SEOUL — Last Christmas, the trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks hung heavily on many members of the U.S. military community in South Korea, as elsewhere.
Chaplains and others said they noticed something they hadn’t seen in people in many years: an overlay of emotional sobriety and hunger for human contact.
People felt emotionally wounded — by images of the falling World Trade towers, the search for bodies in the rubble, casualty lists that bore the names of friends killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
“We were still numb probably up to about February,” said Dale Garringer, chief of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program at the Army’s Camp Carroll in Waegwan.
“And then right after that we lost those soldiers in the Philippines, so we had in essence, tragedy after tragedy,” said Garringer, referring to the loss of an Army special operations helicopter during an anti-terrorism exercise in the Philippines.
But things are different this holiday season, say some of those same observers.
While the images of 9/11 remain fresh and vivid, the pall of sorrow seen a year ago largely has lifted. The mood is now somewhat brighter.
“People are more in the Christmas spirit this year,” said Army Maj. Kristi Pappas, chaplain for the 20th Support Group at Camp Walker in Taegu. “They’re a little more joyful this year than I observed last year. Things were a little more somber” a year ago.
Army Capt. Wayne Keast sees the same thing. He’s installation chaplain for Camp Hialeah in Pusan.
“Overall … the American spirit has a way of not holding on to things too long, if proper closure comes in a timely manner, the ‘Let’s go on’ mentality kicks in,” Keast said.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Young is command chaplain for Naval Forces Korea and Fleet Activities Chinhae at Chinhae Naval Base.
He’s seen the dampened spirits that followed 9/11 brighten this holiday season.
But if the mood is lighter than last year, sources of anxiety also are making themselves felt this holiday season.
“People’s anxiety is a little bit different this year,” Pappas said. “I think the anxiety is still there, but it’s: ‘Are we going to war?’ ‘Where is the next explosion going to happen?’ People are still, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ ”