Twenty-two years ago, today the unthinkable happened when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners in a sinister coordinated attack on America.
In that attack, two of the hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, one was flown into the Pentagon in Arlington Virginia, and one was flown into a field in Pennsylvania that was only 20 minutes in flying time from Washington DC. It is widely assumed the hijackers intended to fly that plane into the U.S. Capitol.
The exact number of victims—particularly the number of those who died at the World Trade Center—is not definitively known. However, the total official 9.11 death toll, after numerous revisions is 2,977 people. At the World Trade Center, 2,753 people died, 344 of whom were first responders. The death toll at the Pentagon was 184 people and the death toll in Pennsylvania was 40 people. They were all innocent people who woke up on a Monday morning thinking it would be just another early autumn day at work or in travel. Simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time resulted in them never returning to their homes and their loved ones.
Beyond the death toll, we will never know the exact number of those individuals who were scarred for life from losing their loved ones. We do know it must include countless children who grew into adulthood after losing at least one of their parents. Post 9.11, public health officials in New York City continue to track premature deaths of first responders who were at the World Trade Center crash sites on search and rescue missions and who were exposed to toxic chemicals that blanketed the ground where the twin towers collapsed.
As the news about the attacks spread across America on 9.11 and the somber days afterward American truly became the UNITED States of America. Citizens of every age, skin color, ethnicity, political persuasion, place of residence, and religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs) came together as one in sharing our disbelief this event could have happened, sharing grief that it did happen, and our firm resolve to Never Forget.
Sadly, I fear our resolve to never forget is now a distant memory as is our unity. Our country is more divided today than it was following a war between the states that ended more than 150 years ago.
This commentary is not the place to discuss what has caused this division in America over the past 22 years since 9.11. This commentary is not to cast blame on who may be responsible for this division. Most importantly. this commentary is not intended to chastise any of us (myself included) who may not be faithful honoring our commitment to Never Forget.
We all live in a world where we are bombarded with never ending reports of tragedies and horrible events. While we cannot live dwelling on the past, there are events in our history that merit much more than a casual almost perfunctory moment of remembrance. 9.11 is one such event.
The very least we can do is pause and reflect on how we are doing on every anniversary of 9.11 in honoring the solemn commitment we made as a united America made 22 years ago to “NEVER FORGET”. In doing so maybe we will also a rekindle a spirit of unity that we so desperately need today. That unity would a most fitting tribute to all those directly impacted by 9.11 and would be a giant step forward in restoring a sense of greater unity for America.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters who resides in Easton.