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Rural Americans Don't Take Safety for Granted Anymore - 2002-09-04

The terrorist attacks last September 11 left many people throughout the United States concerned about their safety in places they used to consider safe: music festivals, sporting events and downtown office buildings. It is hard to imagine a terrorist attack on a rural town, but residents of at least one community in Illinois say they are a bit more guarded than they were last year.

A line of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars recently rolled through downtown Hoopeston, Illinois, with sirens wailing. It wasn't a fire or other emergency; the vehicles were leading the annual parade at the community's National Sweetcorn Festival.

Hoopeston is a small town of 6,000 people, about 150 kilometers south of Chicago. Many people here tell you they do not lock their cars or even houses most of the time. Yet, since last September 11, Jerry Lile says he and his neighbors feel a little less safe.

"Everybody's a little more protective, I think. Everybody is a little more aware," he says. "You never know what is going to happen now."

President Bush has urged all Americans to be the "eyes and ears" of the government, and be on the lookout for anything or anyone suspicious. Mark Overlander takes that call to heart.

"Every day I look around. Everywhere I am at, I look around, just to see if there is something that might be happening," he says.

Yet while the people we talked to think it is possible something could happen here in Hoopeston, few think they are living in harm's way.

"Mostly I think we feel really safe here. I do," says Sue Spaur, a local schoolteacher. "But, it is still big, it is the country. You feel connected. I do."

She says for a lot of people, what happened on September 11 was a wakeup call that the United States itself could be attacked by outside enemies. In small towns like Hoopeston, there was no physical damage, but there has been emotional damage.

"Some families' lives were touched very personally here," says Sue Spaur. "If you know of a father-in-law or a distant relative, it is a very personal thing for many of us adults."

This year's sweetcorn festival took on a patriotic theme. Many of the floats in the hour-and-a-half long parade displayed American flags or other patriotic icons. Even the logo of the festival itself this year depicted the flag over a cornfield.

A public opinion poll conducted recently for ABC news in the United States suggests just a little more than half of Americans believe their country should expand the war against terrorism by attacking Iraq. In Hoopeston, you can find people on both sides of the issue. Stewart Coffman says he trusts President Bush to make the right decisions in battling terrorism.

"Our guys are doing great," he said. "We have a president, we follow him. We voted him in and we will stand behind what he decides."

Others are concerned President Bush might be expanding the war against terrorism too quickly. Tom McMillan is among them, though he admits to having personal reasons for not wanting a war with Iraq. "I've got a son right now that we are going to meet tomorrow. He has been in Germany overseas for a long time," he says. "I had two grandsons on aircraft carriers in the sea off of Afghanistan. I do not want to see those kids go back."

On September 11, the schools in Hoopeston will commemorate the anniversary of the attacks, though on the day of the parade, schoolteacher Sue Spaur said what type of commemoration was still to be decided. She says it is hard to commemorate the anniversary of an event that people still have trouble understanding.

"It is hard to think they hate us so much. We do not want to think of what we stand for as being so wrong somewhere else."