OPINION — September 11, 2001 started out just like any other Tuesday working at the newspaper for me and my husband Scott. Little did I know it would unfold to be a day that would be seared in my memory, as is the case whenever a catastrophic event occurs.
As I was dropping off our 3-year-old son and 2-month-old baby daughter at daycare, I looked up at the TV screen somewhat confused by the image I was seeing of smoking billowing out of one of the World Trade Center towers. Just then I witnessed the second plane hit the World Trade Center towers live at 7:03 a.m. Mountain time. This was obviously intentional. I felt sick. My gut told me immediately that it was al-Qaeda. They had openly stated they would be back to do it right after, in their estimation, a failed bombing attack in February 1993 by other terrorists with loose ties to the group, resulted in a much less catastrophic event. I was immediately struck by waves of shock and anger compounded by fear for our country as to what was coming next.
I arrived at work, knowing that our new publisher Stewart Huntington must be having a really hard time with what was transpiring, you see Manhattan, New York, was his hometown, born and raised. Little did I know he was going through hell. His father was a retired banker and his bank took up the entirety of one of the top floors of the first tower struck by one of the hijacked airplanes. On the TV screen image in his office, Stewart counted down from the top to show me the exact location. His uncle still worked there. Their family knew almost everyone in the office and it was nothing but a gaping hole filled with smoke, fire and debris. He was immediately trying to call for his dad, who still went into the office once a week. The phones were overloaded, so no word until much later that day, an eternity.
We continued to watch the live coverage of the attacks, hoping that people were getting out, but knowing it was a nearly impossible task. Then the unthinkable occurred. The second tower attacked, was the first building to come down into a daunting pile of rubble, twisted steel, choking dust and smoke, and an unknown number of human casualties. It was horrifying. As we held out hope for the people in the other building and the first responders we were watching still running in, the second tower dissolved before our eyes. We were then getting reports of the Pentagon being struck by another airplane, and much later we heard the fate of the heroes that refused to allow the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 to reach their intended target.
You start asking yourself lots of questions. Where will they strike next? The water supply? The electricity grid? Other structural targets in the country? All the while knowing you still have a job to do.
We somehow continued to report from afar, but it felt very close.
We did learn later that day that Stewart’s dad was spared, he had not gone into work. We were more than grateful for that news. However, Stewart’s uncle was at the World Trade Center and he was one of the 2,977 who perished in the series of attacks.
As I reflected on watching those buildings came down so did my heart. And it happens every time I watch it, even all these years later.
This was an attack on our country, what we stand for, and on every single American.
The 9/11 attacks solidified in me the resolve to make it a priority to teach our kids tolerance, kindness, empathy, and respect. To appreciate the sacrifice that others are willing to make every day in the ranks of military, firefighters, police and emergency responders. To know when to stand up and when to fight for what is right when others are trying to get you to abandon your values or push you around. To be cautious about zealots no matter what their professed religion and justification. To be proud of what America and Americans stand for and to honor our country and our flag.
20 years later, and our country has been at war for all but two-months of our daughter’s life. She and our son will never understand the freedom, and probably false-sense of security of a pre-9/11. They take it in stride. They are all the things we had hoped for in raising them to their young adult-hood. They are not fearful. They are open-minded to others. They have a strong sense of right and wrong. They are informed and engaged in their communities. They know when to be unselfish, and to do the right thing for their fellow man. They understand that you admit when you’ve made a mistake, and you adjust, and you learn from it. They are the next generation of proud Americans.
It’s almost surreal that with in the last few weeks, the war that was declared on us that day, is now officially over.
I will continue to show my honor for those who sacrificed on that day, and have continued to serve in honor of our country. For so many it’s never really over. 20 years later I will always remember. I will never forget.
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