Anyone old enough to remember 9/11 will never forget where they were, and what they were doing, on that day. Just as the assassination of JFK forever changed a generation in the 1960s, 9/11 changed another.
In news stations across the country, there was little time to consider the story: reporters found themselves reacting the same way viewers did. Peter Jennings on ABC, after calling his children and imploring viewers to do the same, was moved to tears on camera.
President George W. Bush, in his address that evening, reassured the nation that despite the evil, despite such a great loss, America would not be shaken; those responsible, brought to justice.
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
The outpouring of support across the world was overwhelming and unprecedented. Just as America helped countless other nations in times of need, many foreign governments did not hesitate to offer their support in different ways. The Maasai tribe in Kenya offered 14 cattle as a gift to the American government: to their culture, this was the highest-possible token of friendship and loyalty. Canada, its airports overwhelmed with diverted international flights on 9/11, opened its doors to stranded travellers – the response from citizens so overwhelming that airport phones were entirely flooded.
On Sept. 12, the afternoon changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the personal request of Queen Elizabeth II. The crowd assembled outside the gates was quickly moved to tears. It was the first – and only time – in British history a foreign anthem was played during this ceremony.
As we look back to that day fifteen years later, our team took the time to write out some of their memories of where they were. Many of us were barely able to remember the events, but we all remembered the emotion.
Abby Brookshire: I was sitting in the car, confused, and concerned, but not sure why. My mom just dropped me off at daycare and picked me up only minutes later to go home. The radio was on a news station which was unusual. We heard the second plane crashed and I began to understand why my mom was so shaken. From my perspective something horrible was happening, but it was only horrible because my mom was afraid. It wasn’t touching me, it didn’t have any connection to me. I had no concept of how profound this was. Regardless, 9/11 affected my entire life and sense of reality.
I can’t remember a time when the United States wasn’t at war. Talking, hearing, living in the culture of a country at war has always existed in my realm. I’ve never lived in an America without fear of radical Islam. After 9/11, domestic terror attacks became more common and with that came a lasting sense of fear more prevalent than ever before. Airports with tight security and long lines have never eluded me. Privacy from the government is hard for me to comprehend. When government loses trust in society, society loses trust in government and that can be felt in every faction of daily life.
Very soon, the question of “where were you on 9/11” will be phased out of high schools, but it still affects them. This reality we live in is not the same, and while some of that is due to natural progression, many things can be attributed to this horrific and heart-wrenching moment in American history. My heart goes out to those directly affected by this event. No matter how little it directly impacted me, I will always remember 9/11.
J. Alexander Haney: I was in 5th grade. I remember the principal coming in and pulling the teacher aside to tell her something. At that point I’m sure my mind wandered to absolutely anything else. When they both came back into the room, something looked wrong, but I had no idea what. The principle started talking about the World Trade Center being bombed. My parents are huge history buffs, and taught me a lot, so I was sitting there wondering why we were talking about something that happened roughly a decade ago. Obviously that wasn’t the case.
My first reaction was that the Russians did it; I’m pretty sure Hunt for Red October had been on in the house at some point prior to that. I’d already wanted to join the military since I was six, and seeing this unfold just bolstered that desire. Since then, I’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world. I’ve watched it shape the political and international stage. The one opinion that has never changed, is that we suffered that day as Americans, as one.
John-Pierre Maeli: The telephone rang in the middle of another routine homeschooled day. Didn’t think much of it, until my mom kept asking the person on the other end why she needed to turn the TV on. It was still in the morning. TV this early? When she finally did, I could definitely notice a big change in her face. Something bad had happened. Something so horrible it was registering as disbelief. As a seven-year-old, I had no concept of what has just happened. Terrorists? Planes flying into towers? What were the Twin Towers? It all seemed so far off. Yet, I was still struck with a feeling of confusion and fear, despite not knowing how serious the incident unfolding on my TV screen was.
Andrew McDonough: I remember 9/11 very graphically. Being from upstate New York, a lot of my friends had parents who commuted to the city for work. We all found out in first period that the first tower had been struck by some type of plane, and my science class witnessed in horror as the second plane struck the south tower. Every part of me wanted revenge; it was a major reason I graduated high school early and joined the Army.
