September 11th --
A Day America Must Never Forget
It was early September 11, 2001 -- just another beautiful, sparkling summer morning in America. From Florida's comely, sandy beaches, across the Carolina Smoky Mountains, to sensual Mt. Rainer in Washington State, it was just another typical, uneventful workaday. The roads and highways bustling with rush-hour traffic, factories humming right along, tireless shopkeepers, vendors and farmers were busy as ever.
The imperturbable, mundane serenity augured not a clue of the nightmare to come.
The clock strikes 8:46 a.m. EST. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, a colossal, titanic explosion rips the heart of New York's financial center. A Boeing 767 passenger jet had just plunged into the World Trade Center's north tower. Instantly, a hellish fireball erupts, engulfing the skyscraper's upper-third, the towering flames scorching the morning sky. The explosion's unbridled power and fury were felt miles from the infernal epicenter.
Then, minutes later, yet another jet from hell rumbles over the trembling city, flying low as it eerily swoops towards the embattled WTC. At 9:03 a.m., the gruesome horror is repeated; this time the south tower is struck.
The world knew then this was no accident, no unlucky mishaps. This was terrorism -- the evil misdeed of savages.
But, more than that, these were acts of war. America was under attack.
As if to remove any doubt, reports of yet another kamikaze strike crosses the wires -- barely an hour after the south tower was struck. This time, the nation's military nerve center was the target. At 9:43 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon in Washington.
Then, reports of United Airlines Flight 93, and still another hijacking. At 10:03 a.m. a Boeing 757, bound originally for San Francisco, slams into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all 40 on board.
All told, the most barbaric acts of domestic terrorism snuffed out the lives of more than 3,000 men, women and children. These innocents became the war's first casualties.
The unspeakable horror and agony that day had broken the quietude and serenity we had long casually taken for granted.
America would never be the same again, her innocence ravished and raped that black September morning.
Suddenly, bursting before our eyes, what hitherto had seemed beyond unimaginable. The nation, whipsawed in terror and sorrow, stumbled and staggered.
Gone forever was our sense of sheltered invulnerability. The unfettered brutality and virulence (common-place in Bogota and Beirut, perhaps), could never befall on American soil -- or so we thought.
That indomitable aura of invincibility, like the World Trade Center itself, lay in ruins.
Amid the seared and parched remains, the smoldering corpses, the shrieks of agony and bellowing cries for help from under the sizzling rubble, as jolted rescuers, shrouded by plumes of blinding smoke, scurried heroically in search for survivors, the inevitable question "why?" ricochet across the lengths and breadths of our shaken land.
What kind of animals would deign to perpetrate such dastardly, despicable horror?
The answer would soon be forthcoming, as the trail of evidence pointed inexorably towards an all-too-familiar name, Osama bin Laden -- perennial enemy of the United States.
The shadowy, elusive Saudi national had long ago become a household name, having been the terror mastermind behind a deadly series of devastating attacks in the 90s, involving hundreds of casualties -- all under the unwatchful eye of the Clinton (mal) administration. The pathetic, halfhearted/half-baked 'military' 'retaliations' which followed would only embolden bin Laden and his al-Qaeda camarilla of war criminals.
While Clinton diehards deny it, September 11 has become an indelible blotch on the Clinton "legacy" -- a stain far more tarnishing than Lewinsky.
Today, exactly one year to the day after the harrowing carnage that awful morning, we commemorate the victims of 9/11 -- the more than 3,000 innocent men, women and children who perished that infamous day.
Three-thousand lives pulverized suddenly, senselessly.
Three-thousand hopes, 3,000 dreams, 3,000 candles of life extinguished, for no reason.
Among the victims, someone's father, someone's mother, someone's son or daughter, aunt or uncle or dear friend.
But all of them, fellow human beings.
A part of America died with them that terrible day.
September 11th was a cruel and vicious attack on all of us -- as Americans.
September 11th reminds us all of our shared humanity, and our common mortality.
The stupendous and miraculous out-pouring of love and support from people all across America during those darkest hours stands as living testament to the greatness of America itself. Our resilience as a people is what makes us uniquely American.
Our enemies may bomb us, hijack our planes, topple our buildings, but our shared sense of community, our effervescence and our love for each other can never say die.
This indomitable spirit moved the gallant heroes of hijacked Flight 93 to fight back, sparing the capital even greater carnage and destruction. Todd Beamer, who led the passenger revolt, epitomizes the courage and spirit and valor of America. This nation will never forget him.
The invincible spirit of the firefighters saved countless lives that day. The stories of heroism, of courage overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds would take more than a lifetime to recount. These brave men boldly defied death in the face that day, again and again.
Take the story of the men of Ladder Company 6. It's a story of how six New York firefighters were miraculously saved from the jaws of death -- all because of Josephine Harris, a woman they call their very own 'Guardian Angel'.
Stationed in downtown Manhattan, Ladder 6 heard the harrowing explosion when the first jet slammed the north tower. "A plane has gone into the World Trade Center!", boomed the intercom.
Ladder 6 rushed to the scene. Three minutes later, they saw "pieces of aircraft lying on the sidewalk and there were computer monitors smashing in the street", firefighter Billy Butler told the Guardian newspaper.
