New National Day of Service is no way to honor the 9/11 dead

By Dennis Smith

Friday, September 11th 2009, 4:00 AM

I never saw smoke like that foggy, acrid screen of 9/11. There was a terrible death in the air, and it tore everyone apart to be in that place on that morning, for every fallen stone told you of the awful loss of life.

With 9/11 my view of death changed. I cannot think of death now without remembering how deeply and forever wounded the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers of the victims were by the 19 radical Muslims who murdered their loved ones.

Those good and decent people endured and continue to endure the punishment of those murders. I have cried at the funerals of firefighters I never met as I looked at their children, realizing how the love of a father will now be denied them. I grieve for all of the children who lost a parent, for now, eight years later, they are still forced to carry a great absence in their hearts.

And, in the same way an out-of-control car coming at me would mandate a sense of self-protection, when I think of the pain felt by those children and their families, I think of the safety of my country.

We have never seen such sadness. But, we all know that even from such profound sadness can come hope, for all hope - all commitment to build a better future - is based on memory.

Remembering is sacred. Yet Congress has created a National Day of Service and Remembrance to remember 9/11, an act that has shifted the emphasis from memory to activism. Painting park benches or tutoring in schools is not a worthwhile tribute to those lost on 9/11.

Our nation has always been committed to social service and does not need guidance from Congress in finding hope. We need only to look within ourselves for the memories of our darkest day that have brought forth a sense of a better and safer future for each of us.

We should remember the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics; the 52 American hostages taken by Iranians for 444 days starting in 1979; the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing that massacred 241 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers; the 1985 hijacking in Athens, in which an American sailor was murdered; the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were massacred, including 189 Americans; the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that massacred six and injured more than 1,000; the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that massacred 257 people and injured more than 5,000.

We should remember the bombing in 2000 of the Navy destroyer Cole, which massacred 17 sailors and injured 39; the brutal and obscene murders of Daniel Pearl in 2002 and Theo van Gogh in 2004; the Madrid bombings of 2004, which massacred 191 and wounded more than 1,200; the London bombings of 2005, which massacred 52 and wounded 700, and the Mumbai attack last year that massacred 164 and wounded 308.

All of these attacks were made by fanatical Muslims with a commitment to jihad, with a consuming hatred of our nation and what it represents.

We should spend 9/11 remembering all that loathsome, barbaric murdering. We must keep the sadness in our hearts, even as we hope for the preservation of peace in our lives.

Smith, a retired New York City firefighter, is author of the book "Report from Ground Zero: The Story of the Rescue Efforts at the World Trade Center."