Fifty years ago, people talked about the amazing beauty of the mushroom clouds that developed after atomic bombs were detonated in tests. The brilliance, the wide spectrum of color visible, the graceful development of the cloud itself: It was a terrible beauty to be sure, but a beautiful sight just the same, and one seared into the memory of all who saw it.

Fifty years ago, people talked about the amazing beauty of the mushroom clouds that developed after atomic bombs were detonated in tests. The brilliance, the wide spectrum of color visible, the graceful development of the cloud itself: It was a terrible beauty to be sure, but a beautiful sight just the same, and one seared into the memory of all who saw it.


For our generation, the vision seared into our consciousness is the sight of those planes as they slammed into and seemed almost to pass through the twin towers: the cloudless, unbelievably blue sky; the planes so high above the street, so far away; smoke puffing out the near side, the fireball bursting out the far side in the utter silence of most of the videos from that day. It was an ugly act of unnatural violence, preserved and frozen forever in the mind’s eye.


We do not often take note of the 13th anniversary of an event. But here in Fort Smith, outside Fire Station No. 1, emergency workers and other citizens will take a moment this morning to remember what happened on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks.


In New York and at the Pentagon, private observances will be held for survivors and victims’ families. At 6 p.m., however, for the first time on an anniversary, the public will be able to tour the World Trade Center site.


"We wanted to take it back to the state where it was freely accessible to the public at night," Joe Daniels, the CEO of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, said in a USA Today report. "The memorial pools will be lit themselves, which looks absolutely stunning at night."


The private service at the World Trade Center will include the now-too-familiar reading of the names of the 2,983 victims of the three attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. A moment of silence will be observed at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time. The Tribute in Light twin beams representing the destroyed towers will shine from sunset until sunrise.


At the Pentagon, a moment of silence will be observed at 9:37 a.m., the moment a plane hit that building. An observance of the crash will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed.


These are the things we do, not so we can be sure we remember but because we can never forget. Always, the day is with us, with its competing images of the pristine beauty of the morning and enveloping shroud of dust through the afternoon and days to come; the smiling, laughing, living faces on the missing posters and the bottomless grief of those left behind; the bright and bustling commerce of the City that Never Sleeps, and the dark, implacable work of those who combed through the wreckage paying respect and offering the small consolation of an answer to waiting families.


Some call today Patriot Day, a name that is appropriate because it commemorates the day when many stopped to remember what it means to live in this country, when spontaneous displays of flags were flown, and if there was nothing else to do, when red, white and blue Solo cups were pushed through chain link fences to express feelings of patriotism too deep for words.


Some day, the survivors of the 9/11 attacks will join their fellows who fell that day. Some day, the emergency workers who responded with such courage and worked at such great cost to themselves will pass away. Some day, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fell will fill their September mornings with other activities. But those of us who were alive and watched the day play out on television sets in every corner of every place people gathered will never forget what happened.


We always will remember the day when we first borrowed the words of poet William Butler Yeats to acknowledge all "are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."