Remembering 9/11

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I was 10 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, and there isn’t a day from 2001 that I remember more vividly. There isn’t a day in the last 12 years that has affected my life more.

I remember my friend’s father being missing for two days in the World Trade Center. I remember Fort Bragg being locked down, as all military installations were. I remember being told a long-time family friend was at the Pentagon when the plane crashed into it. There was nothing left of his office.

Since 9/11, my father has deployed five times and is approaching his sixth deployment. My brother’s had three deployments and is approaching his fourth. My cousin just returned from his first deployment. Many of my friends have followed in their parents’ footsteps and are facing their first deployments. The first funeral I ever went to was for a soldier who served in my father’s unit and was killed in action. I never met that man, but I often remember his family being presented a folded American flag as he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

One World Trade Center overlooks the wedge-shaped pavilion entrance of the National September 11 Museum. (AP Photo)
One World Trade Center overlooks the wedge-shaped pavilion entrance of the National September 11 Museum. (AP Photo)

I had classmates called to the office because they were about to be told their parent was never coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan. My mom went with causality notification officers on numerous occasions to notify wives that their husbands had been killed in action.

My Army brat friends remember 9/11; we can’t forget. Those my age and older remember, but it has recently dawned on me that many of the younger students at BYU literally do not remember simply because they were too young at the time.

However, it seems that many other people today don’t remember. Maybe it’s because the aftermath of 9/11 does not affect them on the day-to-day basis as it does those associated with the military. But that cannot be an excuse. 9/11 can’t be just another tragic day that happened a long time ago.

It is emotionally difficult to remember the events of 9/11. Planes slammed into buildings; smoke and flames billowed over skylines. People jumped to their deaths rather than slowly succumb to smoke and fire. First responders fought to save victims and became victims themselves. Towers fell, and walls crumbled. But on that day we came together as a nation, and we can’t forget that we must stand together as a nation always. I remember firefighters raising an American flag over the remnants of the World Trade Center. I remember the American flag being draped over the wall of the Pentagon by firefighters and military personnel.

It’s vital that Americans never forget what we as a nation lost that day. It’s vital that we respect what individuals lost that day. Some people lost everything.

In 2007, I visited the temporary memorial at the field near Shanksville, Penn., where ordinary citizens took back hijacked Flight 93. I will never forget reading the transcripts from the plane’s black box that were on display.

When I lived near D.C., I visited the Pentagon and its memorial numerous times. I know what buildings Flight 77 flew over to reach the Pentagon, and to this day the low-flying planes taking off from and landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport make me nervous, and I watch them until they are out of sight. I will never forget that every day at 9:11 a.m. a group of survivors who still work in the Pentagon meet in the hallway to quietly remember those whom they lost.

In June, while living in New York City, I visited the last of the 9/11 memorials. Standing in line for tickets, looking up at the rebuilt tower, I couldn’t imagine how that much destruction could fit into the crowded streets of the city. Inside the memorial I found the name I was searching for as others in the crowds were looking for their loved ones’ names. I will never forget the news footage of Flights 11 and 175 crashing into the north and south towers and those buildings later collapsing.

Whether it’s hard to remember because you were so young, or it’s hard to remember because it’s painful, we can’t allow ourselves to forget. We can’t forget the 3,000 people who died in those attacks, and we can’t forget those soldiers who have sacrificed everything in the pursuit of holding those responsible accountable and in protecting us. There are too many resources available to us online, in books, in movies and at memorials for anyone to ever forget.

We were alive during this moment in history; it’s our responsibility to know what happened and not let the next generation forget. It’s our responsibility to take a few moments this 9/11 to remember.