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Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Private Grief on A Grim Anniversary
By Jim Belshaw
Of the Journal
Had Michael Campana not sent an e-mail on Monday, I never would have thought to call him on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. But then he'd not made the 9/11 connection, either, though he has reason enough for the day to be very much in his mind.
Neither of us anticipated a telephone conversation about quiet remembrance and a search for justice and the need to laugh when a conspiracy theorist insinuates her loony ideas into the day.
Campana had sent a Web link to an odd newspaper story on bottled water, not 9/11. When I called him, he said the connection we had with that terrible day never occurred to him.
His sister, Ann Campana Judge, died when American Airlines Flight 77 hurtled into the Pentagon.
"This (anniversary) is no different than any of the others that preceded it," he said. "We have a thing in the U.S. about anniversaries that are multiples of five. You know five, 10, 15. So the fifth anniversary is more special than the fourth or the third. I suspect things will calm down until the 10th, which will be another big deal."
When I met him shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, he was a hydrologist at the University of New Mexico. He is now the director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University.
He said his family did nothing to formally mark the day.
"We don't have that kind of remembrance," he said. "I don't have a problem actually doing something formal, but we all deal with things in different ways. If people want to do that, that's fine with me."
He looked forward to Monday with a sense of foreboding, but not for the obvious reason.
"I guess I was kind of dreading this year, but not so much for remembering," he said. "I remember what happened every day. But I see a lot of people trying to make political hay and I thought, why do we have to sit through this for a couple of days? A lot of people are sincere, but I see politicians ... trying to score some points with 9/11, and it makes me sick."
In 2001, I would not have met him at all had it not been for a controversy about a thoughtless remark made by former UNM history professor, Richard Berthold, who said in a classroom "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon gets my vote."
Campana, who had never met Berthold (and had no desire to), wrote a letter to the Journal defending Berthold's right to free speech, regardless of how repellent it might be.
"I really don't think about him," he said on Monday. "But I sometimes fear that in this country many people really don't have a true commitment to freedom of speech. When I hear people say those who debate the Iraq war are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, it's like deja vu all over again with Vietnam."
Five years after the day, he still wants his sister's killer brought to justice. When he reads "experts" saying Osama bin Laden is not as important as he once was, Campana disagrees.
"This guy is responsible for the murder of 3,000 people," he said. "As far I know, that's still a felony in this country."
Sept. 11 stays with him every day, usually quietly, usually privately. No fanfare, no ceremony, no speeches.
But every once in a while an exception intrudes.
"You'll love this," he e-mailed. "My wife called me after her first Pilates lesson this a.m. Without knowing our connection to 9/11, the instructor started going off on how the remains of AA Flt. #77 were never found, and continued with the usual conspiracy theory stuff. My wife then told (the instructor) that she was welcome to drop by our house any time and examine Ann's (personal) effects (recovered from the wreckage). The woman was speechless."
Write to Jim Belshaw at The Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; telephone 823-3930; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.