Today marks the 16th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, the day that truly lives in modern-day infamy, 2,977 innocent people were killed due to a coordinated, terrorist attack by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda jihadists. While it's tempting and certainly easier to overlook this anniversary as just another day on the calendar, that's not what Americans should do. We should let ourselves get a little lost in that day's events, relive what happened, and remember what makes this country special. Only in doing that can we truly honor the innocent, the armed forces, and continue to try to prevent terrorism.
Everyone always asks, "Where were you on 9/11?" as if that somehow matters. Here's a thought: Unless you were in Manhattan, it doesn't matter where you were the day terrorists hit the heart of this country's financial district with the sole purpose of murdering innocent people and striking fear into anyone else who survived. What matters is that the rest of us who lived on remember those who died, honor the heroes who rescued so many, and continue to respect the emergency personnel and members of armed forces who answered the call to defend this country after those awful attacks.
As much as I don't like remembering, I hope we never forget the way the smoke billowed around the towers just before they fell — as most of us watched the television in horror; a precursor of how America was about to be forever changed. I hope we never forget the newscasters' confusion as at first everyone assumed a plane hit one tower by accident — then the unbelievable realization as the second plane hit, that the attack was surely coordinated.
Terrorism had never hit America quite like that. I hope we never forget that vulnerable feeling.
I hope we never forget the bullhorn speech President George W. Bush made over that megaphone while standing on a pile of rubble. "I can hear you," he said to someone in the crowd who had a hard time hearing him. "The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
I hope we never forget the people who knocked those buildings down did hear from all of us — even if it took a decade. America, for all her flaws and shortcomings, will render justice and deliver retribution when she can.
I hope we never forget 2,977 people went to work that day and never returned — and that all over this country, thousands of friends and family members still grieve those losses. Babies grew up without a mom or dad; mothers and fathers buried their children; employers lost employees; spouses lost lovers. Sept. 11 isn't a date but an event where people died because of hatred. I hope we as a collective unit never forget what terrorism does and the way we resolved to deal with it from that day forward.
I hope we never forget that even on a day when there was so much hate, grief, and loss, heroes lived among us. When New Yorkers, frightened and confused, ran away from the towers as fast as they could, firefighters, police officers, and other emergency personnel, 412 in all, ran toward danger, inside burning buildings, up flights and flights of stairs, many never to return. Ladder Company 3 lost most of its men. And in this moving documentary, the little-known story of a modern Dunkirk is told. Ordinary boats picked up over half a million frightened New Yorkers and took them over to New Jersey just to make them feel safer — heroism, where it was least expected.
Every year, Sept. 11th should teach us to remember the innocent, honor the heroes, live more mindfully, and to re-examine this country's way of responding to tragedy, terrorism, and war.
It's important to relive a dark time in order to honor those who died, whether they were working, trying to save lives, or hoping to escape, so we might better know how to live and celebrate their memory.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.