Remembering and Understanding 9/11

Seventeen years ago today, our nation was stunned by an attack so horrific it was almost incomprehensible that something like that could have happened on our soil. For a lot of people, that has turned into a place in the history books. For the kids who are going into their junior and senior years of high school, it’s something that happened before they were born, shrouded by the mists of time.

But most of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. We can still hear and see and feel the explosions and screams of terror and the shock, whether we were actually there or experienced it through television or the internet. It’s a part of our lives and has had a lot to do with shaping how those lives have been lived since that day.

There was a shift in how we traveled, in how we went through security checkpoints, in how we packed our bags. There was a change in immigration procedures, and how we looked at people who might look or act a little different from us. We changed the way we sensed our surroundings, whether we were comfortable going to public places, and whether we trusted people we’d just met…and even people we’d known a long time.

A lot of what changed was how we banded together against those who wanted to harm us. We had a great feeling of patriotism and a common purpose in protecting our friends and families and our country.

I hope that’s not something that’s fading away in those mists of time…becoming another paragraph in the history books. It’s hard to watch the memorials that have been going on all day, on TV and across social media…but it’s something we really need to do. We need to have those memories to keep the awareness alive, to make sure we never lose the realization of how fragile our freedom and way of life are and how quickly they can be devastated.

I remember it like yesterday. I was deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch, and I was supposed to be part of the line of defense that protects our country from the forces of evil. But when we turned on the TV news in our little office trailer in the desert after the end of the “normal duty day” and saw smoke pouring out of the first tower, and watched the second plane hit the second tower live on CNN from 6,000 miles away, all we could do was sit and watch.

Everything had changed and we weren’t the ones fighting the enemy. The people confronting the forces of evil were airline passengers, firefighters, secretaries, clerks, stewardesses…all the people we were supposed to be protecting were right in the middle of it and we were powerless to stop it.

We have all of that…the surprise, the shock, the helpless rage…seared into our brains. We’ll never, ever forget it. But those kids in high school, who weren’t even born yet, didn’t feel that impact and don’t have those memories. They’ve seen it on TV, but they don’t feel it inside, like we do. We need to make sure we keep telling them, and showing them, and making sure they understand.

One day soon, they’ll be the ones who will have to confront the forces of evil. They need to understand how essential that feeling of patriotism and unity will be. They need to understand that the world can change in the blink of an eye, and our freedom and way of life might not survive if they don’t come together to protect them.

We need to make sure they understand.

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