For most of us, Sept. 11, 2001, began like any other day. We began our Tuesday by going to work or school or beginning a day running errands.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on that sunny morning, we began hearing or watching news reports of a plane that crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers only a few dozen miles away from our county.
Shortly after, while many believed a plane made a fatal error and accidentally crashed into a tower, the second plane hit. And then there were reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon in Virginia. And a plane that crashed in a field in Shanksville.
In the hours, days and weeks that followed, the scramble and struggle to rescue those in the rubble, to understand what happened, and to begin to see a path forward began.
It is hard to imagine that this year marks the 20th anniversary of those attacks. In all, nearly 3,000 people perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash. Those killed in the 9/11 attacks, and in the rescue efforts subsequent, included civilians, first responders, and members of our military. Each one was someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, sister or brother, friend or loved one, neighbor or colleague. Each one is still missed today.
Amid the fear and confusion of that day – and in the many days and weeks that followed – Americans pulled together. Later, we learned that 19 terrorists had trained for the attacks, and that many of the airline crew members and passengers had attempted to fight back once they learned what was happening, including those that would crash in Shanksville.
After 9/11, our lives and the safety of our nation changed. New agencies were established to help keep our country safe. The Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center were established. Other agencies adapted to a new world and changed their strategies, for example, in response to a presidential directive to establish a “National Security Service,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2005 created their National Security Branch (NSB). The NSB “combines the missions, capabilities, and resources of the FBI’s national security elements under the leadership of a senior FBI official.”
As Americans we showed what it was to unite as one nation. Candles were lit in windows and flags were flown on homes, bridges and highways to show support for all the families that lost loved ones and for the first responders who, without regard for their own safety, ran into the towers to try to rescue as many as they could. We came together as one to show that we would not be defeated, and we would make our nation safe again.
Each year on Sept. 11, no matter how difficult it may be, we relive the events that took place that day. We find solace in the memories of loved ones, or in the comfort of friends and family still with us. We all need to remember what happened, the people who died, their families, and the heroic efforts of all those who tried to rescue as many people as possible.
To show that their memories are being carried on, many towns have memorial services which you are invited to attend. Please visit your own municipality’s website to learn of their plans to recognize the day.
You may also want to visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, which is located on part of the original World Trade Center site. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a tribute to the past and hope for the future. The memorial is a plaza set in an 8-acre park which has 40 oak trees and waterfalls. The names of all those who had perished are etched in bronze around the two memorial pools.
It is important that we always and reflect on the events of that day. As then President George W. Bush said at the dedication of the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in 2008: “One of the worst days in America’s history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.”
Remember them, honor them.
We should also remember our people in uniform who still protect us each and every day, including the police, firefighters, EMS, OEM, and our military. We thank them for their continued service.
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners. He submits a monthly column to Newspaper Media Group.