How can this be possible? Has it really been nine years already? In many ways, it seems like just yesterday, yet in others, it seems a lifetime ago. My life (and yours) was changed forever that day. The scars on my soul are the lingering effects of the emotional toll collected during my subsequent tours in Iraq and Kuwait and will be a constant reminder of that dark day until the moment I cease to live. Of course, I’m talking about September 11, 2001 … 9/11.
There are certain moments that make such an impact on our existence that we forever recall with uncanny precision exactly where we were, what we were doing, and what we were thinking when it happened. Ask anyone still living who also lived on December 7, 1941 if they remember that day and you’ll understand what I mean. I was only 5-years old on November 22, 1963, yet I remember it vividly. I wasn’t old enough to comprehend what was really happening, but I knew our President had been shot and my Mom was crying. Sitting in her lap, I asked, “Who’s going to be our President now, Momma?” In the years ahead, other events would follow that competed with that moment: Assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Armstrong’s moon landing (not a traumatic event, but do you remember it? I’ll bet you do!), attempts on the lives of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, the Shuttle disaster, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait … there are many. One might argue that a sign of the length of your life can be measured by the cracks on your heart. If that’s true, then the biggest crack on my national consciousness occurred on 9/11.
I was an Army lieutenant colonel at the time, serving as the Chief of Intelligence Plans and Programs, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, US Transportation Command. I still get angry when I think of it. Like most of the world, I watched in horror as the second plane hit the tower. I fielded early reports (many later discounted and untrue) of attacks all along the Eastern Seaboard and watched with co-worker Jerry Lyons on my little office television as the Towers fell. We’d later hear of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania and the brutal impact at the Pentagon. One of my men, an Air Force Major, was on an assignment to Washington DC at the time. He was fine and made his way home via a rental car. But it still turned very personal very quickly.
US Army Major Steve Long, married to my wife’s cousin, Tina, died in the aftermath of that attack on the Pentagon. He could have saved himself, but he kept going back in amid the smoke and heat to try and save others. Typical. We as a society refer to professional athletes as heroes for winning games or teenage actresses for going to rehab while missing the obvious, true heroism right before our eyes. As heroic as Steve Long was in his life and death, his actions were not out of the ordinary that day. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, upon hearing of the sacrifices ongoing on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, opined that “uncommon valor was a common virtue.” From Washington to Pennsylvania to New York City, true heroes lived and died to contain the unleashing of hell on earth. Our friends wept. Our enemies rejoiced.
While most of America had not yet heard of Osama bin Laden in 2001, I certainly had. He’d been on our national terrorism list for years. Who could ever forget his sickening mantra to his followers around the world in the mid-1990s:
It is good to kill Americans wherever you find them. Man, woman, or child, there is no difference.
On September 12, 2001, for the first and only time in history, the Star Spangled Banner was played at the changing of the Royal Guard, Buckingham Palace. Roughly a month later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made this stirring statement which still brings mist to my eyes:
America has its faults as a society, as we have ours. But I think of the Union of America born out of the defeat of slavery. I think of its Constitution, with its inalienable rights granted to every citizen still a model for the world. I think of a black man, born in poverty, who became chief of their armed forces and is now secretary of state Colin Powell and I wonder frankly whether such a thing could have happened here. I think of the Statue of Liberty and how many refugees, migrants and the impoverished passed its light and felt that if not for them, for their children, a new world could indeed be theirs. I think of a country where people who do well, don’t have questions asked about their accent, their class, their beginnings but have admiration for what they have done and the success they’ve achieved. I think of those New Yorkers I met, still in shock, but resolute; the fire fighters and police, mourning their comrades but still head held high.
Prime Minister Blair, a year later while facing relentless criticism for siding with the US in her war on Saddam Hussein, declared America to be a “force for good.” How it widens the crack on my heart when it seems so many Americans have already forgotten the events of 9/11. Roughly a week after the attack, I heard a caller on a St. Louis radio station complain about all the coverage of 9/11, since that was a “New York problem.” Almost immediately, many in our ranks began saying we’d brought this on ourselves. Soon, conspiracy theories were born. Political correctness forces some to ignore the murder of our countrymen rather than risk offending someone. How can this be possible?
At the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Confederate General Longstreet rallied his troops to expect a Union counterattack following the decimation of Pickett’s Division. The attack did not come that day, but Longstreet knew that it surely would one day. And it eventually did. He understood that to win in war, a successful attack MUST be followed by another successful attack. The horrific events on 9/11 were NOT the first blow against the USA by militant Islam and it certainly will not be the last.
The attacks on September 11, 2001 were the natural progression of a war against you and me that began under despots like Khomeni and Qadafi in the 70s. As a nation, we endured and forgot things like the following:
April 1983 – A suicide car bombing against the U.S. embassy in Beirut kills 63, including 17 Americans.
October 1983 – A suicide car bomb attack against the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut kills 241 servicemen. A simultaneous attack on a French base kills 58 paratroopers.
April 1985 – A bomb explodes in a restaurant near a U.S. air base in Madrid, Spain, killing 18, all Spaniards, and wounding 82, including 15 Americans.
