It seems, as each year passes, like we have more tragedy to remember and more lost Americans to memorialize. Like most of us, I can clearly remember where I was, what I was doing and how events unfolded that late summer / early fall morning of September 11, 2001. I was working on contract in Gaithersburg, Maryland, developing training materials for a satellite communications company. The owner came into my work area and told me I should come to the conference room; that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. I followed him in and as we stepped into the room to see the big screen TV, the second plane hit. He turned to me and said, “Oh my God… we’re at war.”
Twelve years later, the clear memory of those moments are enough to bring tears to my eyes. Within a half hour of that moment I was starting what should have been about a two hour drive home. I was still in the National Guard and had received a stand by call. I don’t think anyone in my unit knew what we may or may not be called upon to do, but we were all told to be packed and ready to report.
As I drove home around the Washington DC beltway I listened to the radio which was news interspersed with patriotic music thanks to the channel I preferred. I listened as more news flowed in about Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania and the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. I had friends who worked in areas close to all but the Flight 93 site. I had friends on the New York City PD, New Jersey water patrol officers, and who were Army staffers at the Pentagon. I listened as news reports came in about car bombs in and around Washington DC and my own personal fear was that we’d find out some type of biological agent had been carried aboard the planes that hit the World Trade Center towers.
I kept my kids home from school the next day just because I wasn’t sure how strong or stable our social structure would be after such a horrendous attack. My heart surged with pride as I saw American flags, just like mine, flying in every neighbor’s yard, and American flag stickers on every vehicle I saw. In the following months, American pride grew and blossomed and we came together in a way we really haven’t seen since. My National Guard unit wasn’t immediately deployed but we continued with our “normal” training regimen and any time I was out in public in my uniform I’d get a handshake, a thank you and a, “go get ‘em!” More memories that bring tears to my eyes. America had suffered a heinous attack; thousands had perished, but AMERICANS appeared to be stronger than ever.
Last year we saw an attack on our embassy in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed in what was obviously (to anyone with half a brain) a planned and well-coordinated attack. Four more lives we must remember and honor today; four more Americans who died in service to our nation.
This year, as I type this, two groups of people are gathering in Washington DC. One group, in my opinion, has chosen the date poorly to promote their cause. They are a group of a particular religion, or those who support them, who are gathering to protest what they perceive as unsupported anger and prejudice toward them. They happen to be of the same religion as those who attacked us twelve years ago and I find their protest today offensive to say the least. I’ve yet to see or hear the first apology from anyone of that faith for the horror that members of their religion visited upon us on September 11th, 2001.
The second group is a collection of American patriots; motorcycle riders (“bikers”) and military special forces veterans who have chosen to perform a memorial ride and demonstration in remembrance of those who died in the attacks of nine-eleven, both in 2001 and in 2011. They ride and demonstrate to remind us all that our great nation is one big target, and our success, as a country, in securing liberty for every citizen makes us hated by those who live without such liberty and, in their hatred, would deny it to us if they had their way.
What we need to remember, in my opinion, is that “America” is not just a country; it’s not just a geographic area; it’s a way of life; a philosophy of freedom; a belief structure that is held in every patriot’s heart and cannot be destroyed. It is an attitude and an outlook that makes AMERICANS innately more powerful than AMERICA. It is a gift we were empowered with by those wise men and women who gave birth to this nation; a nation we work and fight to maintain as they intended even today.
As I look back across twelve years I am reminded of a question and answer series I first heard from a friend of mine:
Q: How long did it take America to respond to the attacks of 9-11?
A: In some sense, we still are. First response took at least a month.
Q: How long did it take AMERICANS to respond to the attacks of 9-11?
A: Flight 93.
We Americans don’t willingly take to being victimized. We tend to be a self-reliant, head strong people who will happily discuss ideas and options but will fight in a moment when someone tries to rob us of our liberties or attempts to visit harm upon our families, friends, neighborhoods or nation.
In this case, as we remember the attacks of 2001 and 2011, many will tell us we need to forgive and forget. To them I respond:
Forgiveness is God’s job and I will NEVER FORGET.