The summer of 2001 was an odd one for news. Shark attacks were all over the papers, as well as the disappearance of congressional intern Chandra Levy whose body was later found in a Washington, D.C., park. The biggest political controversy of the day was over stem cell research, the subject of a live address to the nation by President George W. Bush from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, started off much the same way. A stunningly beautiful, late summer day on the East Coast. But then ... .
Around 8:45 a.m. or so, the network morning shows broke into their broadcasts with the news there were reports “a small plane” had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Within minutes, most of the networks had switched over to their newsdesks and were broadcasting live video of the North Tower with a plume of black smoke streaming from it. Suddenly, a few minutes after 9 a.m., viewers saw an airliner — a jet, not a prop plane — careen into the South Tower. Within the hour came reports of a third jet plowing into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia and of a fourth jet that possibly had gone down.
That horrific morning, we saw the absolute worst of humanity on display as fanatical fundamentalists, bent on plunging the world into a sectarian war, murdered more than 3,000 innocent souls.
But, at the same time, just as the Twin Towers were crashing, just as fiery destruction engulfed the Pentagon, we also saw the absolute best of humanity on display, too.
The hundreds of New York City firefighters, police officers and emergency responders rushing into the towers, as thousands of terrified people were fleeing. They willingly placed their lives in danger to rescue others, and hundreds of them perished. We saw hundreds of military personnel and civilians brave the deadly blazes at the Pentagon to try to save their colleagues and friends.
And above the skies of Shanksville, Pa., the passengers of United Flight 93, led by Todd Beamer, gave out that now-famous cry of “Let’s roll!” as they overpowered the terrorists, forcing the jet to crash in a rural field rather than into the U.S. Capitol as planned.
A lot changed that day in September 18 years ago. And a lot has transpired since.
America has been to war against al-Qaida and the Taliban-led Afghanistan. Other terrorist attacks have rocked London, Madrid, Bali and other cities around the world. Osama bin-Laden has been killed and dumped into the Indian Ocean. And the war on terror still is the primary mission of the U.S. military.
It can be argued that on Sept. 11, 2001, America lost its innocence. Perhaps that’s so. But we also learned just how tough and resilient this nation and its citizens are.