It doesn’t seem like ten years. In some ways it feels longer, other times it seems like it was just yesterday when America came under attack. Many of us can remember the time and place we learned that planes had flown into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. I was a twenty-two-year-old senior in college, dividing my time between studying, friends, intramural football, and the Army Reserves.
Like many others, upon hearing the news of the attack, I found the nearest television and watched in disbelief as black smoke poured from the top of the twin towers, darkening the New York City skyline. It was confusing and horrifying, like a bad dream that kept getting worse. We saw fear in the faces of those who ran from the buildings, and watched helplessly as people jumped out of windows to escape the torment of the smoke and flames. Then that unforgettable moment came when the towers crashed to the ground, killing thousands of our fellow citizens.
That day we witnessed the worst of mankind, marked by the evil deeds of violent extremists. But we also experienced the best of human virtues. Firefighters and other emergency responders demonstrated selfless acts of heroism as they scaled the stairways of burning buildings, risking their lives in order to save others. Strangers helped strangers on the street by pausing in the middle of the panic and chaos to aid a wounded person in need of assistance. Americans made their way to blood banks in droves, while donating money and services to the families who lost loved ones.
The terrorists had their victory, for a brief moment. The despair felt by many Americans was deep and palpable. Yet in the midst of the calamity arose a swell of courage, determination, and goodwill throughout the country. Citizens from coast to coast, from different backgrounds, races, and religions, stood together united as one America. Members of Congress set aside their differences and gathered on the steps of Capital Hill in a rare display of collective purpose, realizing that the nation’s healing transcended all partisanship.
That day changed history. Thousands of lives were lost, while thousands more would never be the same. America came face-to-face with the reality that terrorists at home and abroad would go to any extreme to bring carnage and destruction to this country, and threaten other nations who openly champion freedom and democracy. Our military went on high alert, and many reservists, like myself, were called to active duty.
The war on terrorism has been successful in preventing another attack on U.S. soil. Many members of Al Qaeda have been killed, others captured and imprisoned. However, these successes have not come without sacrifice. Men and women in our armed forces and intelligence communities have paid the ultimate price in efforts to protect our homeland. Americans do not always agree on the specific policies which govern our actions overseas. We even argue over the rhetoric used to describe the threat of global terrorism.
Despite our differences, it is imperative that we acknowledge this ongoing threat and take the steps necessary to aggressively pursue those who plot to harm our citizens. I hope that on the ten-year anniversary of 9-11, we can renew our commitment to boldly confront the evils of terrorism without trepidation or apology, while honoring those who have fallen by daily living out the values of courage, love, and service to one another.