Chatham, Massachusetts is so beautiful in late summer that visitors often stop and stare at the brilliant interplay of sun, surf and sand along Cape Cod’s outer shore. It was in that perfect setting that David and Lynn Angell joined with other members of their extended family to celebrate a wedding one joyous weekend. David had made his fortune in California as producer of the NBC comedy hits Cheers and Frasier, but he kept a summer house in Chatham, not far from his Rhode Island birthplace. He was doing well enough that his wife Lynn — described as the epitome of southern graciousness and charm by a friend — could devote much of her time to charity. As they departed for California on Tuesday morning to attend the Emmy Awards, they knew they had a wonderful life.
A few hours later, their plane — American Airlines Flight 11 — hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Two wonderful lives ended instantly in a mass atrocity that would claim thousands of other lives before the day ended. Actress Berry Berenson was on the plane, as were Pete and Sue Hanson of Groton, Mass. — taking their three-year-old daughter Christine on her first plane ride so she could visit Disneyland. Tara Creamer was on the flight too, feeling bad that she had left behind her own children (Colin, 4 and Nora, 1) to go on a business trip; “she was everything to me and my children,” her husband told the Boston Globe. David Aoyama. Gloria de Barrera. Chuck Jones. James and Mary Trentini. All gone.
It has now been so long since the terrorist attacks of 9-11 that memories of pain and loss are beginning to fade even among the family members whose loved ones were on Flight 11. The nation has waged a continuous campaign against global terrorism for nearly five years, and some people think it has been a big success because there has been no repeat of the 9-11 horrors on American soil. But there is at least one respect in which the campaign has not gone well at all: the most senior leaders of al Qaeda, who planned the atrocities of 9-11, are still at large. In fact, they feel so secure in their secret sanctuaries that they have taken to releasing communiques on a nearly monthly basis.
The continued freedom of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri (not to mention fellow travelers such as Omar and Zarkhawi) is an inspiration to extremists around the world, a constant reminder that for all its economic and military power, America still has no real answer to the challenge posed by Islamic fundamentalism. It’s not that we have no idea where the terrorists are — Eric Schmitt reported in the New York Times on May 28 that U.S. officials think leaders of both al Qaeda and the Taliban are holed up in Pakistan, near the Afghan border. And it’s a safe bet that the U.S. has everything from spy satellites to Global Hawk surveillance vehicles to special operations forces looking for them. But they haven’t been found.
Who could have imagined in the days following 9-11 that the perpetrators of the biggest attack ever on America would still be free men five years later? Is it really possible that U.S. intelligence capabilities are so deficient we cannot find the tallest man in Afghanistan — a stateless, poorly resourced zealot — after spending more time searching than it took America to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War Two? If any comfort at all can be taken from the tragic deaths of David and Lynn Angell, and Pete and Sue Hanson, and Tara Creamer, it lies in the alarm that their last moments should have sounded for a distracted nation. But the fact that their murderers are still at large tells us the alarm was not loud enough in some quarters, and that our sense of outrage has already begun to wane.
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