WARNING: There is a video included in this post that contains video footage of the news reports as they broadcast the attack on the second World Trade Center tower on the morning of September 11, 2001. If this is disturbing to you, please do not view the video.
No one will likely forget that early morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. How could we? It was the day that, for many Americans, changed the way we lived our lives. Unlike any other day before it, our nation came under attack by a faceless, nameless enemy who sought to do America great harm. And for a time, they succeeded.
I remember that morning. I had gotten up earlier than I normally did, and was sitting on my couch putting my shoes on when I turned on the TV. I wasn’t looking for the morning news at the time. I had actually turned the channel to ESPN to see if there was a status report on Ed McCaffrey’s broken leg from the Broncos/Giants game the Monday night before. So you can imagine my surprise when I turned on ESPN and saw a CNN report of what was transpiring in New York.
I quickly scanned through the channels on my TV to see if this was a big story. Indeed, every channel that was broadcasting was broadcasting the story as it unfolded. I remember seeing the first of the two big towers burning from the top and seeing the black smoke billowing from the top of that building. I remember thinking to myself “how does a fire start way up there?”. I also remember thinking “how are firefighters going to attack that fire?”. As I sat there, amazed at the spectacle before me, and hearing the news reports that there may have been a plane involved in this fire, I watched, stunned, as the second plane hit the second tower. I was without words, and without thought for a moment.
Then it hit me. The security that we as a nation had come to take for granted was being exploited right before our eyes. As the news reports continued to pour in it became evident that evil people managed to infiltrate our country, steal four airplanes and proceed to attack us with them. With an intent to kill, these terrorists successfully carried out the largest single concerted killing attack on American soil to date. We were, in a word, vulnerable.
The reality of the attacks become even more grave later in the morning as I drove to work under a clear blue sky. There was not a cloud above. Neither were there any airplanes. The FAA had grounded all flights in the country so the sky was quiet. I had never seen the sky like that. I live in the middle of the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose triangle so I see airplanes overhead every couple of minutes. Yet on this clear blue morning not even the sound of a prop plane could be heard. It was eerie.
As I got to work I went to my boss’s office because he had a TV. A lot of the people I worked with were in that office watching the news continue to unfold. We heard about a potential attack on the white house and another one on the pentagon. We began to learn of who the attackers might be and what their plan might have been. We learned that all of the planes involved in the attack that day were east coast to west coast non stop flights which meant they were completely full of fuel when they left New York. It also meant that a good number of passengers on those flights were from California.
We learned that a plane had crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania, in the middle of a field. We later learned that it ended up there because some brave men and women would not settle for being taken captive and fought like hell for their lives. Later in the day we watched as the towers fell with people still in them. Workers, firefighters, police officers, good Samaritans… thousands of lives were lost in an instant when those towers collapsed.
We also learned later that there were people jumping from hundreds of feet up to avoid the raging and intense heat of the rocket fuel burning them up. We began to see the damage wrought by the attacks of a handful of evil cowards that sought to do us harm as a nation. But we learned something of supreme importance that day as well.
We learned that we are a country of red-blooded, ass-kicking, proud and strong Americans and don’t take to getting punched in the face that easy. The “great American rally” started that day and brought us closer as a country than we had ever been. Religious lines were shattered, political lines erased, socioeconomic differences set aside. We came together starting that day for the common cause of showing the world that we are stronger than the attackers and more resilient that they thought.
I will never forget that day. I will never forget the fear I felt, for an instance, for my children and the world they would eventually grow up to inherit. I will never forget the sense of vulnerability I felt that morning. I will never forget seeing the men and women who knew they were going to die run into those buildings to save just one more person. I will never forget the people on the ground helping hurting, crying and dying people. I will never forget.
And I will never forget how our country has responded to the attacks. I will never forget the sense of pride I had as an American as people dug deep to raise money for families affected by the attacks. I will never forget the outpouring of people attending churches in the months after the attacks. I will never forget the mass movement by young men and women to join our armed forces for the purposes of fighting this cowardly, faceless enemy. I will never forget the sense of urgency our country felt in living life to the fullest after the attacks. I will never forget what it was like being an American after those attacks.
So today I would ask that you keep the surviving family members of those lost in the attacks in your prayers. Remember the families, remember the losses, remember the rally and remember our country. I will remember that day forever. I will never forget.