Nine years ago this coming Saturday our nation faced perhaps it's greatest loss since the attacks on Pearl Harbor: of course I speak of the terrorist attacks committed against our country on September 11th, 2001. On that one day 2,977 Americans died at the hands of fanatical madmen who would have been delighted to kill not just (roughly) 3,000, but instead 30,000, 300,000 or even 3,000,000. They struck a blow against the way of life we Americans are blessed with, work hard for and celebrate.
The events of September 11th still resonate around the world today. You see, not only did America suffer that day, but the entire world was shown what a handfull of dedicated radical men could accomplish as the images of death and damage from New York and Arlington struck a chord of fear everywhere anyone could see a television. As American mourned the loss of lives in New York City, NY, Arlington, VA and Stonycreek Township, PA, the rest of the world battles on against terrorism, motivated by the realistic fear that these attacks could have just as easily been committed against their countries... their citizens.
As I do each year I take a few minutes to remember where I was, what I was doing, how I heard the news, the few minutes that followed and then the days that seemed to stretch on forever even though it was only a few. I was doing some contract work for a satellite communications company in Gaithersburg, MD that morning. Just after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the company's owner came around and told everyone to come to the conference room - he had the news on their large screen plasma television. I walked into the room just a few minutes before United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. I will never forget that moment as the company's owner, who was standing right next to me, turned and said, "My God... we're at war."
Were we? Absolutely. We had been - but the general populace had never been so aware of it. The United States of America had been fighting, and continues to fight against terrorist forces that had perverted a religion to justify crime and violence. "From the shores of Tripoli" where our Marines were sent by President Thomas Jefferson, to the mountains that form a geographical divide between Afghanistan and Pakistan today, our country has fought against terrorist violence. We've been "at war" a long time but most of the time that war is in the background of our daily lives. Not so since September 11th, 2001.
With the company's owner's words in my head I called in to my National Guard Unit. You see, I was still in the Maryland Army National Guard, and being in an Engineering unit so close to the Pentago (around the Washington Beltway about an hour) I fully expected that we'd be activated to assist / perform search and rescue duties, rubble clearing and reconstruction assistance. Ultimately my unit was activated to perform physical security duties at a different facility in Maryland. My service tour expired in March of 2003 and I didn't re-enlist at the request of my son - six years old at the time. In the following years I've watched my oldest son become a Marine, now deployed in this war, and my oldest daughter become a soldier, now a veteran of Army service.
That morning I left Gaithersburg and drove four hours home (a drive that normally took about two hours on a busy day). I wondered about the possibility of chemical or biological weapons on the planes. I listened on the radio as the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon was reported. I listened to reports of car bombs and suspicious vehicles all over Washington DC were reported. I listened as the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was reported. Only later would we be made aware of the heroic actions of the Americans on that plane as they refused to be victims; they refused to sit idly by and allow the hijacked craft to be used as a weapon; they took the fight to the terrorists and prevented God-only-knows how much further loss of life.