Wednesday will mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. On that crystalline September morning, al-Qaida terrorists in hijacked planes attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another plane, Flight 93, also believed to be heading to the nation’s capital, was brought down in Shanksville in southwestern Pennsylvania by passengers and crew members who rebelled against the hijackers on board. In all, nearly 3,000 people were killed and more than 6,000 others were injured; most of the losses were at ground zero, the site of the World Trade Center attacks.
On Wednesday, babies born on 9/11 officially will become adults.
That’s a stark measure of how long ago those attacks were — and yet how very large they loom over all of our lives.
Young Americans about to enter adulthood never knew a world that wasn’t shadowed by terrorism. They could be forgiven for thinking that people always have had to remove their shoes to go through security at the airport and have never been permitted to pack full-size bottles of shampoo in their carry-on luggage. Those are the smallest of the rules that have defined their lives, along with the bigger ones, such as: Don’t forget to keep your cellphone charged so you can say goodbye to your loved ones if the worst happens. And if you see something, say something.
Their older brothers and sisters had been given a gift they didn’t know they had until it was ripped from them — the gift of an existence free from worry about hijacked planes, shoes packed with explosives, envelopes full of white powder. All of those fears came in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
In other parts of the world, of course, terrorism has been a fact of life for decades. In this glorious, expansive nation of ours, however, we thought we were safer from such concerns.
Until we weren’t.
For the rest of us, the sharpness of the sorrow likely has faded. But the memories, and the visceral feelings they evoke, may not have. Images of a scarred southwestern Pennsylvania field, of a massive American flag hanging from the fire-damaged Pentagon, of ground zero — shrouded in the dust of human carnage and decimated concrete — still bring us back to the day when everything changed.
Even now, the sight of a firefighter shouldering heavy gear reminds us of those who charged into the twin towers without thought of their own safety. This morning, at Clipper Magazine Stadium, firefighters are slated to climb the equivalent of 110 stories while carrying picture badges of the 343 New York City firefighters who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. As the website of the Lancaster 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb explains, the event “symbolically completes the climb FDNY firefighters tried to do on September 11, 2001.”
Here’s what else we remember about 9/11: This nation was wounded but not defeated.
The monster who masterminded the 9/11 attacks eventually was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. Thousands of Americans have died in the cause of freedom in the years since 9/11. Our debt to them is eternal.
In just two years, we’ll celebrate the auspicious 20-year anniversary of 9/11. Between now and then, however, will come Wednesday.
According to the Division of Vital Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, 13,238 babies were born in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
They were born into a nation shocked by grief. Their early years may have been constrained in ways they didn’t even realize by the Great Recession. They’ve grown familiar with events honoring the troops — troops who have been kept busy in conflicts since 9/11.
Nevertheless, we hope they are thriving in this great country of ours. We hope they’re ready to take their place as adult citizens, willing and eager to exercise their right to vote.
Certainly, 9/11 was an important part of their story. But it wasn’t the whole of their story — or ours. There’s still so much more to come, and we hope it will be good.