While that is the official title of the Day of Service and Remembrance observed September 11th, it’s still 9-11 to most of us. Probably will be for several more decades, or until those of us who watched in horror as our world shifted that Tuesday morning are gone. On Sunday, we mark 15 years since 9-11.
I don’t even have to check a calendar to confirm that it was a Tuesday. That’s how vivid the memory of that day is. I suspect most of us remember that day clearly. I know where I was and what I was doing. I remember the panic of not knowing where our sons were – where various family members who often traveled by air were. I remember that while I wanted to immediately contact them all, I had to just keep on working because I was part of a medical team and people depended on me to do my job. I was in the middle of the country and certainly not involved in any life-or-death effort, but as anyone in any medical field knows, your own life and concerns come a distant second to providing care to those relying on you.
All of America learned that truth on September 11, 2001 as police, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and a whole army of first responders and medical crews did what they do best – serve those who needed help without regard for their own safety. They saved countless lives that day in acts that will forever be recognized as the epitome of courage and selflessness. 2,977 people died that day, 411 of them were emergency workers who gave their lives in their efforts to help others.
-343 Firefighters of FDNY
-60 Police Officers of the NYPD, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.
-8 EMT’s and Paramedics from private EMS.
They ranged in age from an 18-year-old volunteer ambulance EMT to a 72 year-old Deputy Fire Commissioner.
While the horror of that day was created by cowards intent on destroying and terrorizing America, the response of Americans was amazing, beginning with the passengers of Flight 93 that tried to wrest control of the plane away from terrorists, and barring that, crash it rather than let it be used to kill more Americans. Whether it was the first responders in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania, or the folks that brought food and water to fire stations in NYC or blood donors in California, Americans responded with, “What can I do to help?”
In the aftermath of that day, Americans showed their best side for the most part, their ability to come together in a disaster and do what needed to be done, to take care of each other. They found survivors in the rubble. They relieved Emergency Room staff so they could get some sleep. They took in frightened, dust-covered refugees from lower Manhattan. They held hands and prayed together because they all just needed to know we weren’t alone in the frightening aftermath of September 11th.
We became one that day.
Flags went up in neighborhoods all across this country. 150 members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol together and sang, “God Bless America.” Blood centers were inundated with volunteers. Cities across America sent firefighters and first responders to Ground Zero. Charities raised millions for victims in just days.
Looking back 15 years, we don’t always remember the fear and uncertainty that permeated life in those first days after 9-11. Now we know it was a one shot effort, then the terrorists crawled back into their holes. At the time, nobody knew if there were more attacks coming, or what form another attack might take. All planes were grounded. The streets of many cities were deserted with armed patrols on duty. All those amazing acts of support, bravery and compassion are even more admirable when you realize the environment that they took place in.
The constant news coverage, the heartbreaking interviews, the memorials, the funerals – America was riveted to it all. No matter where they lived, Americans felt like they were there – a part of it all – so much so that President George W. Bush and civic leaders urged people to return to their normal lives.
Return to normal life. A great goal, but was it possible?
We were changed that day. We were reminded that we are vulnerable. We were also reminded that we are stronger together and that together Americans can do whatever needs to be done.
In the midst of today’s unprecedentedly ugly political season, we would do well to remember our better selves and how we once reacted to a threat to our American way of life by pulling together.
On September 11th, we would do well to remember that Tuesday morning and use that memory to pull our nation together once again.