This next Wednesday marks 12 years since the day the Twin Towers fell and al-Qaeda terrorists aimed their planes at the Pentagon as well as the White House.
Having been born in the ’70s, there are only two events that even come close to comparison for me — the Challenger explosion and the start of the Gulf War.
Neither of those events holds a candle to those images we all witnessed a dozen years back; most of us on television, a couple people I know who were unfortunately there.
I never had the opportunity to see the towers while they stood tall, beacons in the New York City skyline. My first pilgrimage to Manhattan was just weeks ago, and along with thousands of others on an early Sunday morning, I filed into the land of what was, to see what it had become, as the foundations of the towers became a place to remember each and every life taken on that fateful morning.
Moved to silence, and soon after tears, my mind drifted to a childhood friend, one of the 22 Navy SEALs shot down by Afghan insurgents on Aug. 6, 2011; the deadliest day for American forces in the now 12-year War on Terror.
If it hadn’t been for the attacks that claimed the lives of 2,996 citizens that morning in 2001, my friend would never have been fighting on foreign soil, and the hundreds of lives that were affected and continue to be affected by his death would never have had the war and 9/11 put into perspective like they were.
It’s that same perspective that friends and family members of those 2,996 people as well as the more than 5,200 American soldiers who have died since in the resulting wars now experience each time they think of that morning.
My friend, like many others, felt a call of duty. And as I stood there running my fingers over the names of lives lost – surrounded by a skyline once dwarfed by the towers – I began to understand that call more than ever before.
These were the people he was fighting for.
It was a similar call of duty felt by another friend of mine, Paul Palmisano, who runs an alternative school in Monument, Colo. My mind turned to him next. A native New Yorker, Palmisano spent five days, beginning moments after the attacks, working at Ground Zero, spending his time unloading equipment and donations from barges at nearby docks and the rest in a human chain carrying debris out from the destruction.
“I just really felt it was my duty,” Palmisano said in a 2010 interview with CCM. “That was why I was going south while everyone else was fleeing north. I was enraged. I’m still enraged that our country was attacked.”
And as he recalled casualties covered in soot, fleeing Ground Zero, and offering assistance to them, he also recalled an overwhelming sensation of patriotism.
“I’ve never seen that kind of patriotism before,” he said. “Besides the nightmares, that’s what I remember. I didn’t know if I had it in me until that day. Now I know I’m someone that can go in when others have to go out.”
Everyone, no matter how patriotic, at some point, should do the same. Go there, see what he saw, and see what you have inside of you. Because while that day may be 12 years gone, its images and impact have stayed with most all Americans ever since.
And while some of us have turned a blind eye to the Middle East, the war still rages on, and in the quietest place in all of New York, there serves a memorial of not just what happened, but that soldiers are still fighting, and lives are still being lost.