You’re going to see a lot of these reflections today, so let me begin by saying I hope we’re not all so jaded, 17 years out, that we’re tired of them.
To be honest, this is probably my first attempt at talking about my personal feelings and experiences surrounding the attack that rocked this nation to its core and opened up our nation to perpetual war.
I think it’s important for people to note that September 11, 2001 was not the first attack on American soil, or on the World Trade Center.
I’m always surprised at the number of people who didn’t realize that on February 26, 1993 the World Trade Center was targeted and bombed for the first time.
Spurred on by the hateful sermons of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric living in Brooklyn (known as “the blind sheikh”), the bombers planned to take down what they considered an “edifice of capitalism” in the United States.
A rented Ryder van, packed with about 1,200 pounds of homemade explosives was left in a parking garage between the north tower and a hotel.
Just after noon, the explosives went off, killing six people and injuring around 1,000 more.
After sifting through the wreckage, the identification number of the rental van was recovered, and led to the arrest of Mohammad Salameh, who had rented the van in his own name. He was picked up when he returned to the Ryder rental office to ask for his $400 deposit back.
Following his arrest, three more – Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad and Mahmoud Abouhalima – were arrested.
In March 1994 they were all sentenced to life in prison.
This was a test run, and every misstep was being studied by those who would follow eight years after.
There would be nothing left to identify, and the results would be so much more devastating. Spurred on by hate and utter contempt for the sanctity of human life, the demonic forces that operate in this world, those spirits of wickedness spoken of in Ephesians 6:12, had their way.
It was hell on earth, perpetuated by those who readily embraced the dark.
On that morning I was home alone. I was working as a heavy equipment operator with a lumber mill, at the time. I didn’t have to be to work until 3 pm, so I had the early hours of the day to myself.
I had the television on some news network. I can’t even remember which one, but it was probably Fox News.
I wasn’t watching when the first words of the report were spoken, but I heard them. There had been some sort of accident. That seems to be what they were saying.
An airplane had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
I remember reacting with shock, “OH, how horrible! The pilot must have had a heart attack or something!”
My first thought was not of terrorism. I don’t think anyone was thinking terrorism, at that point.
About 18 minutes after that first impact, United Airlines Flight 175 came into view, as cameras were still focused on the blazing upper floors of the north tower, and for those watching, we got to witness the horror, as it slammed into the south tower.
This was no accident. We were under attack.
I was actually in an online chat room, talking about the plane that had crashed into the north tower. The host of the room was a New York native, with friends and family still there.
“THEY’VE HIT THE SECOND TOWER! WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!”
At 9:45 am, American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the side of the Pentagon.
A fourth airliner, United Flight 93, was hijacked after taking off from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
A group of passengers and flight attendants bravely fought back. They knew they would not make it out alive, but because of their bravery, that flight never made it to the intended target. It crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 am.
All totaled, 2,996 people died in the attacks. That includes the 19 hijackers, 343 firefighters and paramedics, and 37 Port Authority police officers.
There have been so many hot takes regarding why this attack happened.
There have been just as many conspiracy theories – all of which are repugnant and do nothing but tear open the wounds fresh.
I have my own ideas about the why, but for all the horrors of that day, I can still look with pride at how this nation drew together, united, even if only for a short while.
All partisan bickering was put on hold for a time. It wasn’t about pointing fingers. It wasn’t about blaming anyone except those who had perpetrated the atrocity. It was about protecting and avenging our own.
On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush visited the wreckage at what came to be called “Ground Zero,” and addressed the emergency rescue workers with a bullhorn.
Members of the crowd shouted out to him, “We can’t hear you!”
In a defining moment of national pride and with the absolute grit and backbone of American determination, President Bush responded, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us, soon!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and chants of, “USA! USA! USA!”
This wasn’t the kind of blind nationalism served up with meaningless slogans.
It was organic and real, and it included the best of all of us. It wasn’t meant to serve a president or any political party, either.
Nobody was seeking to punish “other.” We absolutely sought retribution, however, and it was justified.
The September 11, 2001 attack changed us, forever. It did not, however, break us.
Were mistakes made, afterwards?
Sure, but then, this was something we have not had to deal with since Pearl Harbor, and it was an enemy and ideology that we didn’t really understand.
It’s desperately sad that we’ve found ourselves back in a place where we are separated by politics in this nation, once more. Our leaders have forgotten those moments of unity, not as Republicans, Democrats, or even Independents, but as Americans.
Will it take another tragedy to get us back to that place?
I hope not. It shouldn’t. We should be better than that, and we should be teaching the next generation the lessons of unity and community, because no outsiders will ever be able to take us out.
If we truly fall, it will be from the inside-out.