While September 11, 2001 grows deeper into history over time, our attachment to that day grows stronger as we seek to never forget the events that strengthened the bonds to further unite America’s people. To some, the War on Terror is very personal as they recall media coverage, personal experiences or perhaps even lost a loved one on that day. Today’s younger generations, on the other hand may only be familiar through conversation that takes place at the dinner table among their parents and grandparents. At the age of 19 on September 11, 2001, however, my personal recollection of that day reflects the routine of a college student but has transitioned to a personal mission to exhibit my commitment to patriotism.

I can vividly remember walking into the dorm’s lounge and seeing the images of buildings in New York with smoke rolling out of them. I remember trying to get filled in as quickly as possible as to what was happening. As a 19 year old kid, while I knew this event was a big deal, I’m not sure that I fully understood the importance of what was happening at that moment, and routinely went about my day…I still went to classes and my campus job; my day did not stand still.

Time has allowed the emotion to sink in, however, and having friends who now serve as one of Branson’s hometown defenders, their pledge to serve and protect the community in which I am now raising my own children.

Matt Eaves, my friend and former classmate at College of the Ozarks, is now a Branson Fire & Rescue engineer. Matt and I initially met at the College of the Ozarks firehouse where he was studying to become a firefighter some day. He remembers going to class that morning to find everyone huddled around a computer to watch the events unfolded over national television.

“It was kind of weird. I hadn’t been in the fire service that long; I didn’t have a huge connection to it yet. So the actual events on that particular day were not as big of a deal as it has become to me now.”

“Being around the fire service as long as I have, it (9/11) really becomes emotional… what we say in the fire service world is to ‘not forget’ says Eaves. The Branson Fire Department goes the extra mile to ensure its service men and women never forget. On Thursday, they added a name of one of their fellow firefighters from 9-11 onto their riding board to carry with them throughout the day. “We carry their memories with us, especially this month. “

“For me, the experience of 9/11 has changed from the time it happened – especially after being a part of the fire service for 16 years since then.”

One person who was already well entrenched in the fire service during the events of September 11, 2001 was Branson Fire Chief Ted Martin. Martin said in an interview, “On September 11, we were staffed here at the fire station and saw the first impact on television. As we were watching that news story develop it was obvious that the country was under attack. We were a thousand miles away and loaded with firefighters who were ready to go, but we still had a community to serve.”

“We could hear the personal safety devices that were worn by firefighters in the background [of the news report] going off. We knew there were a lot of injured firefighters. That was hard to listen to here, locally. It was one big challenge to be sitting this far away and not be able to do anything about it, but to simply focus on our brothers and sisters in the fire service and emergency service,” added Chief Martin.

Taking the time to focus on those who were directly impacted by this national tragedy is something that Branson takes very seriously. College of the Ozarks is home to the September 11 “Lest We Forget Memorial” which includes one of the last remaining remnants of the World Trade Center, which is part of their memorial.  Marci Linson who is the Deans of Admissions at the college is also the Vice President of Patriotic Activities and shared her memories of that day: “I was working in the admissions office and one of my colleagues on campus called and said ‘have you seen the news?’ It all unfolded from there. I remember being very, very frightened because we didn’t know what was going on.”

While Matt and myself where students at College of the Ozarks at that time, students enrolled there today ranged in age of two to four years old. They know about what happened, but its impact may not be the same. It is the goal of Linson and the college to make sure that they understand the emotion involved.

“As I oversee Patriotic Activities that include special events and ceremonies, we make sure that we remember 9/11 every year. Of course the college has made it a priority to honor 9/11 heroes every year; we are blessed with the opportunity to handle it. We have children from daycare all the way up through college. It’s not just about remembering – it’s about making sure the younger generations know. We want them to know, even the hard things.”

These efforts not only reach the residents and visitors of Branson, but the local service men and women take notice as well. For those like Matt Eaves it is not taken for granted.

“With all of the different events and the media coverage, the general feeling of Branson residents and visitors is that you’re always getting a ‘thanks for your service’ and ‘Thank You’. We had a lady come up to us the other day, very emotional, saying thank you about a call we ran – not even our crew but one of the crews in Branson – that basically saved her life. “

“It’s not even just about the firefighters or the emergency responders; it is about all of the people that passed away that day. I think Branson does a good job at remembering and honoring their memories. I appreciate the different events and lengths the different businesses and organizations go to, it is done very tastefully. It’s not a ‘Hey look at us’, it’s providing a venue to remember.”

Chief Martin seconds Eaves’ belief. “It [Branson] turned into a community that is really resilient in serving and working with other communities that were affected…and by remembering.”

This year Branson is proud to continue its tradition of honoring America’s heroes and hometown defenders. Throughout the month of September, all Fire & Rescue, EMT, law enforcement, active military personnel and veterans will receive free admission to Silver Dollar City, and half-price admission for their spouse. For the rest of us, I encourage all to join me in my challenge to take time to reflect and never forget.