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WOSTER: War on terror has price

Ten years ago at this time, I don't think I'd ever heard of Osama bin Laden. Now the entire world knows he is dead. His name was on numerous intelligence reports a decade ago, months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center an...

Ten years ago at this time, I don't think I'd ever heard of Osama bin Laden. Now the entire world knows he is dead.

His name was on numerous intelligence reports a decade ago, months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I didn't have a need to know that sort of intelligence before the terrorist attacks. It was only after the attacks, and after the initial shock, that folks began to look for people to blame and the newspapers and broadcasts began to carry stories that talked about intelligence reports warning of this bin Laden and his determination to carry out such an attack within the borders of the United States.

I remember being asked by an editor during the first hours after the attacks to find some old veterans of previous wars and talk with them about their thoughts and feelings. The Janklow-inspired celebration of the World War II memorial at Capitol Lake was coming up the weekend after the attacks. The run-up to that celebration had included a lot of talk about the big war and had generated numerous print and broadcast stories with old soldiers and sailors reminiscing about fighting in the cold of Europe and the steaming heat of the South Pacific.

I drew on some of those stories and clips to gather contacts for the 9-11 assignment. Some of the veterans I contacted were pretty subdued. Others were more vocal and more willing to let their anger show.

Several of the World War II veterans used the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor as a reference point to discuss their feelings about the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. A lot of folks did that -- commentators, government officials, educators -- but it rang most true for me when the comparison came from older men and women who had actually experienced, if not the Pearl Harbor attack, then at least the mood of the country at that time.

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More than one of the old soldiers and sailors called the terrorist attacks this generation's Pearl Harbor. One of the veterans said that before Pearl Harbor, his generation hadn't been tested. Nobody knew how it would respond. He expressed optimism, even a strong confidence that the generation attacked on 9-11 would respond as the World War II generation had, that the younger generation would meet the challenge in a fierce and relentless counterattack.

I can't recall any of the old veterans I interviewed even hinting that they believed the United States would still be fighting a war on terror a decade later. Yet men and women still serve in the United States military, and a number of them serve in the most dangerous areas of the world.

In the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, I went from a newspaper reporter covering the last couple of years of the last Janklow administration to a state government employee working across the hall from South Dakota's Office of Homeland Security. That office didn't exist before the attacks.

After the Sept. 11 attacks and before my retirement from newspapering at the end of 2008, I wrote several stories about soldiers from South Dakota who died on active duty. I went to funerals of young men I'd never met and tried to learn as much as I could about them so I could put into the stories at least a sense of their spirit and their character. They deserved more, but that was all I had.

So now bin Laden is dead. The news swept the country and the rest of the world on Sunday. I sat in our living room reading a book with the television in the background. A news bulletin caught my attention, and I listened awhile for details.

When I turned off the television and the lights and went to bed, I thought of South Dakota soldiers whose lives and deaths I'd helped to chronicle. I hope their service and sacrifices will be remembered long after the uproar over the news from Pakistan has faded.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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