It has been 15 years since 2,996 Americans were killed by cowardly terrorists on our own soil. Fifteen years and this day still bothers me. Every year on this day, all of the emotions come back, just like on September 11, 2001. The edge has dulled, but the sadness and anger are still there. My memories of that day are still sharp. I picked up a rental car at Lovell Field in Chattanooga and headed for Birmingham for a project. I was listening to the John Boy and Billy Big Show on the radio when they said that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I assumed that it was a small plane and was reminded of a similar incident in the 1940s when a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building. Then, while they were on the air, they saw the second plane hit. From that point, I knew we were under attack. The rest of the trip was filled with radio coverage that sounded like planes were falling out of the sky all over the country. The plane hitting the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville emphasized that point. I freely admit that I was scared as I drove by the Birmingham airport on the way to our office. Once I got there, everyone was gathered around a small television, where I actually saw the attacks for the first time. No work was done that day as we all tried to deal with what we had seen.
I spent that night alone in a hotel room in Birmingham. All I wanted to was be home, but that just wasn’t possible. One of the things that I remember most about that day was President Bush’s address to Congress that evening. It was one of the most emotional and well-written political speeches that I’ve ever heard. The sight of Republicans and Democrats sitting in unity for a change gave me hope that we, as a nation, would recover. I honestly felt a little better after watching it. The only exception was Hillary Clinton, who wore an expression on her face that clearly showed her annoyance at having to sit there while Bush was in the spotlight. I will never forget that, either. In the days that followed, there were no news stories slamming either party. Nobody was talking about race. Why should there be? People of every race were affected by that day. We were all Americans working toward a common goal.
I was in New York City for work in 2009. I had part of an afternoon off, so I went into Manhattan to the temporary 9/11 Memorial. It was in a building near NYFD House 10, a station that lost 6 men. Inside the memorial was a museum containing items that had been recovered from the site. In the rear of the memorial was a small room that made a huge impact on me. Three of the walls were covered by photographs of the victims. Monitors on either side of the room had a continuous scroll of the names of the victims. You can see photos below. To say that this made it personal is a major understatement. To see it all on television is one thing, but to look at the faces of nearly 3,000 dead Americans is quite another. I wanted to look at every face, but I just couldn’t do it. The ones that I saw were a true cross-section of America. I saw skin of every color, janitors, executives, and everyone in between. The minutes that I spent there had a major impact on me and I will never forget it.
But forget is what we, as a nation, have done. It has only been 15 years since we were as united as a nation as we have ever been in my lifetime. Look at us now. The news is nothing but insults slung at one candidate by the other candidate, over-hyped stories of racial divide, stories about how ignorant people that believe this or that are, and the most outrageous example of Hollywood misbehavior they can find. Now, we are more divided than we have ever been in my lifetime. As a nation, we have forgotten what I think is the most important lesson of September 11; that we are all Americans, and that we are at our best when we work together. I sincerely hope that we remember that lesson someday. I just hope that it doesn’t take another moment where we all remember where we were when it happened to remind us.