Our community celebrates an uninvited anniversary this month.
By this anniversary, we’ve almost passed as many days as there were victims who died as a result of 9/11, including those in the Pentagon, in the World Trade Center buildings and in the commercial planes flown into them.
In the years since, many survivors have told their stories: where they were in the buildings that were hit by the planes that day, how it felt to realize the gravity of what was happening and how they escaped. And many of the survival stories share similar elements. They mention how deceivingly beautiful the weather in the mid-Atlantic region was that day, how disorienting the sudden attack was, and many mentioned how they now feel a connection to the tragedies of the 20th century, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK because people remember where they were when they heard the news of those attacks.
But the media record of those incidents was limited by the unexpected swift nature of the events and by technology. Unlike the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the generations that experienced 9/11 in America are able to see the damaged towers in real time, including the footage as cameras captured the second plane impacting the South Tower only 7 minutes after the first, which both Det. Roger Knight and Lt. Nicholas Alvaro also described in “In their own words” on Page S4 of the special tribute at the back of this issue. Reporters and onlookers have described the scene as they watched men and women fall or leap from the building, making the awful choice between burning inside the tower or falling to their deaths. One reporter said he remembers hearing screams and realizing “what we thought was debris falling at one point was actually bodies.” Another woman described her mindset as she watched the North Tower collapse just moments after talking to her husband, a port authority worker who was inside, on the phone. “I thought for that moment, I’m going to be a widow,” she said years later.
Her husband was one of the few rescued alive from the rubble several hours later. But many more were not. That includes an estimated nearly 3,000, but that’s only a portion of confirmed losses, as two of the geneticists working to identify victims explain (Page S7) that there are hundreds of remains exhumed from the sites on which they’re still not able to make positive ID and more remains are still being recovered.
There’s no doubt generations in 50, 100 and 150 years will look at the collective American history and see the layer of scars resulting from 9/11, like the growth rings visible in the cross-section of a great, tall redwood. They’ll be visible because they’re surrounded by the healing layers, which include the reconstruction to the damaged Pentagon, rebuilding the WTC site and establishing a museum.
For the thousands who were unable to tell their story because they lost their lives on 9/11, we continue to tell it for them. Our growth rings will tell the story too, like the giant redwood heartily rooted in American soil, thriving, bearing witness to the tragedies it’s endured.
The Twin Towers fell as the result of a dastardly act of inhumanity, however the act of terrorism did not have the intended effect. Instead of crippling our nation, we continue to stand united. The great redwood of America keeps growing and though the weight of 9/11 still presses, so does our resolve to persevere.