Robert Petrosyan: On September 11, 2001, I was a young six-year-old kid in Armenia. I did not know much about America, except that it was the greatest and strongest country in the world. When I initially saw the attacks during a live broadcast on CNN International, I initially did not see the planes, only hundreds of New Yorkers fleeing dust and rubble from the aftermath. When I saw the planes, I thought it was an accident, because I could not fathom anybody invading such an impregnable country. Yet I eventually saw that was exactly what happened. Americans everywhere united around their core values in the aftermath of the attacks.
Even though I was not an American at the time, me and many in my part of the world responded with an increased interest in American culture, whether it be music, sports, movies, or political values. Two years later, I immigrated to the US, and now looking back fifteen years later, I know not to take America’s freedom for granted, and to stand up for its values from all sorts of threats, foreign and domestic, and short term and long term.
Autumn Price: I was five years old on the day of 9/11. I was in chapel, praying for the day, when we were told the North Tower had been struck. I watched in horror as the South Tower was hit shortly after. My parents then picked me up from school, and we all went home to pray for our nation and its heroes.
Now, as the sibling of a younger brother in the military, I understand now more than ever, the importance of preserving liberty and freedom for future generations. Freedom is not free, and I honor the men and women who bravely put on the uniform from all different branches and services in an effort to protect our freedom. I pray that we never forget their sacrifices. I pray and remember the victims and the families who lost loved ones. May their sacrifice not be in vain.
Ariana Rowlands: On the morning of 9/11, I remember walking down the stairs after getting ready for kindergarten. The TV was on and my mom was in the kitchen crying. I thought it was a movie at first: the video of the plane crashing into the tower. I didn’t understand that it was real. I remember telling my mom, “It’s ok, don’t cry. It’s just a movie,” like she would tell me when I cried during movies. My dad was downstairs too but he was just watching the TV. He was dressed for work but he was still at home when he had usually left by that time in the morning. It was then that my parents explained to me what happened.
I went to school and the news was on the classroom TV all day. Everyone was unusually silent and somber for a kindergarten classroom that day. I don’t think I quite understood death on such a large scale at that time. It didn’t really hit me until I was older the amount of fear the people in the towers must have felt before they collapsed, the desperation the jumpers must have felt before they fell all those stories, and the bravery and selflessness of the American heroes on Flight 93. There are Americans alive today because of the sacrifices the passengers on Flight 93 made. That fact still makes me emotional today.
Jacob Santillan: I’d just returned from class when I got word of the attacks. I remember a vague numbness, the kind that might understandably accompany disbelief at the sight of a tragedy that might have been a plot point in a summer action movie: “I can’t believe this is happening.” The reality is of course much more horrific, and not just on the scale of carnage revealed after the dust clouds settled that brilliant September day.
The attacks still challenge our ability to reconcile national security with the rights and liberties that make being an American worthwhile in the first place. It also challenges us to defend the small-l classical liberal values which define and undergird (for now) Western society, as well as challenges us to reject mindless forms of multiculturalism which openly make excuses for flying planes into buildings, killing nearly 3,000 people. I didn’t appreciate it then, but as I see the West’s confidence in its own values flag and flail, values I appreciated when I was then on the left and today in the center, I understand that it is more important than ever to stand firm and defend what is great about America.
Haleigh Shackleton: I myself have very little memory of the tragedy that is 9/11, being as I was only 4 years old. Besides remembering that what I was watching during breakfast wasn’t a movie, what I do remember is the way my mother reacted. At this point in my life there really hadn’t been a time I had seen my mother as anything else besides being full of warmth, strength, and happiness. Her reaction was what affected me not what I saw on the television. What was happening was confusing for me to grasp, but what wasn’t confusing was seeing how scared and worried my mother was. She was full of shock and confusion; then the remembrance of our family in D.C. and family working at the Pentagon quickly filled her with worry.
Seeing my mother in such a state for the first time is what has brought me to keep this memory with such vividness. 9/11 was an attack on American soil of the same scale as Pearl Harbor. Different from Pearl Harbor, though, in that this wasn’t military attacking military. 9/11 was an attack on civilians and a way of life. My mother, much like many other Americans, did not go into work that day. The feeling that morning was intense and unreal. 9/11 changed the way America ran. Because of that all I have ever known is the post-9/11 America we live in today. ◆