Monday, May 29, 2023

Twenty years after September 11th: Remembering two decades of American heroes

Just one week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a large crowd gathered at the Johnson County courthouse square in Vienna. Then Johnson County State’s Attorney Brian Trambley read President George W. Bush’s statement aloud to the crowd. The event was the first of many honoring the lives of those civilians and first responders lost in the attacks. This Saturday, Patriot Day, will mark the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. Photo from The Vienna Times archive.

By Jordan McBride

This Saturday, Patriot Day, is a somber anniversary. 2021 marks 20 years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

It feels like every moment of that morning will live on forever in the minds of every person that witnessed it.

Rather than editorializing, or recounting my own experiences visiting Ground Zero a few years after the attacks, I am going to take this space to remember just what happened on that day, and honor the American lives lost on September 11th, in the subsequent rescue operations, and in the two decades of military operations since.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Just after 8 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Around 8.45 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 was also hijacked.

The world was shocked when at 8:46 a.m., Eastern Time, Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center between the 93rd and 99th floors.

Just before 9 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked, bound for Washington D.C.

The world, glued to their television sets and still believing the impact to be a horrible accident, watched in horror as Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center between the 77th and 85th floors.

At 9:28 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 is hijacked. Nine minutes later, Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

One minute before 10 a.m., the South Tower at the World Trade Center complex collapses.

A few minutes later, Flight 93 crashes into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The passengers on the flight having fought back, wrestled control of the aircraft from the hijackers. Another collision is prevented, but there are no survivors.

At 10:28 a.m., The North Tower collapsed.

It is easy to say the human cost of the attacks and the aftermath is immeasurable, but shying away from trying to quantify that damage is not  doing justice to the legacy of those lost.

As a direct result of the September 11th attacks, 2,977 people were killed and another 6,000 were injured. That staggering number, by far the deadliest act of terrorism in world history, includes 265 people that died on the four hijacked planes, 2,605 people that perished in the collapse of the twin towers and the surrounding area, and 125 deaths at the Pentagon.

The majority of the casualties of the attack were the hundreds and hundreds of civilians that had no idea when they boarded their flight that morning, or headed into work that they were beginning the last day of their lives. Alongside those civilian deaths were 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers who charged bravely into the buildings of the World Trade Center complex, and did not make it out of the subsequent collapse. Joining those first responders are some 55 military personnel that passed away after the crash at the Pentagon.

A total of 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks, most in the collapse of the dual-110 story towers that were the heartbeat of the New York City Financial District.

By 2014, well over 1,400 rescue workers that responded to the catastrophic aftermath of the impacts had perished from various causes. Another number of deaths was later added to the total to account for New Yorkers that developed chronic and ultimately deadly conditions from exposure to the dust and toxic environment that resulted from the towers’ collapse.

The War in Afghanistan, which officially ended just last month began shortly after the attacks when the Taliban refused to extradite Osama Bin Laden. Operation Enduring Freedom (and later Operation Freedom’s Sentinel) is the longest war in American history, lasting from October of 2001 until just last month. The war resulted in the deaths of 2,443 United States military personnel, and was still recording casualties even in the last moments of the war. The U.S. Defense Department reports 800,000 American service members have served in Afghanistan, from veterans of the first Gulf War that rejoined, to two generations of service members that enlisted in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

The Iraq War, while not directly related to the attacks, nevertheless would not have gained broad support in its early days without the national attitude towards the global War on Terror. As President Bush put it in early 2002, “We’re taking action against evil people… Our war is a war against evil.” The second front in that war became Iraq in March of 2003. Before officially ending in December of 2011, the Iraq War, named Operation Iraqi Freedom, had claimed the lives of 4,431 Americans, via the U.S. Department of Defense.

Figures very, but ultimately somewhere between 1.9 and 3 million American service members have served in operations following the attacks, with more than half of them serving more than one deployment. In 2021, NBC reported that nearly four times the number of American veterans and active duty personnel had died of suicide in the years since September 11th. Increasingly over the last two decades, we have become more and more aware of the visible and invisible scars the combat operations in the Middle East have left on two generations of veterans.

This Saturday, I hope you will join me in putting aside all political discourse, foreign or domestic, and pay tribute to the those innocent lives lost in the September 11th attacks, the brave and selfless first responders who worked tirelessly to rescue the survivors and the two decades of active duty military and veterans who worked to keep us safe in the years since.