On this 19th anniversary of the senseless slaughter that took place on a bright and beautiful day on the East Coast of the United States, we pause and take solemn moments to remember 9/11. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, it is a day that will live in infamy. Like Pearl Harbor, it was a turning point in our national life and how we go about attempting to live normal lives. Virtually everything in our lives as Americans is divided between life before these attacks, and life after. And like the attack on Pearl Harbor 79 years ago that marked the entry of the United States into World War II, the attacks on New York City, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, ushered in a new war which we are still fighting: The Global War on Terrorism.
Even after 19 years, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, are still seared in our nation’s collective memory. 9/11 shook America to its core. On this date every year, it is impossible not to remember the events of that tragic day, where we were, what we were doing when we heard the news, and more.
Who could forget the pain, the suffering, and the horror of what became the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil? It was a watershed moment in American history. Our lives, our political establishment, our current events, and even our national security can be observed as to how they were before 9/11—and how they have been ever since.
Here is a little-known fact which bears profound significance: The point of impact of the plane that struck the Pentagon (where 184 people died) was the newly remodeled area for the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains and his staff. (I had the honor of serving on that staff after 9/11 for over 3 years.) The chaplains and staff had been scheduled to move in the week before, but the move was postponed. They actually were scheduled to move in later that day, September 11.
The fact that many of the offices were empty saved untold numbers of people, including the Chief of Chaplains, a major general, and dozens of other chaplains, chaplain assistants, and civilian staff. Still, so many others did die at the Pentagon. It was a horrific act of terror on our homeland. It was also a declaration of war on the United States by radical Islamists. More military people died that day than have been killed in a single day in the years that followed.
At that point of impact today is the official Pentagon Memorial Chapel. It was placed there in honor and memory of those who did die in that section of the Pentagon and to ensure that we never forget what happened there. (As the senior Episcopal Chaplain at the Pentagon, I had the honor of conducting weekly worship & Holy Communion services there until my retirement.) The chapel, along with the memorial markers on the lawn outside, is truly a sacred space, which can be felt when visiting there. It is also a solemn space. It is open to all 24/7. The chapel being placed at the spot where so many died, where hate was its strongest and evil its most prominent, is an unspoken reminder that in the end, love conquers hate; justice prevails over barbaric cruelty. That place of prayer and worship is a symbol that, in the end, God and good will prevail.
The war that began on 9/11 is not over. It is a multi-generational war. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. While the U.S. and its allies have depleted the enemy of radical Islamist terror, they have not gone away. This evil stands ready to kill the innocent and to rain violence and injustice at every opportunity. While lately, attacks on the U.S. homeland have diminished, radical Islamists commit murder and other unimaginable cruelties on a daily basis literally around the world. This is why we cannot ever let down our guard.
In this time of political venom and polarization, we would do well to remember how we felt in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11. Today, with so much outright hatred and ugly violence on some of the streets of our nation, along with a blatant disrespect for law enforcement and other authority, can we remember the afternoon of September 11, 2001, and the days and weeks right after? Can we lay aside political expediency? Can we acknowledge the sins of our Forefathers and still affirm that they did something unique and wonderful that forever positively impacted the entire world?
September 11, 2001: Never in our lifetime were we as united as a people as then. Our differences paled into insignificance. We needed each other. We clung to each other. We knew that America--while not flawless--was worth loving and worth defending. It still is.
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