September 11, 2022
Twenty-One Years Ago
By: Karyn Simmons
Twenty-one years ago, America awoke to a perfect fall day: blue skies, bright sunshine, just a hint of crispness in the air. On the east coast, kids went to school and adults went to work; on the west coast, ranchers started their chores and city folk poured their morning coffee.
And then the world ended.
At 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. By 9:00 a.m., the nation was glued to television screens; three minutes later, all America witnessed United Airlines Flight 175 striking the South Tower.
While the first collision was assumed to be a tragic accident, the second made it clear that America had been attacked by an unknown enemy.
At 9:37, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the side of the Pentagon.
At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed into its own basement before the horrified eyes of the nation, filling lower Manhattan with a surreal blizzard of ash and debris. The North Tower followed a half hour later.
At 10:03, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Its heroic passengers, having learned of the prior crashes via cell phone, determined to resist the hijackers rather than allow a fourth building to be attacked. The hijackers’ original destination remains unknown.
By nightfall, unfamiliar words began to be circulated across the nation: Terrorism. Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden. Behind the words lay the still-incomprehensible fact that somewhere on the other side of the globe existed men who hated America so much that they would travel thousands of miles to attack us, and dance in the streets at the sight of our pain.
Out of that shock and pain came a unity that transcended political differences. President George W. Bush spoke for the entire nation when, on the evening of September 11, he vowed vengeance for the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, saying, “The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts…we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
That pledge was fulfilled a decade later, when in a night raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, American Special Forces operators killed Osama bin Laden and avenged the deaths of his nearly 3,000 victims.
Twenty-one years after the attacks, today’s young people cannot comprehend the world that was. In their world, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were simply part of the background noise. When a plane comes in low, or from an unusual direction, they don’t stop to wonder if history will repeat itself. They cannot fathom a time when check-in at an airport took minutes, not hours, and traveler’s families waited together in the departure areas. Today, they will go on with life without replaying the scenes from that black day. They will see the gut-wrenching images (if they happen to notice the news at all) with the detachment reserved for photographs in history books.
We said we would never forget, but how does one transmit such memories to a new generation?