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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Where Were You 15 Years Ago?

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks on America.

This dark day in American history is one of those "where were you when" days. I remember where I was when I learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember exactly where I was when we learned of the loss of space shuttle Challenger, and later, space shuttle Columbia.

I remember hearing about the cowardly attacks on New York City as I was stuck in a massive traffic jam on 9/11. At the time, I thought it was simply another California traffic jam. What I soon learned was that the traffic was the result of the gates to my federal workplace having been closed. When I heard the news of the first attack, I immediately called my parents to let them know that I was OK. I knew they would worry as I worked for a federal agency.

I  remember the nearly 3,000 innocent people who were murdered that day, those whose lives are forever shattered, and the first responders who went into the buildings when everyone else was racing to escape. I remember the horrible pictures of people jumping to their deaths, and fleeing from the black cloud of toxic dust and debris as it roared down the streets of New York City. 

I remember the unflagging dedication of the search dogs and their handlers -- several from my agency and surrounding area -- as they looked for survivors and later, for the remains of the murdered. One of my friends and her amazing search dog responded to the call to search for survivors. I remember the exhausted faces of the handlers and dogs after their return home, and the frustration of some members of the disaster response team at my federal agency who were unable to go. They had trained for just such a disaster, but not everyone was called to respond.

I remember being told to send our staff home, and how my supervisor and I stayed at work, fielding innumerable calls from the news media, developing talking points, coordinating with agency headquarters and feeling totally numb. As federal employees, we felt especially vulnerable that day, so our center was closed and all but a few essential personnel were sent home. I remember working many long days without a break and how panicked I felt when I heard an airplane approaching the runways shared by my agency and the military, even though I knew it was an agency plane that was expected. The sound of this airplane's engines sent my heart racing. Even now, thinking back to those post-attack days, I feel a sense of panic and my eyes fill with tears.

And I remember when I finally got a day off work, sitting in my living room watching the endless replays of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, and the towers collapsing, finally at last being able to give in to my grief and letting the endless tears flood over me. I remember how this nation, and the world, came together in the aftermath of these cowardly attacks. There were no claims of responsibility as there are today following other cowardly attacks on civilians by religious terrorists. This was the dawn of a new world order.

People wanted to do something, anything, to help. International disputes and rivalries were set aside as the world came together to mourn. People lined up to donate blood, and monetary donations poured in to organizations to help survivors and their families. Celebrities came together to appear on a quickly organized program to raise funds. Pride in our country was so great that it was impossible to find an American flag for sale.

Our world has changed greatly since 9/11/01, and not for the better. The war against terror that began that day continues unabated 15 years later. Terrorists still murder innocents in the name of their religion. Air travel has become a major hassle. Billions of dollars have been spent on enhanced security around the world. Muslim extremists like those who attacked the United States on 9/11 have become even bolder in their attacks on innocent people. They have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren in Nigeria. They have murdered countless innocent people in Iraq, Kenya, France, Turkey, Tunisia and Belgium. Individuals brainwashed by this sick interpretation of religion have murdered people in the US, Germany and other counties. Soldiers from a coalition of nations continue to die in efforts to stop the spread of this hatred.

In my dreams, I wish the world would come together once more without being prompted by a huge tragedy. But that dream seems less of a reality than ever. And I am glad that 9/11 has not been made a federal holiday, as some have suggested. Like other holidays such as Memorial Day, I fear that a 9/11 holiday would lead to nothing more than barbeques and holiday sales. The real reason for the holiday would be lost. Besides, there is nothing about 9/11 to 'celebrate.'

Let us come together to fight those who would attack our nation and its citizens, and to tackle the world's injustices without shedding more blood. And let us always remember those who lost their lives on 9/11/01, as well as those they left behind.