Fifteen years ago yesterday, millions of Americans started their day like they would any other. Children began their morning of classes, businesses opened their doors, and nearly 2600 people entered the World Trade Center for the last time. At the same time, 125 employees of the Pentagon began their final day of work. Mere hours later, 246 people boarded 4 different planes, and as they reached their final destinations, the world was forever changed. It was a beautiful Tuesday, forever darkened by the events that would occur.
2,977. That’s how many people we lost. They weren’t just women, men, and children. They were fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons. They were patriots. As Americans, and as human beings, we will mourn the people we lost that day, forever. We will also mourn the thousands more that have stood up to defend us every day since. The last fifteen years of war serve as evidence of that.
I was in third grade when I watched those planes fly into the Twin Towers. I was eight years old, and I didn’t understand any of it at the time. But those events have shaped my generation every day since. It wasn’t necessarily the events that happened before or during, because those speak to a level of bravery on their own. It’s the selfless choices that have been made since then to defend this country and honor those who were lost.
On this anniversary, I came to the realization that we are the last generation that will remember 9/11, not because it’s etched throughout our textbooks, but because we lived it. The generation that’s currently entering high school were born in the 2000s, and 9/11 is not a day that they can remember. It’s a day that many of my friends and family decided to join the military after seeing such an extreme act of terrorism on American soil. And now, it’s a day that the next generation can only read about.
We have watched as brave men and women stepped forward to make the selfless decisions that few can, and those decisions have set the bar of expectations for every generation that will follow. We have watched eighteen year-olds go off to war, and make the Ultimate Sacrifice for a nation, and a world, that they are just beginning to understand. It’s these choices that have defined an entire nation of people. Because when those towers fell, and people were desperately trying to get themselves and others to safety, all the things that make us different became invisible. We couldn’t see race, nationality, gender, or status anymore. All we saw were people; our people.
I think back to September 11th, 2001 fairly often, as I’m sure many of you do. I think of where I was, who was around me, and what I was thinking. I think of those first images that flashed across the tiny television in the upper corner of my Elementary School classroom, and they’re still so vivid to me. Even when it’s been 20 years, I will never forget.
But the day I look back on the most happened 15 years ago today. The day that the smoke was just starting to clear, and the dust was settling in the streets of New York City. Lost loved ones were being reunited with families, while others would be lost forever. The world looked a little darker for me on this day, even for an eight-year-old. But I was beginning to understand, as the world stood in solace for our tragedy.
In the middle of Trocadero Square in Paris, France student soldiers stood in mourning, with our American flag spread across the ground in front of them. Le Monte newspaper read, today “We Are All Americans.” The world stood still for a moment. I began to understand the gravity of what had happened. I can still feel the sinking dread in my heart, 15 years later.
This anniversary is difficult for all of us; much more so for those who lost loved ones in the attack and the war that has followed. I’m immensely proud that my family is serving both in our military, and as an example to others on what it means to be a true patriot.
Because we will never forget.
Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.
– Senator John Kerry