Never Forget…a reflection on 9/11

Today marks eighteen years since the terror attacks on New York City, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 (a domestic passenger flight that had also been hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists as part of the 9/11 attacks. It crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.) On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed (in summary) the following events… At approximately 8:46 AM EST, Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower of the iconic twin World Trade Center towers. Confusion and shock grip those on the streets below and in nearby buildings. Was the an accident, some wonder? At approximately 9:03 AM EST, Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower. This is no accident. Something terrible is happening. Panic breaks out as people flee from falling debris and fear at the sight of such a cataclysmic event. At approximately 9:37 AM EST, Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon. At approximately 8:49 AM EST, CNN interrupts the regular scheduled program to bring the world the shocking news:

“This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. CNN Center right now is just beginning to work on this story, obviously calling our sources and trying to figure out exactly what happened, but clearly something relatively devastating happening this morning there on the south end of the island of Manhattan. That is once again, a picture of one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”

At approximately 8:48 AM EST, Chopper News Reporter Tom Kaminski reported live on local New York City television news network WCBS during the traffic and weather segment the following:

“Alright uh, Pat, we are just currently getting a look…at the World Trade Center, We have something that has happened here at the World Trade Center. We noticed flame and an awful lot of smoke from one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We are just coming up on this scene, this is easily three-quarters of the way up…we are…this is…whatever has occurred has just occurred, uh, within minutes and, uh, we are trying to determine exactly what that is. But currently we have a lot of smoke at the top of the towers of the World Trade Center, we will keep you posted.”

The world was now plugged in as events unfolded throughout the day. And at approximately 10:03 AM EST, Flight 93 is crashed by its hijackers as a result of fighting in the cockpit 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Later reports indicate that passengers had learned about the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes and were resisting the hijackers. The 9/11 Commission believed that Flight 93’s target was either the United States Capitol building or the White House in Washington, D.C. At 9:59 AM EST, the South tower of the World Trade Center collapses. And at 10:28 AM EST, the North tower collapses. And the world would be forever changed.

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For those of us who were around at the time, we all have our own “where were you on 9/11” story. Me? I have one. Though mine is nothing special. I wasn’t on ground zero. I didn’t pay witness with my own eyes the devastation caused by such malicious and cowardice acts. Mine is a simple recollection of a young man from Roanoke, Virginia, who was on his way to join the Army. I had previously enlisted back in March 2001. However, they did not have an opening for Basic and AIT for my MOS until Sept 2001. My report date was supposed to be September 11, 2001. At approximately 5:30 AM EST, my parents dropped me off with my recruiters and hugged me goodbye. I then drove with my recruiters, Army sergeants whom I have long since forgotten their names, to the nearest MEPS center, which for me happened to be in Washington, D.C.

I cannot recall exactly when, but during the drive the two sergeants began receiving phone calls from both Commanders of their recruiting office and loved ones watching the news back home. I believed this was when the second hijacked flight crashed into the World Trade Center. As they told me the news and the mood in the car quickly plummeted from a nervous excitement about what life awaited me in the Army to fear; a plain and simple dread. Nothing was certain. At the time, the news could only speculate as to the cause. But as time went on, al-Qaeda took the credit for the attacks, and the evidence supported their claim. And what were we to do, us young soon to be sworn in soldiers, airmen, seamen, and Marines? What future would we now face?

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Much like an inferno, the fervor of patriotism intensified during those first few days that would last into the years to come. Fear was replaced with hate; rage and anger coursed through our veins and we wanted revenge. For those of us who had technically enlisted prior to 9/11, we were dedicated to the cause but perhaps with a little more pause than those who in the coming months joined the service. The War on Terror that had more or less been ongoing for decades prior was tattooed with fresh ink into the flesh of my generation. This was our mission: “I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America, in close combat” -Soldier’s Creed (post 2003).

The overall death toll resulting from the events on 9/11 was 2,977 souls including  first responders, civilians, and the nineteen misguided men who hijacked four fuel-loaded US commercial airplanes. And as of November 2018, according to research conducted by Brown University, the post 9/11 War on Terror (which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq) have cost the estimated lives of 480,000 – 507,000 souls. This count includes US Military, US DOD Civilian Casualties, US Contractors, National Military and Police, Allied Troops, Civilians, Journalists, Humanitarians, and opposition fighters (of which there is an estimated body count of 109,396 to 114,4710). According to the figures provided by Brown University, 52% of the deaths caused by the War on Terror are civilian causalities, while only an estimated 22% are enemy combatant.

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I’m not trying to grand stand with some yawning political statement. Not at all. I’m just a guy who like many of you became swept up in the patriotic mania that burned at the heart of our country following one of our most tragic days. And as a combat veteran who served tours in the Iraq War (OIF/OEF) in the spreading efforts to curb terrorism, perhaps I can share with you a unique perspective. Looking back I have to wonder if anything we did “over there” mattered? What difference did we make? Was terrorism truly snuffed out by our efforts or did we do nothing more than give birth by our actions to the next generation of militants? What will our children say when they study these events in history class? Will they look back at us as heroes who fought against evil? Or will they see us as just another cast of tragic pawns who served in a senseless war?

These are impossible questions to answer. But I do ponder on them, especially today. I was reading an article this morning regarding 9/11 and I stumbled upon a piece of information. I had never heard of this before, but apparently months following the collapse of the World Trade Center, while firemen were clearing through the rubble where the towers fell, they came upon a chunk of warped metal with a piece of Biblical text fused to it. The inscription was from the Gospel of Matthew; from the Sermon on the Mount, to be exact. The text said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Or with a more modern translation…

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”

I read that article this morning, thinking of all the many verses and chapters and books there are in the bible, yet these are the words that were infused on a fragment that just so happen to be found at the scene of the crime. I’m not going to tell you what to think. Draw your own conclusions. But this revelation has certainly given me pause to ponder. And what better thing to do today while we honor the lives of those that were tragically lost and to those who were lost while attempting to save as many souls as they could.

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