This article is written in memory of those lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Photo from Creative Commons.
Sixteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, the United States was changed forever. Almost three thousand people lost their lives on that horrific day in four coordinated terrorist attacks. The events that unfolded on that date at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania have become synonymous with feelings of shock and devastation, but also strength in our country’s ability to rebuild.
In the days, weeks, months, and years that followed, the American people came together. It didn’t matter your race, your beliefs, or where you lived: Americans lent a hand to those in need. We were determined to rise from the pain we experienced on that day.
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. Photo from Creative Commons.
Now, we remember that somber day each September 11. For some of us, it means watching History Channel documentaries. For others, it’s simply posting our memories on Facebook. For still others, it’s a day to hug your loved ones a little tighter because they’re here.
Victoria Sala, a Ramapo College alumna, is from Middletown, New Jersey. She was in the fifth grade in 2001. Her father, Anthony Sala, took a train every morning to the World Trade Center. She said the day began like any other day, but she realized early that morning that something wasn’t right. After school that day, her friend’s mother sat her and her friend down and explained what had happened.
“As soon as we got back to her house, she sat us down and told us, ‘Something really bad happened today,’” said Sala. “‘Bad people hijacked planes and flew them in to buildings, including into the World Trade Center.’”
Luckily for Sala, her father was okay. That morning, Mr. Sala arrived in New York early and was further downtown when the first plane hit the North Tower. She said her father doesn’t talk about that day.
Many others from Middletown weren’t so lucky. Sala said 34 people from her hometown lost their lives on 9/11.
Annabelle Earhart, a student at Tulane University, is from Fairfax, Virginia. Her father, Doug Earhart, served in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in the Pentagon on 9/11. Earhart says several of her father’s friends lost their lives when the Pentagon was hit.
Annabelle’s grandmother was a private contractor and worked in the section of the Pentagon that was hit. Mr. Earhart evacuated the building and called his mother. She happened to leave on a walk to stretch her legs, and she wasn’t in that section of the Pentagon when the attack happened.
Emergency response vehicles were sparse in D.C., so Mr. Earhart turned his large SUV into an ambulance. A dentist on scene was giving an injured man CPR. Mr. Earhart and the dentist put the man in the back of the SUV and took the man to the hospital. The dentist continued CPR on the way to the hospital. Once they arrived, the unresponsive man was rushed inside.
“My dad later found out that the man survived because of my dad and the dentist,” said Earhart.
Mr. Earhart received an Army Commendation Medal for his heroic actions that day.
Kali Welchons, an elementary school teacher and USF alumna, was in a high school history class on 9/11. She said they turned on the news and sat in shock the rest of the day.
“As we watched what was happening, we gathered together in small groups to pray and basically just share the burden of grief we felt,” said Welchons.
Each year, she tries to teach her students about the magnitude of that day in American history. She said they often can’t imagine the gravity of the situation, but she tries to emphasize how the country banded together in the days following.
Welchons visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan. The memorial occupies eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center. It consists of a museum of artifacts; One World Trade Center tower; a memorial plaza; and two reflection pools with the names of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on both February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.
One of two reflection pools that are in the exact location where the Twin Towers once stood. Photo by Alyssa Phillips
“When I went to the memorial I was really just hit with an overwhelming sense of sorrow,” says Welchons. “Watching the water flow endlessly and running my hands over the names of the victims really took me back to the moment when it happened.”
Although these three Americans have never met and are from different generations, they were all affected by September 11. Every American who was alive that day carries those experiences with them differently.
Despite the polarization taking place in our country today, may we come together this September 11 to remember those Americans who lost their lives sixteen years ago. May we remember the heroic actions of average citizens and emergency personnel. May we remember that in times of collective tragedy, we are one nation, indivisible.