By Ralphine Major

A magnolia tree was planted in his memory at the high school, and there is a marker near it to honor him. Tony Karnes was a Gibbs High School graduate who tragically lost his life on one of our nation’s saddest days. As millions of Americans went about their daily lives on a normal workday, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands perished on a day that has come to be known as “9-11.”

This year marks the 15th Anniversary of a day that forever changed America. Events of that horrible day have been covered extensively by the national and local media. Tony’s three sisters, Brenda Vandever, Vicky Ratcliff, and Gayle Barker, were thrust into the public eye while mourning a very personal loss. I have been amazed at the grace and courage I have seen in them through the years.

Major Ward and Tony were neighbors for many years. “I cherish those memories immensely,” Major said as he reflected on their friendship. He shared with me a touching tribute to Tony: “I regret my two sons never had the opportunity to know someone that I was so close with at one time in my life. Logan, my eighteen year old, is a history buff and remembers visiting the Freedom Engine, the ladder truck the generous people of East Tennessee gifted the city of New York in the aftermath, while it was on display here in town before being driven up to the city. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that he pays tribute to Tony on his social media accounts, referring to him as ‘my dad’s lifelong friend.’ I find it heart-warming for a teenager to be touched by such a tragic event and acknowledge someone he never knew, but realizes he was an important part of my life. Cameron was just barely two months old at the time and is, therefore, not as moved by the stories he has heard our family relive time and time again. What I wouldn’t give for those simpler times of the past, the ones I fondly remember playing outside until dark with friends and neighbors such as Tony. He certainly holds a special place in our hearts.”

For today’s generation, 9-11 is a painful reminder of a dark day in America; for future generations, 9-11 will be a day in history. May all generations recognize the tragedy America endured that day. We must never forget Tony and the thousands of Americans lost on September 11, 2001.