Published on -9/11/2012, 8:01 AM
As the anniversary of one of the most tragic days in our history approaches, I would like to tell you a story that we consider representative of the wonderful people of Hays.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my family, our black Labrador retriever and I set off on a move from Northern Utah to southeast Missouri with one 26-foot U-Haul with car-tow, and one fully loaded SUV with a trailer in tow. The move represented an enormous change in our lives, and we had high hopes for the future. When we stopped in Colorado ski country to refuel our vehicles we learned what was happening to our nation. Since my wife and I were both on "hip-pocket" orders from the Army after retirement, we knew we'd better get where we were going and notify the military of our move.
Needless to say, gasoline was spiked by some retailers, while others held the line. The Eisenhower Tunnel was temporarily closed, so we waited on the mountain to move up and be inspected, and when we drove through Denver we were the only vehicles on the 8- or 12-lane roads on a Tuesday afternoon. It was not a great time to be between homes, but, like all Americans that day, plans were the last thing on our minds. While we drove, we listened to news reports advising all travelers to find a place to stop and wait for things to settle a little. We stopped as we came into Kansas and found the people to be wary and suspicious of us as travelers, so we drove on to run the fuel tanks lower before we pulled over for the night.
We were tired, low on fuel, and the time was so very late when we saw the lights of your beautiful city. We discussed whether we would be able to get a room or if travelers had filled the hotels this late at night. We pulled into a motel with a back parking near grass so we could take the dog out for a walk. As it approached midnight, we walked into the hotel and ask if they accepted pets. The clerk behind the desk was a young man about 18 years old, and he shook his head and said no, the manager did not allow pets. I looked at my wife and we turned to leave, discussing how we would sleep in the cars and the truck. The young man suddenly looked up and said "You know, we've been through enough today. Please have your animal out of the room before the manager comes in at 5:30." The look on his face spoke for all Americans that day as we struggled to come to grips with what had happened to our country. As we left at 5:20 the next morning rested as much as possible and ready to face the remainder of our trip, the young man was still on duty to wish us a safe trip and give us the local information we needed to get gasoline at a reasonable price.
I regret to say we did not get the young man's name nor do we any longer have a record of the hotel name, but every year we think of you and the good people of Hays, Kansas. As we all felt the nation's fortunes shifting like the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan, this young man represented all of you, all of us, as a friend in a time when we needed to reach out to each other and hold each other a little tighter.
My wife and I are high school teachers, and today we will share with our students the story of the young man whose name we don't know but who became our symbol for the way Americans respond in a crisis.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story, and thanks to that young man and the people of Hays, Kansas, who represent all that we hope our nation is.