Sixteen years ago today, Americans witnessed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, an attack that “resulted in the largest loss of life by a foreign attack on American soil.”
We all know the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Four planes were hijacked by Muslim terrorists — two were flown into the Twin Towers, one was flown into the Pentagon, and one crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks cost nearly 3,000 Americans their lives, with 400 of those being the brave men and women who serve as our police officers and firefighters.
Today is a day to grieve, but also a day to be strong. We mourn the loss of so many lives, but rejoice in the fortitude shown by all those who love this great nation.
Ordinary Americans, Extraordinary Courage
Growing up, my grandfather gave my family a book entitled, America’s Heros: Inspiring Stories of Courage, Sacrifices and Patriotism. I’ve always loved looking through that book, because, although it brings a tear to my eye, it also lights a flame in my heart. I am humbled and moved by the stories that recount extraordinary acts of courage displayed by ordinary Americans. Countless heroes gave everything they had to save their fellow man.
While America has never been, nor ever will be perfect, this is what it means to be an American:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Here are just a few stories from that day that truly changed America:
The Officer Down Memorial Page website says that “Officer Perry was at police headquarters filing his retirement papers when he was notified about the first airplane striking the first tower. He rushed to the scene to assist with rescue operations and was killed when one of the towers collapsed.”
An article from Business Insider gives the following account:
“Just a few minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, 24-year-old Welles Crowther called his mother and calmly left a voicemail: ‘Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.’
“Crowther was an equities trader at Sandler O’Neil and Partners on the 104th floor. But after that call, the man who was a volunteer firefighter in his teens made his way down to the 78th floor sky lobby and became a hero to strangers known only as ‘the man in the red bandana.’
‘Amid the smoke, chaos and debris, Crowther helped injured and disoriented office workers to safety, risking his own life in the process. Though they couldn’t see much through the haze, those he saved recalled a tall figure wearing a red bandana to shield his lungs and mouth.
‘He had come down to the 78th-floor sky lobby, an alcove in the building with express elevators meant to speed up trips to the ground floor. In what’s been described as a “strong, authoritative voice,” Crowther directed survivors to the stairway and encouraged them to help others while he carried an injured woman on his back. After bringing her 15 floors down to safety, he made his way back up to help others.’
“‘Everyone who can stand, stand now,’ Crowther told survivors while directing them to a stairway exit. ‘If you can help others, do so.’
“‘He’s definitely my guardian angel – no ifs, ands or buts – because without him, we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down,’ survivor Ling Young told CNN. Crowther is credited with saving at least a dozen people that day.
“Crowther’s body was later recovered alongside firefighters in a stairwell heading back up the tower with the ‘jaws of life’ rescue tool, according to Mic.”
Another story comes from The Daily Beast:
“At midnight every September 11, Elsie Clark hangs a banner on the fence alongside the front-yard memorial to the 39-year-old son who perished at the World Trade Center.
“‘In Loving Memory
Benjamin Keefe Clark
“The son was not a firefighter or a police officer.
“He was a chef.
“But a morning that began with him preparing meals for the people at the Fiduciary Trust Company suddenly led to him becoming as brave as any first responder. A Fiduciary official would later credit Clark with saving hundreds of lives as he made sure that everyone in his department along with everybody else in the company’s 96th floor offices in the South Tower was safely exiting the building.
“He then paused on the 78th floor to assist a woman in a wheelchair.
“‘He could have gotten out,’ his mother says. ‘Everybody else did.’
“The mother would ascribe some of his courage to him having been a Marine for eight years.
“‘My son was a Marine, so you know he wasn’t going to leave anybody behind,’ she says.
“More than a Marine, he was Benjamin Clark, since his earliest years ever ready to lend a hand to whoever might need it. He had only to see a neighbor in need of assistance big or small and he would exclaim, ‘I’ll help! I’ll help!’
“‘He was always there to help,’ his mother says.
“Upon seeing others suddenly in the most mortal danger, his everyday decency had become uncommon courage. A chef known for his fabulous meatloaf and for remembering everybody’s name and favorite meals had proven as courageous as if he had stepped off an FDNY rig.
“‘A hero,’ his mother says. ‘My hero.’”
These stories remind me of an old country song by Paul Overstreet, Heroes:
“…Cause you know heroes come in every shape and size;
Making special sacrifices for others in her lives;
No one gives them medals, the world don’t know their names;
But in someone’s eyes, they’re heroes just the same.”
Today, we remember and honor all these heroes, all those who lost their lives in the attacks, and all those who lost a wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, and neighbor.
May every generation take a day to pause and remember our past. May we pledge not to remake the past’s mistakes, but press on with the same dependence upon God and determination of spirit, in order to preserve everything for which we stand.
I love these words from President Bush’s Address to the Nation on September 11, 2001:
“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices; secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors.
“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
“Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of humanity, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.
“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.
“None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
I’d like to close with these words from the song, I Pledge My Allegiance:
“Where a child is hungry, where men have no homes.
Where the powerless are yearning to breathe free.
May we fight for justice, till there’s justice for all,
and become what God meant us to be.
“I pledge my allegiance to the grand old flag,
And the promise of hope from sea to sea.
Under God, one nation, undivided we will stand.
Lift the banner of liberty.”
The Daily Beast
I Pledge My Allegiance