August 1985 – A car bomb at a U.S. military base in Frankfurt, Germany kills two and injures 20. A U.S. soldier murdered for his identity papers is found a day after the explosion.
October 1985 – Palestinian terrorists hijack the cruise liner Achille Lauro (in response to the Israeli attack on PLO headquarters in Tunisia) Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly, wheelchair-bound American, is killed and thrown overboard.
November 1985 – Hijackers aboard an Egypt Air flight kill one American. Egyptian commandos later storm the aircraft on the isle of Malta, and 60 people are killed.
December 1985 – Simultaneous suicide attacks are carried out against U.S. and Israeli check-in desks at Rome and Vienna international airports. 20 people are killed in the two attacks, including four terrorists.
April 5, 1986 – A bomb destroys the LaBelle discotheque in West Berlin. The disco was known to be frequented by U.S. servicemen. The attack kills one American and one German woman and wounds 150, including 44 Americans.
April 1986 – An explosion damages a TWA flight as it prepares to land in Athens, Greece. Four people are killed when they are sucked out of the aircraft.
Dec. 21, 1988 – A bomb destroys Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people aboard the Boeing 747 are killed including 189 Americans, as are 11 people on the ground.
February 1993 – A bomb in a van explodes in the underground parking garage in New York’s World Trade Center, killing six people and wounding 1,042.
Nov. 13, 1995 – A car-bomb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills seven people, five of them American military and civilian advisers for National Guard training. The “Tigers of the Gulf,” “Islamist Movement for Change,” and “Fighting Advocates of God” claim responsibility.
June 25, 1996 – A bomb aboard a fuel truck explodes outside a U.S. air force installation in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. 19 U.S. military personnel are killed in the Khobar Towers housing facility, and 515 are wounded, including 240 Americans.
June 21, 1998 – Rocket-propelled grenades explode near the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
Aug. 7, 1998 – Terrorist bombs destroy the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In Nairobi, 12 Americans are among the 291 killed, and over 5,000 are wounded, including 6 Americans. In Dar es Salaam, one U.S. citizen is wounded among the 10 killed and 77 injured.
Aftermath of the USS Cole, 2000.
Oct. 12, 2000 – A terrorist bomb damages the destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39.
The horror of 9/11 should have opened the eyes of the world forever, but it seems not to be the case. We’ve seen these “incidents” in the past 12-months alone: the Detroit Christmas Day bomber, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Times Square car bomber. Don’t forget that it was bin Laden who pointed out that while Americans “love life,” al Qaeda “loves death.” Then there’s the Taliban and an Iranian regime determined to acquire a nuclear capability. Do you think al Qaeda would fool around with car bombs and hijackings if they could get their hands on a nuclear weapon?
In the days, weeks and months following 9/11, the USA was bathed in American flags as citizens mourned our losses and stood shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism. Today, those flags have all but disappeared. Patriotism has become a dirty word and wearing a flag pin on your lapel is equated with some type of unsavory “political statement.” Some news media openly scoff at it and ban it from their newsrooms. Another crack on my heart just appeared.
In the 26+ years that I served in the US Army, I pulled duty in some less than stellar spots around the globe. No matter how tired, cold, hungry or lonely I may have been, one thing always brought a smile to my face … seeing Old Glory waving in the distance. It reminded me of why I was wherever I might be located at the time … of my roots … of what was really important. Without that flag to fly over my head, nothing else really mattered.
Tomorrow is September 11 … Patriot Day. It’s not a National Holiday (and I understand the issues of money and productivity that prevent it from becoming one) but it IS a National Day of Remembrance. To honor the memories of those who lost their lives and to memorialize this day in our nation’s history, the United States Congress on December 18, 2001, passed by joint resolution Public Law 107-89 (36 U.S.C. § 144), which designates September 11 of each year as “Patriot Day.”
At the direction of the President, the flag should be displayed on homes, the White House, and all United States government buildings around the world. The flag should be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect to those who died. Many people observe a moment of silence at 8:46 AM (Eastern Daylight Time). This marks the time that the first plane flew into the World Trade Center.
If you are reading this humble post, then I’m asking you to show your “true colors.” Tomorrow, on September 11th, 2010, please display an American flag from your home, apartment, office, and/or place of business. Every individual should make it their duty to display an American flag on this ninth anniversary of our nation’s worst tragedy. We do this to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11, their families, friends, and loved ones who continue to endure the pain, and those who today are fighting at home and abroad to preserve our cherished freedoms. It makes no difference reference your political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation or nationality (that’s right … you don’t even have to be an American). Displaying an American flag tomorrow makes a statement that transcends all differences, saying instead, “Evil will NOT win this day!”
As long as I live, I will never forget that day 21 years ago when I raised my hand and took the oath of citizenship. Do you know how proud I was? I was so proud that I walked around with an American flag around my shoulders all day long.
I feel the same way, Governor. I’ve been accused of being too hot-natured about many things in my life. But I feel the most cool and comfortable when I’m standing in the shadow of Old Glory. So I hope you’ll take a moment tomorrow and remember what happened on 9/11, 2001. And if you do, then maybe … just maybe … all the cracks in all the broken hearts will know a moment of peace … because WE REMEMBER!
May we never forget … may we always remember!