The late country music icon, Kenny Rogers, recorded a song titled, “Twenty Years Ago.” It is a song about a man returning to his hometown after being gone for two decades. The man sees many changes in his hometown. He notices the people he remembered who were no longer alive. I imagine we would all have a similar experience if we left for that long and came home. We can look back, without leaving, and see many changes from this date twenty years ago.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I woke up like any other day. It was a beautiful sunny day. At the time, my office was in a construction trailer behind the old jail. Dana Martin, June Blackwell, Billy Little, and I were the Transition Team working on the new jail. We worked under the direction of Chief Mike Malone. Nothing was different about this day as we were preparing for a meeting.

Immediately after the first attack, our plans changed. No doubt, many people’s plans changed. While most people made their way home for the evening to sit in front of the television with their family, others continued to work. There were many good police chiefs protecting the cities within our county at the time. The fire chiefs were equally talented. Former Sheriff Roger Garrison stepped up and brought all these agencies together to work in unison. It is very possible; this day was one of the finest moments in his career. He was the leader. And he led a unified Cherokee County Public Safety.

As talented as our county’s public safety was at the time, we all knew there was nothing we could do to stop an airplane from crashing in our community. There were things we could do. It was the job of all public safety to protect the infrastructure of our county. Water and power sources were protected around the clock. While many slept, there were men and women working to protect these important places with their lives if necessary. This was not a feel-good thing or for show. Had anyone tried to harm these places, they would have paid with their lives.

At the time of this historic incident, I was married to one of the most liberal Democrats I have ever met. We were on such separate ends of the political spectrum; we could not watch a political debate in the same room. When I got home from work the night of September 11, 2001, we sat together and cried at the several thousand lives which were lost to the cowards who attacked our country. We watched former President Bush stand and speak as those on both sides of the aisle stood and clapped. We both cursed al-Qaeda. Maureen passed away in 2015. Though we were divorced, she asked for me at the end of her life. There was no question I would be there. We had one last opportunity to say I love you before she drifted off to sleep and woke up on the other side. Heaven gained a kind soul.

In 2001, people loved the police, fire, EMS, and 9-1-1. They were celebrated daily. Who would have guessed that twenty years later, law enforcement officers would be hated by many? There are some rogue officers who have committed horrific crimes. Whether you believe this or not, no one despises these criminals more than the thousands of good officers who protect and serve. There was not a lot of talk about racism twenty years ago. People of all colors seemed to be living in harmony. Maybe it was just Cherokee County. Now, virtually everything we see and hear seems to have some relation to racism. That sounds stupid even when I type it. Twenty years ago, all Americans had a common enemy in al-Qaeda. Today our enemies are our neighbors and friends.

Twenty years ago, we lived in a world without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and

Snapchat. We had Blackberries and pagers. People had to talk to one another, so there was less mouthing off. I miss that. Social media has created a nation of many cowards who feel brave sitting in front of a computer screen. And for those of you who hate and distrust the police, here is an idea. The next time someone pulls a gun on you, robs you, or beats you up, call a criminal. See how that works out for you. Current Sheriff Frank Reynolds is equally prepared to protect our county. If anything, with social media, his job is tougher.

We need God now as much as any time in history. In my opinion, if every Christian spent as much time talking to God as we talk on social media, our world would be a better place.

Never forget!

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Chris Collett is a longtime resident of Cherokee County.

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