I was an infant when President Kennedy faced the threat of communism through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was a kid when the Vietnam conflict dominated newspaper headlines. I was a young adult during the Persian Gulf War, when my only memory was Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, the lyrics interspersed with tearful exclamations from family members. However, I was fully grown, married with children, alive and aware, on September 11, 2001. 9/11 stays with me; every anniversary observed with reverence.
Reminders weren’t necessary when Tuesday arrived this year (now dubbed Patriot Day), but I still got two. The first – from a fellow blogger – talked about Empty Sky, New Jersey’s memorial to its 700+ victims of the 9/11 attacks, in Liberty State Park directly across from Manhattan. The second – from my Windows lock screen – the day and date in a large font on my monitor: Tuesday, September 11. In 2001, September 11th also fell on a Tuesday.
Lyric: “Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?” Alan Jackson
Anyone twenty or older in 2001 should remember exactly where they were “that September day”. I think a book of such accounts would lend meaningful perspective. Me, I was in Texas for a week at my company’s Houston offices. That Tuesday morning, I was listening mindlessly to the radio as I navigated my rental car from hotel to office. The local news was laughing about “some nut-job crashing his single-engine plane into one of New York’s World Trade Center towers”. By the time I got to work, there was no more laughing.
The rest of that week in Houston was a blur. Work pretty much came to a halt as people processed the horrific aftermath of the attacks. That Friday, it was apparent my return flight to Colorado wasn’t going to happen. With the blessing of my rental car agency, I pointed my car to the northwest and faced 1,000 miles of highway. Midway through my journey, in the middle of the West Texas desert, I picked up the broadcast of the memorial service from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. I’ll never forget the words of President Bush (“We are here in the middle hour of our grief…”), and the choir’s rendition of “America the Beautiful”, bringing uncontrollable tears.
Fact: 25% of Americans living today were born after September 11, 2001.
Add in Americans who were ten or younger back then (including two of my children), and four in ten Americans have no real memory of 9/11. Thus, we have the memorials, which laud and honor the departed. On Tuesday, President Trump spoke from Shanksville, PA, site of one of the plane crashes. The Flight 93 National Memorial includes a visitor’s center, a white marble “wall of names”, and a “Tower of Voices” – dedicated just this week – with 40 chimes; one for each man and woman killed in the crash.
In Washington D.C., those 184 victims are commemorated with the Pentagon Memorial, outdoors and just southwest of the massive building. The memorial is park-like: an illuminated bench for each victim, arranged in a grid according to age (the youngest was 3, the oldest 71), and interspersed with trees. When you’re reading the name of a victim from the Pentagon, the bench is oriented so you face the south facade of the building. For a victim of the airplane crash itself, the bench is oriented so you face the flight path.
Question: Why did fate place me in our Houston offices that day, instead of high up in the World Trade Center alongside co-workers from my company?
Finally, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum opened ten years to the day after the attacks, on the site of the former World Trade Center towers. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “finally”. At last count, there were 700 9/11 memorials across the United States.
Tuesday night, my daughter and I took in a Colorado Rockies game in downtown Denver. The baseball was exciting, but the pregame ceremony took my breath away. 1) A color guard in a slow, solemn march, the flags borne by representatives of each military branch. 2) A trio of elementary-school choirs singing the national anthem. 3) The Stars-and-Stripes, gracefully unfurled by firefighters from across the state; a flag seemingly larger than the stadium itself. 4) The scoreboard, with it’s red-white-and-blue message of affirmation: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.