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Let Kent decide

It has been a complex process for Americans to come to terms with the events and the repercussions of the stunning terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Each community and group of people affected has had to come to some agreement, sometimes a compromise, of the way they would like the victims to be remembered. There were not many precedents to look to as examples of the best single way to memorialize those who lost their lives at the hands of foreign terrorists.

Young James Gadiel, who grew up in Kent, died, tragically, in the attack on the World Trade Center that horrendous day. With 2,605 estimated deaths in New York on 9/11, many towns in the Tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost citizens that day, leaving their families and friends bereft. While all Americans felt the pain and tragedy of those attacks, only those who lost someone close to them can truly understand that kind of loss, so sudden, so unexpected and so brutal.

Each of these affected communities has struggled to find its own way to memorialize the dead. In Kent, as Shaw Israel Izikson reported in this newspaper last week (see Page A1, Nov. 5), the Board of Selectmen decided to honor James Gadiel with a plaque in the Town Hall.

Now the wording on that plaque has become a matter of contention, with James’ father, Peter Gadiel, asking for the plaque to refer to “Muslim terrorists†as the perpetrators of the attack. The selectmen had other wording chosen to honor the young man. And now, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has made the matter a cause célèbre on his show, The O’Reilly Factor, saying he would charter a bus and visit Kent in an effort to force the wording on the plaque to include a reference to Muslims.

O’Reilly’s insertion of himself into the discussion is characteristically provocative, and perhaps his base intentions are better than they seem, but his action actually disrespects the people involved. Grief is a complicated emotion.  Those going through the stages of loss should be allowed to go through them at their own pace and to express their reactions to grief in their own ways. Both individuals and communities should be given the chance to honor their own in ways that give them comfort, yet also give public tribute to those who were victims in the attacks. Kent, and all the other communities directly affected by the terrorist attacks, should be trusted and encouraged to come to their own conclusions, mutually agreed upon, when it comes to what they consider to be fitting memorials.

Kent, with the support and encouragement of the Board of Selectmen and First Selectman Ruth Epstein, has just completed a Veterans Memorial honoring town residents who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (See the story by Izikson in last week’s Lakeville Journal, Page A7.) The funds to build the memorial, $40,000, were gathered through the efforts of a committee appointed by Epstein, and the memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. This is clearly a town that cares deeply about honoring its citizens, and it is a town that will be able to come to its own solution for honoring James Gadiel in a fitting and moving way befitting his sacrifice and that of his family.

There is one precedent that has now been set that is located at another one of the targets of the terrorists. At the Pentagon Web site (http://pentagon.afis.osd.mil/memorial.html), there is a detailed description of the memorial which has been designed for the site where American Airlines Flight 77 plunged into the Pentagon complex on 9/11. The wording there is as follows:

Pentagon Memorial — Sacred Ground

“We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and those who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.â€

These simple yet profound words go right to the core of the reason we build memorials at all: to honor those who have gone before, who have lost their lives or their loved ones and have made great sacrifices. Paying tribute to one another through memorials is one of the higher human characteristics, and it is to Kent’s credit that the town felt compelled to honor James Gadiel.

This act of kindness should not be buried in invective, and it is only debased by becoming a rallying cry for cable news talking heads. The town of Kent should be given the opportunity to work out the wording on the plaque honoring Gadiel as a community, a community that cares about its citizens and wants to remember, to “never forget.â€

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