Every year, we promise to never forget. We recall where we were and what we were feeling on September 11, 2001. I remember being in law school at Oklahoma City University and knowing immediately the world would never be the same. But too often we fail to remember the totality of loss. As I pause and reflect this week, I think about the thousands of lives that were changed forever: we lost 2,977 souls on that fateful day. The victims were passengers and crew, businessmen and businesswomen, military and civilian personnel; they were moms and dads, our friends and neighbors. If we are to truly honor our commitment to never forget, we must remember those lives that were lost, the families that were forever changed, and the heroes who answered the call to serve.
We remember the courageous patriots onboard Flight 93. When they learned the fate of the previously hijacked planes, they fought to reclaim the plane. Immortalized by the words of Todd Beamer’s “let’s roll,” their efforts brought the plane to the ground and—by sacrificing their own lives—saved countless others. They are national heroes.
We must also remember the people who ran into the burning buildings, while everyone else was running out. Our brave first responders jumped into action and raced towards danger to save lives. Hundreds of them were still in the towers trying to save lives when two buildings came crashing to the ground. There were 23 police officers, 37 Port Authority officers, and 343 members of the New York City fire department trapped inside. They will forever be remembered as national heroes and their sacrifices continue to inspire their colleagues who lived.
There were also heroes who up until that day were just ordinary Americans but responded in extraordinary ways.
Rick Rescorla, a former Army Officer, was working in the South Tower as the head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley. He calmly led the evacuation of over 2,700 employees while singing “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” like he had done during his service in Vietnam. Even after successfully evacuating his coworkers, he ran back into the building to look for any remaining staff. His body was never found.
Welles Crowther was a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter who immediately sprang into action and took charge to save lives. He arrived at the 78th floor’s sky lobby and directed people who could walk to start taking the stairs and help others who could not get down on their own. Welles himself carried an injured woman down to safety before running back up to save more lives. His body was finally recovered alongside firefighters from the FDNY and the “Jaws of Life.” They were still looking to save others when the building collapsed.
We must also not forget the families that have had to suffer from other tragedies stemming from that day. In the wake of the attacks, tons of Americans across the country answered the call to serve and joined the armed forces. These brave men and women did not shy away when their country needed them the most. Instead, they were more than willing to leap into the breach for the defense of our freedom and the security of our nation. In the 18 years since we were attacked, we have lost thousands of American servicemen and women to that cause, and tens of thousands more have been gravely wounded. Their sacrifices can never, and will never, be forgotten.
The terrorists who carried out the attacks on September 11th hoped to ignite fear and despair in the hearts of Americans. But that is not at all what happened. As President Bush reminded us on that day, “terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Instead of breaking our will, they strengthened our faith.
May God continue to bless all of the victims and the servicemen and women who have died in the resulting conflicts. Their family, friends, and loved ones will be in my prayers. They are not forgotten.