Wise As It Was: Patriotic writings – In face of tragedy, Messenger readers turned out in force

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, September 15, 2018
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Skip Nichols recalls the empty streets around Decatur on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It showed the impact of TV,” he said. “You went out to the street, and no one was there. Everyone was inside watching TV.”

Like the rest of the nation, Wise County citizens tried to come to grips with what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The Wise County Messenger editor sent his reporters out to find local connections, which included Decatur High School teacher Barbara Evans, whose daughter worked in the World Trade Center, and Bessie Bell Watson, whose son worked across from the Pentagon.

“We were scrambling for any connections to Wise County and what happened on 9-11,” Nichols said.

Over the days that followed, a flood of letters appeared on Nichols’ desk from readers. In the days before Facebook, readers longed to express their grief, prayers and patriotism. Between the Sept. 16 and 20 issues, the Messenger published nearly 40 letters to the editor.

“People wanted to recognize all the people that had been killed,” Nichols recalled. “People wanted to share their feelings, and the Messenger was their way to do that.”

Some letters expressed a need for revenge and others offered prayers for the victims and the country. But the most common thread was the patriotism and unity. In detailing the performance of the Boyd band at halftime that Friday night, Sandy Lambert of Boyd wrote: “My hope and prayer is that all Americans take time to realize that we live in the greatest country on earth and we serve an awesome God.”

Seventeen years later, it’s the unity of the days following that Nichols recalls.

“9-11 for all its horrific effects, brought us together for a period. The letters showed that to a degree,” Nichols said. “They reflected the patriotism of Wise County and Texas.”

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