Butler, a seven-year veteran on the force, recalls how they "waited for the debris to stop falling and grabbed our stuff and made a beeline for the front door."
Captain John Jonas told Dateline NBC that, as they entered "One World Trade Center, the [north] tower, there were two badly burned people right there at the lobby door."
"We were in the lobby when the second plane hit", recounted Sal D' Agostino. "You could hear a rumble and an explosion. And from the windows in the World Financial Center across the street, the reflection of the explosion came off of that, came off of those windows", he said.
Climbing stairwell B, each carrying 110 lbs of gear on their backs, Ladder 6 reached the 27th floor when suddenly they heard a "rumble that nobody's ever heard before -- a 110-story building coming down", Captain Jonas told Dateline. The south tower had just crumbled to earth. They were ordered to evacuate -- immediately.
It was then when Ladder 6 came upon Josephine, a Grandmother who had already climbed down 46 floors from her office at the Port Authority.
Captain Jonas described his reaction to Dateline this way: "And Billy's my biggest, and strongest guy. I said, 'Billy, just put her arm around you, and just, we'll do the best we can'. And she was having a hard time. She was elderly, and she wasn't walking very well."
"We started down with her and it was a slow process because she was extremely fatigued, her legs were collapsing," Billy Butler tells the Guardian.
Butler: "We made it down to the fourth floor. We took two steps down the stairs and the whole building started to collapse. It threw us down to half landing. I have never been in a tornado or an earthquake but I think it was like a combination of both. You could see the stuff coming down past your face and the next minute it was going up past your face."
"My lower legs were covered with debris", Butler added, "and as I picked it off I heard something. It was this woman Josephine, she was laying at my feet. Then some of the other guys started getting up. The dust and the smoke did not clear for an hour and half."
Mr Butler: "We didn't give a Mayday initially because we thought we could walk out of there like gentlemen. Then we gave a Mayday and nobody answered, we couldn't get a signal. The chief finally ... got a message out. Captain Jonas told them that they were in the north tower's stairway B. The reply came back, 'where's the north tower?"
Richie Picciotto, the Batallion Chief, told Dateline that "there was no way out. We were encapsulated. So even though we were alive, there's 105 floors above us."
In fact, as Dateline reports, little did they know "those 105 floors were now in pieces all around them. The men of Ladder 6 had survived the collapse but were now marooned in one of the few fragments of the building still standing -- a darkened stairwell. And surrounding them, a craggy wasteland shrouded in smoke."
In his Mayday call, Captain Jonas kept "telling them, 'we're in World Trade Center One. You enter through the glass doors, you make a right, stairway B is the first stairway on the left. We're on -- between the second and the fourth floor. And my five year old daughter could follow those directions."
But Butler has a better idea. He borrows a cell phone from a Port Authority police officer hunkering with them and calls home.
Bill Butler: "My wife answered the phone. She said how are you doing. She was asking a lot of questions. I said, listen to me. And she started to whimper a little bit, and I said, You cant cry, do not cry right now.' She actually is writing this stuff down, so I just told her call the fire house and tell the guys where were at."
Then, suddenly, miraculously, "everything cleared just for a moment. And we could see we were at the top of this debris pile. And I'm thinking, this is going to be OK, you know? This, we're going to be OK here."
Richie Picciotto: "Theres light there. I thought it was an optical illusion. Theres light, were safe. Theres life. Theres light."
Dateline recounts how "Chief Picciotto followed the light to an opening they had not seen before, climbed out and secured a rope to show others the way. Still sounding his bullhorn siren, the chief was soon discovered by the men of Ladder Company 43. The firefighters could now climb out. But what about Josephine Harris?"
"I knew that we couldnt get Josephine out by ourselves", Butler recalls. They stayed with Josephine till she was rescued.
Butler explains the remarkable irony to the Guardian this way: "This woman was soooo slow, but she was a guardian angel sent to us. It was because she slowed us up that we ended up in that void. If we had gotten out of that building we may have sought refuge in our fire truck which was flattened. I saw it the other day and it's just one twisted piece of metal."
Folks, the story of Ladder 6 is the story of America, a tribute to this great and wonderful country of ours.
'But that was a year ago', the cynic scoffs. 'Today, that spirit is dead'.
America is roaring back, thanks to the leadership of our President, George W. Bush. And thanks to the courage and bravery of the troops he leads, our enemies are either dead, captured or on the run.
"We'll succeed," thundered the Commander-in-Chief at a White House ceremony in March marking six months since the September 11th attacks.
"There will be a day when the organized threat against America, our friends and allies is broken," the President continued. "I see a peaceful world beyond the war on terror, and with courage and unity, we are building that world together."
Over the site of the World Trade Center, two beams of light tower defiantly into New York's night sky, a touching memorial to the victims of 9/11. But more than just columns of light, those beams piercing boldly the darkness are unflinching towers of courage, towers of strength, towers of firmness and undaunted resolve. To our enemies, these poignant symbols send a message, loud and clear: You will never defeat us, we will never surrender, through fire and water we will triumph over you, whatever it takes.
To the victims and heroes of September 11th; to the firefighters, policemen, emergency/rescue workers -- to all who were taken from us that day -- these radiant beams illuminating the heavens are our way of saying, 'We will never ever forget you.'
America must never forget. ~ JohnHuang2