History provides us with many “where-were-you-when” moments. Some of them represent joyous events, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Other moments strike at our hearts and represent seminal points in our personal history or in the history of our nation, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which ushered our entrance into World War II to fight and overcome the evils of fascism. Almost by definition, the impact of these events often is not limited to one generation.
This weekend, our nation commemorates another such moment, the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. On this day, evil touched our shores when terrorists mercilessly took the lives of almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens. We asked the Coalition staff to share some of their recollections about this day:
– – I was 9, in DC, in gym class that was outdoors when very dark, almost black, clouds started rolling in the distance. What came next was what seemed like an eternity of uncertainty, fear, and confusion.
– – I remember racing into town from Northern Virginia to pick up my son who was in daycare at the FDIC—right next to the Old Executive Office Building and the White House Complex. I got there, grabbed my son, and was on my way out when my wife walked in after having run across the mall from her office to get to the FDIC. I had parked the minivan at the rear of the Department of Interior and was able to do a U-turn and head out 66 to home. An enduring memory was seeing the smoke rise from the Pentagon as we crossed the Roosevelt Bridge into Virginia.
– – Many people in my Long Island town worked in the financial district. Some were from my high school. I wondered about their fate and the impact on our small community. I learned that almost 50 people were taken that day. If there were a funeral per day at the cathedral, it would take over a month to bury our dead.
– – Deciding, after the first plane hit, that it was going to be a long day, and I better go get a glass of water, I opened the door and saw hundreds of staff literally running out of the Russell Senate Office Building. I remember being told by the Capitol Police, “get out of here.”
– – We lived on the 15th floor of a high-rise apartment building, less than a mile from the Pentagon. When the third plane hit, our entire building shook as if we were experiencing an earthquake. We had a direct line of sight to the Pentagon and could see the flames and smoke billowing for hours – a vision and experience I will never forget.
– – My brother worked just a few blocks from the towers, and as soon as everyone realized what was happening, I tried calling him over and over for hours, but the phone networks were down. His building had been evacuated, and they were literally told to run for their lives. He ran for several miles in his dress shoes and suit and was finally able to get a call to connect in the early afternoon letting us know he was okay.
– – The kids and I were walking into the house after racing home from school and daycare. My daughter asked, “Daddy, are people going to come to our house and get us?” At that moment, as if on cue, a military jet thundered across the sky. We all looked up. To calm her, I said, “Don’t worry, honey. Do you hear that jet? We have the best military in the world. They will protect us.” I called my wife to let her know everyone was safe.
– – I was working for a foreign consulate office in Houston and heard the news during my morning commute. We worked in the tallest skyscraper downtown that was evacuated for fear that it was a target due to oil interests in the area. Our office was responsible for communicating with and ensuring that all the Japanese expats in Texas and Oklahoma were safe. We were an international team, mourning and in shock, all working to help one another through our grief.
– – After watching U.S. news non-stop, I wanted to know how the world was reacting. That night, I turned on my shortwave radio. The first voice I heard was that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying, “We, therefore, here in Britain, stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy.” I’ll never forget that moment. It demonstrated the fraternal solidarity that underpins our special relationship.
One key feature of these moments is that they prompt catharsis. Memories flood the consciousness as if to bring voice to the tragedy that we experienced and promote continued healing from its ill effects. These memories also prompt action. There are practical actions, which we hope our nation continues to take so that such evil never touches us again, and there are spiritual actions that heal the soul. We hope that you find time on Saturday to remember our friends and fellow citizens who passed from us too soon, and time to pray for unity in our nation to recognize our common destiny as one American family.