Every one of us knows exactly where we were on this day 10 years ago. There is a different story for every one of us and a different way it touched us all. This is my story and in what parts of my life it touched me . . .
I was driving to work when the radio announced the impact of the first plane on the World Trade Center. It was only speculation as to whether it was a terrorist attack at that point. That speculation ended approximately 5 minutes after I got to work and we watched as a second plane impacted the other tower on the television in our lobby. I was a mechanic at a shop in downtown Raleigh, NC that specialized in Cadillac. We didn’t get much work done that day. We watched and waited. We saw the Pentagon get hit. We heard about United Airlines flight 93 going down in Shanksville, PA.
We wondered how many more there would be. We wondered who had brought such terror on our own ground. I had two cousins in New York City. One was in the Police Academy. His service to the community would start earlier than expected. My other cousin, I finally managed to catch on his cell phone as he was walking down the street watching the mayhem around him.
It doesn’t matter where we live, or what we were doing or who we were with. On September 11, 2001, every single one of us was in New York City and Arlington, VA and Shanksville, PA. On that day, America took a devastating blow. In the days the followed, we showed just how strong we would stand, against those who would attack us, and beside those who would need us.
It made me think just how close something like this could happen to any one of us. I was touched by it in this way:
Just 4 years before the attacks, I was a US Marine assigned to the Presidential Helicopter Squadron. We flew the President of the United States, and all the people that work closely with him. My particular assignment regularly had me flying with the likes of the Secretary of Defense and other high officials and I regularly went to The Pentagon. I have spent many hours sitting on that very helipad I’ve indicated in that picture above. I have stood and looked up at those windows and seen the people inside that often looked out to catch a peek at our shiny green helicopter, and I wonder if I looked back at any of the 125 people that lost their lives in that building just 4 years later. I’ve sat in that control tower in that little building just above and to the right of the helipad. I have looked out that window and seen the view that those people had when they watched American Airlines flight 77 descend toward them. I can not even begin to imagine the horror they must have felt. That plane didn’t just strike The Pentagon, a place many of us have only heard of but never seen, it struck someplace that I had worked, a place that I had lived and a place that I had taken an oath to protect. It hit me VERY close to home.
Many of my travels took me north as well. The company that manufactured the helicopters that we used was in Connecticut and we made frequent trips up there to get some of our specialized parts that we needed to maintain our aircraft. The flight path we took usually brought us up the Hudson River, right past the World Trade Center. When we flew by, the tops of the towers was usually still high above us as we only flew at an altitude about halfway up their height. I have video of taking one of those flights that I am, unfortunately, unable to get my hands on at the moment as I would have loved to share it here, because I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see that sight with my own eyes. I remember opening the window on the side of the helicopter so I could watch the city move by me as we passed, and I would stand in awe as we passed those towers.
I will never forget the bravery shown by the firefighters, police officers and paramedics that selflessly worked to help our people. In fact, they didn’t even know, nor did they care, if they were saving Americans or people of other nationalities, they were just saving or attempting to save people. Because they didn’t have hatred toward anyone because of their beliefs and cultures and backgrounds. They just wanted to save lives. They stood up and showed who we are and what this country is about and they held it in the face of our attackers. Many of them gave their lives for it.
Today I remembered the 2,980 people that lost their lives that day. I think about their families and what those people meant to them. I’ve had the experience very recently of seeing how just one person can effect someones life and how suddenly losing them can change their life forever. To think that in just a few moments, that happened to God knows how many family members. Children lost parents. Parents lost children. Wives, husbands, brothers, sisters . . . friends. It affected me in such a way that now when I do hear of somebody losing someone close to them, I want to reach out and take some of the pain and hold it myself, just like those good people worked so hard to save the lives of those that had been directly attacked. I want to help carry the weight and be there to support.
Because it is what we do. We are America and we stand strong in the face of ANYTHING that is thrown at us, and we will continue to do so. We get wrapped up sometimes in the economy and politics and whatever other issues we come across that make us argue amongst ourselves and we do forget how we should treat each other. Today is our day to remember. Nearly 3000 people gave their lives to remind us and we owe it to their memory to show that this country is worthy of having been their choice of place to live and die in.
. . . and I will not forget. Ever.