I chose to stay off social media last year on 9/11. Not because I wanted to forget or I wanted to pretend it never happened, but because it was an election year, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of 9/11/01 being politicized and used by either side to make their own arguments. And sure enough, when I logged back on the next day, I saw that someone had posted about the people on the planes dying of their pre-existing conditions instead of the plane crash. Why? Because the current point of contention at the time was how to count who died of COVID as opposed to with COVID.
I’m not going to comment on the validity of that argument, because today of all days, that is not important. Today we remember that we promised to never forget the horror, the terror, and the patriotism that all stirred in us that day.
Now, 20 years later, I wonder when the clothes people were wearing in pictures from that day went out of style. I wonder when exactly 9/11 became a day in history instead of a day that changed our lives. I wonder how in the world anyone can compare that day to the present and use it for selfish political purposes. I wonder if there are things about that day that I’ve forgotten and shouldn’t have. So this post is dedicated to preserving those memories.
What I Will Never Forget about 9/11
The Falling Man
I say “fall,” but I know he jumped. The image will always make me cry. He is upside down, but looks totally calm. He’s not flailing, he doesn’t even appear to be screaming. It looks like he committed to his choice and had peace about it. I don’t know who he was (there are some theories, but no one knows for sure) or if that’s true, but I know he thought that was his best choice at the time.
The Help from Gander, Newfoundland
As a traveler, this story brings tears to my eyes and yet warms my heart at the same time. The town of Gander, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, was the landing place for 38 airliners that were told they could not enter U.S. airspace due to the attacks. The 6,700 unplanned visitors nearly doubled the town’s population. The town banded together to help these people, simply because it was the right thing to do.
Gander is the closest half-way point between the U.S. and Europe, and the Gander International Airport is no stranger to emergency landings for medical and other emergencies. But this was a different emergency, and I love how the town rose to the occasion.
My mom wants to visit Newfoundland and Labrador when she retires. I look forward to going with her. You can read more about Gander’s role in 9/11 in this USA Today article. You can also read their story in the book by Jim Defede, The Day the World Came to Town. Available on Amazon at my affiliate link:
Where I Was
I was sitting in first period Spanish class. I had turned 16 just over a month before, and I was a sophomore in high school. My friend Cary Beadle had just turned around in the desk in front of me to ask me for a piece of paper, as he did pretty much every day. One of the school secretaries came over the loud speaker and told all teachers to turn on the TVs to see the news. We all thought it was awesome that we were going to get to watch TV at school.
Watching the Towers Fall
We were watching when the first tower fell, and then the second. I remember thinking it was a horrible joke and couldn’t possibly be real.
How the World Had Our Backs
The travel community is not that great. There’s a lot of one-up-manship in my line of work, which I try to stay away from. It makes me angry when Americans talk about how much they hate America, and that they tell people in their travels that they’re actually Canadian, so the people they meet in their travels don’t have to know that they’re American.
It makes me sad when I’m traveling internationally and see America in the international news. I’m embarrassed by the way the American news anchors talk about America and how awful it is in the country that I proudly claim to be from. What we tell the world about ourselves is what the rest of the world believes.
But you know what made me proud and gave me a ray of hope in the weeks and months after 9/11? The world came to help us. The world came to help us. Because when tragedy struck, our allies were there for us.
Praying at Church the Following Evening
One of my best friend’s dad was in Arizona for a business trip on 9/11. He couldn’t fly home, and he didn’t know when flights would be going again. So he rented a car and drove from Arizona to Tennessee to get back to his family. I remember going into church and feeling encouraged that our church family was there for each other. We spent Bible study time in prayer as one church family, instead of individual classes or at youth group.
The firefighters who responded to the initial calls for help that day did what the vast majority of people would think of as impossible. They climbed 110 floors. They did it with dozens of pounds of gear. They climbed and climbed until the towers fell–with many of them inside.
I often do a stairs workout for exercise at a parking garage across the street from my house. I’ve never crossed 100 flights, even after running up and down for an hour. Every year, there are firefighters who pile on all their gear and climb 110 floors on the stair climber at gyms across the country. Why? To remember.
The Regular Heroes
For years after 9/11, new stories of heroism would surface about regular people who did incredible things that day.
Todd Beamer, a passenger on UA Flight 93 and his “Let’s roll” final message to his wife before the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, saving countless lives and more tragedy. Flight 93 was headed to the U.S. Capitol Building.
Welles Crowther, the “man with the red bandana” who saved 18 people from the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed and killed him. His body wasn’t found until March 2002.
Army Specialist Beau Doboszenski, the low-man on the totem pole giving tours at the Pentagon that day, was working on the opposite side of the building. Having been a volunteer firefighter and trained EMT, he ran all the way around the Pentagon and not only gave medical aid to the injured, he and five others ran into the still-burning building to find survivors.
And there are so many more things to remember. I started this post on September 12, 2019. I cried as I typed every word. I’ve added to it over the last year, and I’ve cried every time I edited it. Now it’s your turn. What will you always remember? What will you never forget? What did you feel that day?
20 Years Later
And now we look at Afghanistan. The Taliban-led country that was a safe haven for the terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks is now led by the Taliban once again. Despite official statements, America’s Longest War is not over. This is not a partisan statement. This is a reality that America will have to deal with all over again. We just don’t know when yet.
But do you know what I’ll remember? Pictures of desperate falling Afghan men who had tied themselves to the wheel wells of an evacuating airplane, only to fall from the sky as the plane took off. This is a different kind of “Falling Man” image, but ultimately, these two men and the “Falling Man” from 9/11 saw no way out except to try the unthinkable.
I encourage you to follow Hollie McKay (@holliesmckay) on Instagram for updates. She is an American woman who’s reporting on the Taliban’s new rule from Afghanistan. As I write this on September 9, 2021, she is reporting directly from Kabul.
For a non-partisan, well-rounded, calm-instead-of-calamity news source, please follow Jenna Lee Babin on @smarthernews both on Instagram and on her website, SmartHerNews.com. She gives daily updates so you have the knowledge of the facts you need to be well-informed for the world we live in. Her husband is a former Navy SEAL, so she has a much better grasp on the reality of America’s Longest War than anyone you’ll see in the mainstream media.
Please pin this post for later. Never forget. Always remember. Let’s roll.