September 11, 2001, is a day Americans will never forget.
That morning, our peaceful innocence was shattered when 19 al-Qaeda operatives hijacked American airplanes and carried out four coordinated terrorist attacks. The results were sobering: 2,977 people were killed in the attacks, including 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers. More than 25,000 sustained injuries, with some still experiencing health issues from inhaling toxic debris in Lower Manhattan. Property and infrastructure damage was estimated at $10 billion – $13 billion and included the loss of both the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City, as well as extensive damage to the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 learned of the events unfolding and prevented further catastrophe by attacking the hijackers mid-flight, forcing the airplane to crash into a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All on board were killed.
The 9/11 attacks ushered in sweeping changes to everyday American life. Recognizing that we were no longer immune to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 established the Department of Homeland Security, an agency devoted to anti-terrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cybersecurity, and disaster prevention measures. Congress passed the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency’s (NSA) powers were broadened. The U.S. declared war on Afghanistan in an effort to overthrow the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Everyday air travel was forever changed with the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which set up security checkpoints at airports across the country and began intensive screening of passengers and baggage. The removal of shoes prior to boarding has become de rigueur and passengers are limited to 3.4 ounces of liquids in their carry-on bags.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives surrounding 9/11, but we should also remember the many heroes who sacrificed themselves for others on that fateful day. The image of New York City firefighters racing into the burning Twin Towers as others fled will forever be ingrained in our minds, as will the heroic efforts of New York City and Port Authority police officers to evacuate the buildings and attempt to save those trapped on the higher floors. The brave passengers of Flight 93, who averted disaster and saved countless others but paid for it with their lives. Everyday people whose names are barely known: the equities trader who shepherded office workers down a stairwell to safety, the former Marines who donned their old uniforms and searched through the rubble for victims, the tour guide at the Pentagon who gave medical aid to injured coworkers before heading back inside the burning building in search of survivors. There are dozens of real life individuals who put the needs of others above their own health and safety.
Even those who played no part in the events of 9/11 were deeply affected. The tragedy spurred us to focus more on home life and spending time with loved ones. Church attendance soared and there was a renewed emphasis on patriotic displays. 9/11 profoundly changed our way of life forever, but also forced us to refocus, reevaluate, and re-prioritize our lives. It was evidence of the resilient spirit of the American people—an ingrained attitude that remains unbroken to this day, even as we deal with another tragedy, this one on a global scale.
9/11 is now known as Patriot Day and serves as a day to remember the fallen. This national day of mourning provides an opportunity to honor everybody who sacrificed for us that day…and reminds us of what makes our country so great.
May we never forget.