Eleven years ago, thousands of American lives were stolen from friends, families, and neighbors in an evil terrorist attack.
“The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices. Secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors,” President Bush told a stunned country on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Parents, rescue workers, military members, and innocent children all had their lives cut short. Families were torn apart and Americans felt broken.
Although it might seem as if the 9/11 attacks happened a short time ago, this year marks the eleventh anniversary of Sept. 11, 2011. Even though more than a decade has passed since America was viciously targeted, Americans' memories of that day remain fresh, as they undoubtedly will for decades to come.
I lived in a suburb of New York City at the time. I remember vividly how my third grade teachers cautiously explained something bad happened in the city, and we were going to be picked up from school early. I remember my friend's sister sobbing in the hallway. I remember I had macaroni and cheese for lunch. I remember my parents trying to keep me away from the TV. Most clearly, I remember how I knew from everyone's facial expressions that something was wrong.
Each of us who remember the attack as if it happened yesterday will never cease to feel the pain or forget the thousands of lives lost and heroic sacrifices made. We saw it unfold and we lived it. The horrific memories of that day have been seared into our brains forever.
However, with eleven years gone by, there is now a new generation of Americans who were born after Sept. 11. Because they didn't live through the events, their understanding of Sept. 11 depends on what we teach them. It is vital we never stop talking about what might be the most painful attack on our nation.
When a day goes by without remembrance, recognition, discussion and prayer, the attack becomes a thing of the past. It fades into the distance, and America's future generations will be deprived of understanding the true definitions of American sacrifice, community and patriotism that so many of us bore witness to that September.
Future American children will never know who Todd Beamer was – a husband and father of two sons and a then-unborn daughter. Along with other passengers on Flight 93, Todd used airplane phones to communicate with those on the ground, stormed the cockpit, and fought terrorist hijackers for control of the plane. Todd's last words heard were heard by the customer service representative with whom he had been on the phone: “Are you guys ready? Let's roll.” Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers are true American heroes and their bravery should never be forgotten.
Firemen, policemen, paramedics, and volunteer rescue workers ran towards the fire and the rubble to save others, not hesitating at the thought they might die by doing so. And in the years since, thousands of American soldiers have put their lives on the line in order to protect the very freedom and opportunity our country was targeted for that day.
As people realized that we are all Americans, the nation took a break from political squabbling. I remember making over a thousand dollars at a lemonade stand my friend and and I opened to raise money for ground zero relief efforts. As a seven-year-old, I was shocked that somebody would donate twenty dollars for a cup of lemonade. Today, though, I look back on that memory and realize that it was a true coming together of American people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and values. Everyone wanted to help our nation recover and rebuild in the wake of the evil attacks.
Just like Americans came together to support each other as individuals, there was an amazing amount of coming together to support our nation. American flags hung prominently from every building, and Americans had all-encompassing pride for their country. There was an overwhelming belief that America is the best country in the world. We won't be messed with and we most certainly cannot be beaten.
As admirable as they are, these stories of sacrifice, community, and patriotism will be buried in the past if we don't continue the discussion. Future generations of Americans will never know of Todd Beamer, my mailman who donated twenty dollars to a child's lemonade stand, or the American optimism that arose from the ashes of one of the greatest tragedies in our nation's history — if we don't tell them.
For many of us, forgetting the horror and sorrow that hit our nation suddenly eleven years ago will be impossible. If we want those magnificent American stories, sacrifices, and the memories of the innocent lives lost to be remembered in the future, we must accept that it is our responsibility to pass them on.