Remembering 9/11: A Fortress We Thought Impenetrable

A Perspectives Commentary by Matt Laidlaw

September 11, 2001 – A year many of us, if not all of us will remember – goes in the history book among the ranks of Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, the Challenger explosion and the other tragedies we’ve witnessed over the last 100 years.  We’ll teach about it, talk about it and never forget the tragedy, the lost lives the anger, sadness and fear we felt on that day.

Many of us will always remember the story of what we were doing on that morning, right up until the first plane struck, or the first of the towers fell.  We were in unified shock when a plane crashed into the Pentagon, the pillar of our military might.  A fortress we thought impenetrable.

I remember that morning vividly, I dropped my wife off at the airport at 6:00am, so she could catch a flight to Chicago.  By 8:30am I was desperately calling her hotel, the airlines, her co-workers, anyone that I knew at the airport, just to make sure she landed.  Luckily for us, she was safe, in her hotel, at her conference.  She called me by 9:00am.

That surge of emotion – the emptiness of feeling that something was taken away from you, was horrifying.  I can only imagine the feeling replicated by the thousands of families, the husbands, children, parents, grandparents that had to bear more than I did that day.  My heart goes out to them, for they have reluctantly moved on, now ten years removed they will have to relive the tragedy again and again, the heartbreak again and again, and that swelling feeling of emptiness, again.

We will tell our kids, our grandkids, and our great grandkids about that now very cold day in our history.  We preach to the school age kids about the importance of history – noting that we need to learn so that we do not repeat.  Wars still continue – no matter how many scholars teach about war.  Scandals still happen, markets still crash and fads return – even though bell-bottoms are in plain sight of every photograph circa 1973 in every grandparent’s living room.

What are we going to tell the future generations of Americans of 9/11?  We were hit by a cowardly group of terrorists, for no reason, unprovoked and we were completely caught off guard.  I’ll be happy to tell the story of how we, as a nation came together – color, race, religion, sexual preference, age and political background were never questioned.  We were Americans.  Our history is littered with stories of us getting knocked around, tackled, and even beaten up however our resolve proved to be our strongest asset.   We forgot our differences that day to support our brothers and sisters in pain.

We have to remember the emotions – pain, emptiness and sadness were replaced with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.  America is a beautiful place full of opportunity.  The beauty of our country is our people, the ability to fight and settle on differences and still be able to share a cup of coffee and laugh over our sports rivalries.

When we dig up these emotions, now ten years removed, collectively we have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves that first and foremost we are free.  We are free to go anywhere, free to buy flat screen TV’s and nice cars, to elect good officials, to build wealth and to raise families.  Does that freedom come at a price? Yes. So lets make sure that in our story to our offspring that we don’t forget about the men and women fighting to ensure our freedom.  The men, women and children lost to 9/11 and the ensuing war that we still fought over a decade later.

Ultimately let’s not forget to tell our children that we are proud to be Americans, we are proud of our heritage of what our forefathers built for us.  Let’s not be the greedy, ugly stepsisters who don’t lift a finger to make our country better.  Let’s take the hard lesson from 9/11  – and each and every one of us never take our freedom for granted.

Terrorism is a product of greed – where someone has more of something that the other wants.  If we want the world to be a better place for our children, then we have to make the world a better place now.   Our statue of Liberty – the gleaming beauty that welcomes all to our country bellow’s “give me your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse…”  Why?  We were once known as a land of opportunity, where a person could be anything they want to be.

The lesson to learn from 9/11 is that as we get older and wiser as a country, we forget why we are a country – to have the freedom to be anything we want to be.

Remember, we were built upon the line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

The crafters of our country did more than put pen to paper, they fought for us to become the greatest nation in the world.  Regardless of our times, regardless of our situation it’s the American resolve to keep our head high and to do what is right.  If we are going to preserve the memory of 9/11 let’s remember our fallen brothers and sisters as patriots.  It is up to us to preserve their memory and the preserve the country.  I want to be proud to tell my son that we did not let these people die because we were weak… I want to tell him that because of these brave Americans, our country only became stronger.


Matt Laidlaw is the director of communications for the city of Everett, and all opinions and statements expressed herein this article should be taken as his own.

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