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Americans Continue to Live in Shadow of Terrorism

Americans head into the new year having moved on from the September 11 attacks of a year ago but still living in the shadow of terrorism, frequently reminded that the threat of new attacks remains ever present. The war on terrorism has changed the lives of those most directly affected in ways large and small.

Americans shop for Christmas gifts at a Washington-area mall. Little appears to have dampened the season's spirit of giving. But for many, all around are reminders that the nation is spending its second Christmas involved in a war against terrorism and, about to face the possibility of another against Iraq.

"People forget about our troops being overseas right now, the fact that they're affected, they're alone, they're fighting a battle right there and people don't understand," said one shopper.

For most Americans, the shock and sadness over the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has faded with the passage of time, only to be replaced by frequent reminders that all of us are now targets simply because we are Americans. But to the relatives of the more than three thousand people killed in last year's attacks, a year later still feels like only a day later.

Carie LeMack lost her mother on one of the four planes hijacked by the September 11th terrorists.

"Some days, the pain is unbearable and you can't get out of bed," she said. "We don't get to get a Christmas tree this year because it's just too painful so we have to make new traditions and find new ways of trying to find a reason for living each day."

A year of living with the threat of terrorism has changed the lives of many of us in ways large and small. From the glances given to foreigners in airports, the brief moment of dread when police sirens wail through a city, and to how the term 'nine-eleven' is now known around the world more as an event than just a date, one which saw the worst terrorist attacks on America ever.

"Everything's taken on new meaning, whether it's flying or having to say no to appointments in tall buildings," said Ms. LeMack. "Nothing is as it was."

A year on, never before has the nation been warned so often about groups at home and abroad plotting to strike again, perhaps in an attack far deadlier than before.

"The U.S. intelligence community has received information of possible terrorist attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States," said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

On that anniversary, President Bush spoke at a ceremony at the rebuilt Pentagon, very much aware that a year on, Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, still remained at large despite the president's demand that he be found dead or alive.

"We've captured more than 2,000 terrorists, a larger number of killers have met their end in combat," he said. "We've seized millions in terrorist assets. We're re-organizing the federal government to protect the homeland, yet there's a great deal left to do."

And, a lot of questions left to be answered. Steven Push's wife was one of those murdered when one of the hijacked planes on September 11 crashed into the Pentagon.

"This has become a calling for me," he said. "It's really all I focus on."

The drive to find out how America let its guard down to the degree that such an attack could happen - and making sure an independent commission about to start looking into it gets some answers is what gets him out of bed in the morning.

"My goal in life prior to this was to work long enough to retire and enjoy the rest of my life with my wife and now my life is dedicated to bringing my wife's killers to justice and seeing that other families do not have to suffer the way we've suffered," Mr. Push said.

As she looks ahead to another year without her mother, Carie Lemack's only wish is that the nation does everything it can to guard against future terrorist attacks.

"So that no other family member has to go through making new traditions on Christmas, and birthdays and Mother's Day and every other holiday because it's really hard," she said.

But as 2002 comes to a close, the nation now appears to be headed into a second war, this one against Iraq, even as the current battle against terrorism has yet to be won.

Part of VOA's Yearend Series