Editorials

Remembering 9/11 revisits painful memories — and renews resolve to defend America

The early-morning sun falls upon Duncan Polytechnical High School freshman Daniel Yang at center, and other students who bow their heads during the ceremony in remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy, flanked by Duncan students holding flags, Sept. 11, 2018.
The early-morning sun falls upon Duncan Polytechnical High School freshman Daniel Yang at center, and other students who bow their heads during the ceremony in remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy, flanked by Duncan students holding flags, Sept. 11, 2018. Fresno Bee file

Eighteen years ago today terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, and America was under attack by an enemy the likes of which it had never before faced.

Most Americans who are old enough can recall where they were when they heard the news. The shock wave from that day still rolls: President Trump has inherited America’s military mission to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden had taken refuge to plot the 9/11 attacks.

To commemorate the anniversary, The Bee today reprints excerpts of an essay it published on the one-year anniversary, Sept. 11, 2002. It was written by then Bee features writer Guy Keeler. Even as the years have passed, the essay’s points remain poignant today.

A Selma father gets an early morning phone call from his daughter in New York. “Dad, the World Trade Center is on fire.”

A substitute teacher arrives at Aynesworth Elementary School and finds the office staff in tears.

On TV screens everywhere, three words gripped the nation: America under attack.

We watched the planes hit the towers in real time and in slow motion. Again and again and again. We starred at pictures of the rubble of the collapsed New York skyscrapers and the smoldering Pentagon in Washington until our minds grew numb. We listened to the groaning and the roaring and wished we could turn back the clock — or fast-forward our lives to a kinder moment.

As our hearts grew heavy with distressing news, we left our TVs in search of things we could touch. We held our loved ones and sought comfort in simple things. We savored the foods and togetherness that reminded us of the world we used to know.

Outside, we found our sky empty, jetliners that once left long white lines overhead, like tiny bits of chalk inching across a powder-blue board, were gone. Our country was on the run instead of on the move.

Shock gave way to an angry restlessness. We felt a need to do something. We gave blood and donated money. We flew American flags on our cars and homes. We went to places of worship in greater numbers as we sensed an early stirring of the winds of war.

A few of us let our anger turn to hate and blindly sought targets for revenge. But most recognized our duty as Americans to defend fellow citizens from such mindless attacks.

As our world unraveled and we realized our lives would be different from that day on, the same television that crushed our spirits also brought us hope. We learned a fourth plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania, far from any city. As the story came out, we discovered some things hadn’t changed. Americans aboard United Airlines Flight 93 had fought back. We decided we could, too.

Today, a year after that horrific Tuesday last September, we live in a nation that is once again on the move. Though we can’t go back to the way things were before the attacks, we have chosen to go on with life, as Americans have done after every war and natural disaster in our nation’s history.

The American flags on cars are fewer than they were a year ago. The skies are full of planes again. The Pentagon has been rebuilt. But scars remain. Like the void in the New York skyline where the World Trade Center once stood, we bear the marks of events that will affect us forever ...

The fear and uncertainty that surrounded us early that Tuesday have been transformed into diligence and resolve. Yes, we now know terrorists can attack us on our own soil, but we are more determined to defend our land and our people.

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