The terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on our country and has been described as the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in American history. People watched in horror as the South and West towers of the World Trade Center were struck by hijacked planes, bringing them to the ground. We watched Flight 93 crash in Western Pennsylvania and another plane hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. On this day 2,996 people lost their lives.
I remember the tragedy as clearly as if it had happened just yesterday. I was driving to work that morning to my job as a reporter for a local newspaper. It was a beautiful day and I remember admiring the brilliant blue sky and the trees that sparkled from the morning dew. I was in a rush to meet my 10am deadline and was typing away in my cubicle when a co-worker stopped by my desk with tears in her eyes, asking me if I knew what had happened. The staff surrounded the television set in the publisher’s office, silent, tearful and in shock.
There was still a newspaper to put out but the subject matter changed. We began to look at how this was affecting people locally. We talked with those who had family members in New York City, we reported how local fire fighters reacted, and we watched as long lines at gas stations began to form out of fear as to what was going to happen next.
When the plane struck the Pentagon, I was panicked. I had two brothers who lived in the area and worked for a painting contracting company. They were both working on projects at the Pentagon. I, luckily, was able to contact my oldest brother, Joe, and was able to verify their safety. I still remember the monotone voice of my brother as he described what was happening there and how people were reacting. Then, the plane went down in Pennsylvania just 60 miles from my sister’s Western Maryland home. She was cleaning the horse barn when she heard the loud boom and felt the rumble of the crash that sent her running outside in fear and bewilderment. I also remember a feeling of uncertainty as to what would happen next. Were my adult children safe? Were my parents who live in Annapolis MD safe?
It is the aftermath of this tragic event I remember most. I saw families reunited, total strangers helping each other and firefighters from all over the country driving to New York City to help their brothers. I saw a country unite, a renewed spirit of patriotism and a country start to heal. I also recognized that our safe place, as we knew it, was forever changed.
A few years ago, my sister and I drove to the Flight 93 National Memorial that had been established to honor the passengers and crew, and their heroic efforts. It was a serene location located on a hill side, 50 feet away from the crash site. There was a chain link fence where flags, rosaries and remembrances were hung. As we honor those who were lost on this 17th anniversary of September 11, 2001, we should not only take some time to reflect on this tragic loss but we should reflect upon the spirit and the heart of the American people and remember – we are the United States of America. We are all Americans. We will never forget.