Early on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 2,977 people woke up.
2,203 of them went to work in or around the World Trade Center.
343 of them reported for duty as NYFD firefighters. 37 of them reported for duty as Port Authority police officers. 23 of them reported for duty as NYPD police officers.
125 of them reported for duty at the Pentagon.
87 of them boarded American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles.
60 of them boarded United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles.
59 of them boarded American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles to Los Angeles.
And 40 of them, plus an unborn baby, boarded United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco.
Going to work. Getting on a plane. Everyday routine activities. It was a beautiful sunny morning on the East Coast. It was primary day in New York City. But while 2,977 people woke up expecting a normal day, 19 others, all thugs and cowards, woke up with plans for a day that was to be anything but normal.
We all remember where we were that morning 16 years ago. We, too, were doing routine activities – sitting in traffic while going to work or driving our kids to school. But if we were watching or listening to the news between 8:49 am and 9:02 am, we were horrified by what we thought was a tragic accident at the World Trade Center. At 9:03 am, we were shocked as we watched live on television as war was declared on the United States.
We were petrified at 9:39 am that another plane had hit the Pentagon, killing 125 of our family, friends, and neighbors. These were the men and women who we saw in the grocery store, on the Metro, next to us in traffic on 395 or Route 50. Some of us may have even been next to them in traffic that morning.
We were utterly horrified at 9:59 am when we watched one of America’s icons of prosperity crumble to the ground – and imagined what it was like for the people who were there.
We fearfully wondered what was next and got our answer after 10:00 am when we learned another plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania at 10:03 am.
We were speechless when evil finished its task at 10:37 am with the collapse of the remaining tower, taking hundreds more lives, including those of brave policemen and firefighters who stayed in the building to save lives even though it meant losing theirs.
For the rest of the day, we watched television in shock of what had happened. We told our families and friends how much we loved them, realizing the fragility of our lives. We threw away our differences and truly united as a people. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats anymore. We were Americans. We woke up on September 12, 2001 to another not normal day – except this time, we were kinder, gentler, eager to help in any way we could. We donated our time and money and offered our prayers. We were reborn in our love of our country. We were shaken to our core, but we did not allow terror to break us. We heard stories of courage and bravery, like the 393 first responders who gave their lives in New York; the 40 passengers who rose up and stopped their flight from hitting Washington, saving countless lives and winning the first battle in the War on Terror; the hundreds of volunteers digging through the rubble for survivors 24/7. Perhaps we enlisted in the military, or went back to church for the first time in years. We had suffered a tremendous loss. But because we were Americans, we picked ourselves right up and became a better people in the aftermath of an unspeakable tragedy. We slowly went back to work. Back to school. Back to the airport, flying again. The stock market reopened. Baseball resumed its season. We knew we had to go on with our lives. But we pledged never to forget.
Sixteen years later, we haven’t forgotten. The memories are foggy and the spirit of being united has unfortunately faded, but we haven’t forgotten. We haven’t forgotten the 2,977 people and 12 unborn children we lost that day, and the 6,717+ brave soldiers we have lost in the War on Terror, and the 50,897+ who have been wounded serving our country in the War on Terror. It is our duty and solemn responsibility that we never forget as long as we live, and that we teach future generations about that day and the lessons we learned.
Today, we remember what happened 16 years ago and we offer our prayers for those who perished and their families and those who still suffer physically or mentally from the events of that day. We know that despite our differences, we are all Americans, and no cowardly act of terror can break our resolve or take away our liberty. We will never surrender to terrorists. We will live our lives freely and no one can stop us. We are Americans. May God bless the United States of America, now and forever.