For everybody: Editor's Note: This column -- by Firehouse Magazine Founding Editor Dennis Smith, author of Report from Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero -- appeared in USA Today this week. On the way to testify before the U.S. Commission on 9/11 in May, I prayed that Providence would guide my memory in a positive way. My wish was not so much to find closure or some emotional purgation for myself, but to speak about the events surrounding the attacks in such a way that we might learn from them. The basis for my testimony was that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I found myself at Ground Zero. From the second hour after the attack that day and for 57 consecutive days thereafter, I collected details about the rescue efforts. I never thought I would see such tragedy in my life, or watch friends endure the unrelenting pain they suffered. For that reason, I worry that on this third anniversary, the country's sense of the horror and of personal sacrifice is waning. But one thing is for certain: We must remember. Not just the event, but also the details. We must not forget that a mother of a fallen police officer was the mother of a fallen firefighter as well; that the first chief on the scene at the north tower lost his firefighter brother when that tower fell; that one woman buried her firefighter husband and her firefighter son; and that each and every one of the 343 firefighters, 23 police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers had similar and memorable distinctions in their deaths, just as they had glorious distinctions in their lives. How could we ever forget that one firefighter's widow found out that she was pregnant on the day of his funeral. Time to let go? Some would argue that there is a time to let memories of tragedies go. But I believe that remembering and confronting such horrific events strengthens our character. This war on terror is far from over, and the power of our conviction and our courage as a nation will be necessary to continue the fight. The phrase "since 9/11" has become commonplace in describing today's world situations, like a brand name. And, as time passes, we tend to remember more the metaphor of the event as the details wilt away. I see this happening now: Europeans have displaced sympathy for the victims with antipathy for the aftermath. Americans are in danger of forgetting that most of the victims were taken in the prime of their lives, that their families still struggle and that the remains of nearly half the victims were never found. The media have become more interested in the minor scandals of firefighters in New York than in the collective views of first responders about homeland security, readiness and preparedness. Symbolism is not enough Americans are future-oriented, but we also care about our past. We build monuments to remember greatness, as at Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor, and to remember great and singular individuals, as at the Washington and Lincoln memorials. We have great symbols of our land, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. But 9/11 cannot be conveyed merely by a symbol. The monument to 9/11 is the sacrifice of 2,973 human beings and the strength of the thousands upon thousands of their mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children and friends. They have given us a valley of tears, and a world of inspiration. Families of 9/11 are still saddened that a Staten Island landfill continues to contain the remains of some victims. Families of first responders continue to press for an inquiry into the radio and communications failures of that day. But for many families, if you asked them what they would advise all Americans on this anniversary, as I have, they would say two things: Never forget, and ensure that this never happens again. What does remembering do for us? Recalling the wrenching sacrifice of those police officers, firefighters and their families is a reminder of the moral character of our public servants who secure and preserve this country's greatness on a daily basis. It is not enough to have strong leaders, for those who are led must find honorable consequence in their own lives. And you can find that consequence in the eyes of our first responders at any emergency, the determined eyes of character ready to give of themselves, ready to lay down their lives for the good of our community. Never forgetting is the foundation for making certain that this never happens again. We have daily reminders. Look at the eyes of our troops — men and women of all faiths and all colors giving of themselves in the hot blowing sands of Iraq — and you will see the eyes of character, the eyes of 9/11.