“Americans don’t live in fear. We live in freedom!” Tom Ridge, former governor and Director of Home Security.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have come and gone since the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on American soil. It seems like just yesterday that the airwaves were filled with the stunning news that would turn the world upside-down. A militant jihad forever generated anger, fear and uncertainty in the hearts of all those who call this land home.
Ten years ago, on that fateful morning, I awoke like many of you, to news of the bombings. Through the haze of sleep I watched a surreal scene unfold on television. In a matter of a few hours, 19 men and four hijacked passenger jets brought down the symbols of our country’s military and financial might, destroying lives and making daily life a nightmare for those who survived.
Two planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York ultimately claiming 2,753 victims; a third plane crashed into the Pentagon killing 184 people—many of them children; and a fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA, killing all those aboard. The total loss of life numbered nearly 3,000 and included nationals from over 70-plus countries.
Those who escaped the Twin Towers carnage ran from the scene clothed in dust and ashes, looking like mummies from a horror movie. But this was no movie. It was the real deal. Unable to breathe through the blowing debris, those on the ground didn’t think it could get any worse but it did. The towers imploded and hundreds of rescuers were trapped and died with the other victims.
As the scene played out before our eyes, priorities changed. In the attack zones, survival was the paramount concern. Searchers immediately began staring down the face of Hell as they descended into the rubble and wreckage looking for survivors.
Ground Zero was smoldering hot and superheated. It melted boots and hearts as rescuers searched for survivors. Cottage Grove Pastor Jim Jenkins was part of a team of chaplains who ministered at Ground Zero. His goal was not to cast blame. He said, “I was there to show the love of God in practical ways in the midst of chaos.”
Pat Gartman and Uno (her German Shepherd therapy dog) traveled to NYC with the Red Cross. Their days began at 7 a.m. with a trip through security and time at the Veterinary MASH unit where Uno was fitted with booties to protect him from the heat, tons of debris and broken glass. Daily they walked the pit where Uno was eagerly greeted as he comforted the workers. The grounds of a nearby cemetery were open to help restore him when he got depressed and needed space and a green grass respite.
Around the country, citizens from all walks of life dug deep to generously give money to the rescue effort. Trips abroad were cancelled as we chose to stay home near loved ones. Prayers were offered for the victims, their families, the rescue effort and wisdom for our leaders.
Patriotism swung into high gear. We truly became a nation of “one for all and all for one!” A battle line had been drawn and we Americans were gearing up for a fight. We just didn’t know exactly who we were fighting or why. We would soon learn that this enemy was slippery as an eel, deadly as a rattlesnake and elusive as a ghost.
Our enemy was and is Al-Qaeda, a global Sunni Islamist militant group founded by Osama Bin Laden. As early as 1997 he told CNN, “We declared jihad against the US government …” In 2001 he carried out his plan of destruction. And thus began a decade of epic warfare between the West and the Arab-Muslim world.
The hunt for bin Laden and The War on Terrorism began shortly after the bombings with an invasion of Afghanistan dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom. It took 10 years to hunt him down. He was found in Pakistan and killed at 54 years of age.
Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003 “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s alleged support for terrorism and free the Iraqi people.” No weapons were found but Saddam was executed and no longer poses a threat to us.
So far, tens of thousands of people have been killed. War is an ugly business. This one doesn’t seem to have a stop mechanism.
Looking back, I remember 9/11 as a time of almost unbearable grief.
I remember 9/11 as a time of horror, anger and seeking vengeance. It seemed appropriate to seek retribution and insurance that it wouldn’t happen again.
I also remember 9/11 as a time when Americans were kind and courteous to one another; reserving their anger for more important things such as the perpetrator of a heinous crime.
I remember 9/11 as that time when we were neither Democrat nor Republican. We were Americans standing tall to secure our country against those who wanted to destroy us.
Life is always uncertain but it is even more uncertain since 9/11.
We have learned that it is good to hope for and work toward peace but we must also live realistically.
We have learned that there is no such thing as absolute security. Between bomb attacks at the London underground, shoe bombs and shampoo searches at the airport, each incident makes us even more fearful, goading us into believing that the worst is yet to come.
America will always have enemies but that doesn’t mean that we must live in fear. If we do, the terrorists win. Instead, we must be brave, hopeful, fearlessly vigilant and always follow our dreams.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be commemorated with special events including the dedication of the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC and The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, PA.
Shalom, everyone. Shalom.