News Column

Sept. 11 a National Holiday? The Jury's Out

Sept. 11, 2012

Lona O'Connor

Sept. 11 is designated as Patriot Day, a day of remembrance. Whether it will ascend to the more rarified status of national holiday remains to be seen.

There are those for whom 9/11 is so personal that as far as they're concerned it might as well be a national holiday already.

"If it was a national holiday, you would still see firefighters doing a remembrance for their own," said Keith Bryer, division chief for emergency medical services for Palm Beach Gardens Fire-Rescue and organizer of Tuesday's ceremony in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "I could certainly see where it could be done, maybe somewhere down the road. The fire service would be all for it."

The most recent national holiday, Martin Luther King Day in January, began in 1969 as an observance at the Atlanta museum named for the slain civil rights leader. It took 15 years, considerable politicking and an act of Congress to make its way from informal observance to national holiday.

The relationship between first responders and 9/11 is a complex one, Bryer said. They will always remain profoundly moved by the deaths of their brothers and sisters on Sept. 11, the 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority employees, all trying to save others' lives.

"There are hundreds that die in the regular line of duty, and it's no less of a sacrifice," Bryer said. "And think about the military over there. Sept. 11 was an act of war. It's important that we not forget the military."

Toward that end, the scheduled keynote speaker at the countywide remembrance is Raul Diaz, who volunteered for service at an age when most people are contemplating the pleasant prospect of grandchildren. He served two tours of duty, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now 55-year-old Diaz, a psychologist, left his private practice in the hands of his partner, joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 2006 and shipped out for Baghdad.

"At that time we were very busy in our practice, and I would hear the stories of veterans coming back, their experiences of the war zone. I also interviewed former New York City police officers seeking employment here," Diaz said. "Listening to them, I decided I could do a little more than sit in a comfortable air-conditioned office with my tie on. So I said, why not join the reserves?"

His skills were in particular demand. His clients for many years have been first responders and veterans. He evaluates candidates for police and fire jobs and counsels them after deaths and other traumatic incidents. Many of his clients at the time were military reservists. So when he joined the Army, he became a battlefield psychologist, consulting with soldiers about the unbearable stress of combat, in the war zone with them. His second deployment ended in May.

It was personal for Diaz too.

"September 11 was the first day of the global war on terror. One of my staff was in the Navy, called to active duty," he said. "To suddenly, out of nowhere be cast into the role of being at war, that is a trauma. In 26 days, we were bombing Afghanistan."

Diaz, a major in the Army Reserves, is now a team leader at the Jupiter Veterans Center, helping returning veterans and their families readjust to civilian life.

Diaz acknowledges that having been there, in some cases in the exact same place, as some of his clients gives him a special kind of credibility in their eyes. It takes many veterans a long time to open up to anybody, he said.

"Whether September 11 is a (national) holiday or not is an administrative decision above my pay grade," Diaz said. "It's a special day in the hearts of myself and veterans and police and firefighters and most Americans. It changed the lives of many of us."

As a combat psychologist, he saw much of what they saw -- IEDs, rockets fired into their compound. He is a great believer in the healing power of soldiers unburdening themselves of their experiences in a safe environment and says he has benefited from some of that sharing too.

A straight-arrow kind of guy, he has made one concession to the post-military life. He still works in an air-conditioned office, "but I haven't worn a tie since I got back." EVENTS

The seventh memorial Blue Mass will begin with a video, poetry and honor guard, at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, 2555 N.E. Savannah Road, Jensen Beach. Mass celebrated by Palm Beach Bishop Gerald Barbarito begins at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon. Donations to defray expenses will be accepted from all non-uniformed guests. For information, call (772) 334-4214 Ext.12 or visit www.stmartindp.com.

A 911 Mass of remembrance will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 370 S.W. 3rd St., Boca Raton. For information call (561) 392-0007 or visit www.stjoan.org

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the fifth Blue Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, 840 George Bush Blvd., Delray Beach. A dessert reception in Kellaghan Hall will follow. RSVP is required for reception. Call the parish office at (561) 276-6892.

Bishop Barbarito will celebrate a Blue Mass for first responders of all faiths at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 29 at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, 9999 North Military Trail, Palm Beach Garden. For more information, call (561) 622-2565.



Source: (c)2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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