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A History Lesson

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I had just turned 10-years-old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and plunged America into World War II. I can still remember my father putting on his hat as he headed out the door to walk to the city bus stop to go downtown to the local recruiting station. It seemed that fathers all across our working class neighborhood were doing the same thing.

I remember vividly the war that followed. I was sick with rheumatic fever for a lot of it and lay in bed listening to the radio reports of Edward R. Murrow. I remember the battles, D-Day, the atomic bomb and the end of the war. And I remember teaching my own children and now my grandchildren about these events.

I've thought a lot about these memories as we approach the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11.

I now work with a small band of producers and editors on a weekly news magazine on HDNet. The staff numbers fewer than two dozen, and almost all of them were born decades after World War II. For most of them Vietnam is history, as is Watergate. Some don't remember the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Cold War or Tiananmen Square. A few were merely teenagers on 9/11. At some point, current events, so vivid in our minds, pass into the realm of history for the generations that follow.

For the last month or so, we've been working on a program looking back at the decade since the terrorist attacks. Our focus has been on personal remembrances, including the experiences of a single mother deployed to Afghanistan and the son who had to grow up fast back home in Kansas. We have been fighting two wars for years now, for some who have sacrificed so much, these will be vivid memories. I worry that for most of the country who have had the luxury of detachment these wars will be too easily forgotten.

Another one of our stories is that of retired New York City firefighter Lee Ielpi, who lost his son, also a firefighter, in the Twin Towers. Ielpi has helped create a visitors center near Ground Zero to tell the story of what happened. And what sticks with you is how he feels the story of that day, what came before it and what followed, is slipping away. He says so many young people come to the center knowing nothing about what took place and that schools aren't teaching it. Hopefully the flurry of activity and television specials around this anniversary will be a chance to teach, but Ielpi's experience is a reminder of how we must remain vigilant in teaching history.

I do feel there is reason for hope. We end our show at the memorials and museums of Pearl Harbor, which will welcome an estimated two million visitors this year. They will leave undoubtedly moved and better informed. I hope the memorial and museum at Ground Zero, as well as the memorials at the Pentagon and the fields of Pennsylvania will have the same effect.

But we cannot rely on memorials and museums alone. We can tell ourselves we will never forget and we likely won't. But we need to make sure that we teach history to those who never had the opportunity to remember in the first place. So pull your children, grandchildren, younger colleagues and friends aside. Talk about 9/11, but also talk about the other moments in history you have experienced. Let this be a day of memory for all of us and the history we have shared.

"Dan Rather Remembers 9/11" airs Sunday at 8p.m. E.T. on HDNet. "Dan Rather Reports" airs Tuesdays on HDNet at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET. Follow "Dan Rather Reports" on Facebook and Twitter.