Almost one in four Americans weren’t yet born when the towers fell and the Pentagon was struck on September 11, 2001. For them, the threat of terrorism has always been present, security always enhanced, and shoes always removed at airport security checkpoints. Sometimes I forget that Booker, born less than a year after the attack, is one of these people. He learns about it in history class, but the pages of a textbook can never quite convey what it was like to live through that day.
I remember exactly where I was. Like so many other mornings, it started off as such a normal Tuesday. Get the girls up and off to school, jump in the pickup, and flip on the radio. But then the reports started coming in…
A plane strikes the World Trade Center in New York City. A second tower is hit. The Pentagon too. And then, that chilling moment when New York City’s streets fill with dust, the images of which can never be forgotten; the first tower had collapsed. Minutes later, we learn another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The second tower falls. And America unites in grief, determination, and prayer.
Many of us might even still remember President Bush’s words just hours after: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America… [W]e’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
Sixteen years later, radical Islamic terrorists continue to make threats on this beacon of freedom – even waging an attack on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. ISIL, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and others have sought to expand their physical boundaries and the reach of their violent ideology. These groups are convicted to destroy, not only towers and embassies, but our people and values. They will not succeed. “[America] will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail” – a promise made by President Bush days after the attack and safeguarded by our men and women in uniform every single day.
“The attacks of September 11 were intended to break our spirit. Instead, we have emerged stronger and more united,” New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in December 2001.
It’s undeniable that individual Americans will always have ideological differences, but for those of us who lived through that day, the memory of September 11 binds us together. Particularly in this day and age, that’s a message the next generation could benefit from hearing.
When I talk to Booker about September 11, I want him to understand that we mark this day, not only because of the terror carried out, but because of America’s resiliency in the face of terror. We were and continue to be the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. No one – not the terrorists who piloted those planes, not those who attacked our embassy in Benghazi, not those waging war in the Middle East today – will keep that light from shining.