteran’s Day has had more than one date thanks to Congress.

For now, though, the day will remain a holiday in the heart.