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Buffalonians Celebrate Fourth with 9/11 on Their Minds

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Americans will celebrate the first 4th of July since the horrific events of 9/11. Many say Independence Day will have more meaning this year than every before.

"It's about America right now. We should all join together as a team to keep our faith in America. It should have been like that before 9/11, but it wasn't."

"I think it will be one of the biggest celebrations ever in 4th of July history."

Those voices could be from "Anytown, USA," but they are the voices of Western New Yorkers. And the majority of those that we spoke with say, since 9/11, they do feel a deeper sense of patriotism and want to be closer to family. Many say they will be out in full force at 4th of July picnics, family gatherings and fireworks displays.

"I realize how important that my country is to me. I want my children to know it. And I think red, white and blue is going to be out there in full force. I can't wait to hear the patriotic music," said Michele Schmitz of Tonawanda. "I want our kids to feel it and keep it with them."

Schmitz said people have continued to show their love for the U.S. over the past 11 months. Some of our local leaders and firefighters say the holiday will reinforce our American freedom, and offer a time of reflection.

U.S. Attorney Michael Battle says since September 11th, patriotism has remained high.

"There is not a day that goes by since September 11th that I don't see some American flying their colors in some way," Battle said. "I imagine it is going to be a highly emotional time for us. In times past, too many looked at the 4th of July as a day off -- that's changed forever."

Buffalo firefighter Robert Stasio says the 4th of July holiday will be a day to remember the New York City fire fighters killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.

"I'm sure will be remembering all those guys down in New York on the 4th of July and remembering their families," he remarked.

But with the 4th of July holiday comes government warnings. Americans are asked to be vigilant and report anything that appears suspicious. Government leaders say the 4th could ideally be a target date for more acts of terrorism. However, most Western New Yorkers say they still plan to enjoy the 4th of July despite those warnings.

"We are all patriotic Americans, but we don't have any fear or hesitancy of what we are going to do. And make our plans regardless," said Jim Wattengel of Tonawanda.

But Maria Blackburn, also from the town of Tonawanda, says she believes many will celebrate the 4th closer to home.

"I don't like to be afraid. I teach my children not to be. I think we are more grateful that we have freedom and enjoy the things we have," Blackburn said. "You have to be cautious of the people around you, but still enjoy life. You can't live life in fear. That's part of what America is about. People came here for freedom and that's the privilege we have of living here."

And her daughter Katelin agrees.

"I think the September 11th events were meant to bring us apart, but actually brought us closer together as Americans," she said.

But a Williamsville man, who didn't give his name, says his patriotism has always remained strong, no matter what circumstances have occurred.

"Personally, it is subliminal with me. I think it is the greatest country there is," he said. "We are not perfect, but I don't think there is anything better."

When the leaders of our country signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they called for the independence of the U.S. colonies and freedom for Americans. The Declaration of Independence also states that "all men are created equal" and have rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That is what we will celebrate Thursday. But it was that same freedom terrorists shattered last September. Still, Barbara Jones of Buffalo says she's not going to let the threat of terrorism frighten her.

"I'm for America," Jones asserted. "I'm going to stay here and I'm not afraid of the terrorism. I'm a strong black woman and that's where it stands."