On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was filling the kids’ bowls full of cereal before sending them off to school. Tonette called me from work and told me to turn on the television in the living room. I did.
Peter Jennings was on air talking about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. At the beginning, they thought it was a horrible accident. Then, much to our collective horror, another plane smashed into the other twin tower. It was shocking to think that two jet airliners could have crashed into these buildings.
We were all so naive.
Feeling uneasy, but not fully understanding the gravity of the situation, I packed up the kids and took them down to Teddy Roosevelt Elementary School in our hometown of Wauwatosa. Wisconsin. Soon after, I met my carpool and we headed off to Madison. We were still oblivious to the magnitude of the actions that day.
We had the radio on as we neared the Delafield exit, I remember hearing the announcers say that the second tower had collapsed onto the ground. Each of us glared at the other with a look of shock. “Did he say that the second World Trade Center tower had collapsed?,” I blurted out. We couldn’t believe it was true.
Never in our wildest nightmare would we ever think that anyone would have the capacity to do something so evil. As the day went on, we learned more and returned home to be with our families.
Only later did we find out about the full details of the attacks in New York City, in Virginia at the Pentagon and over the fields of Pennsylvania on United Flight 93. Only later did we hear of the heroes in each of those communities.
Heroes in New York from the fire department, the police department, the port authority and so many others who rushed to respond while others ran away. People like Vietnam veteran Rick Rescorla, who was the head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower. His evacuation plans helped more than 2,700 people get out before the second plane hit their building. He was last seen looking for stragglers on the 10th floor. His body was never found.
Heroes in the Pentagon from the military — as well as fire, police and first responder community who helped save so many lives. People like Army Spc. Beau Doboszenski who was a volunteer firefighter and a trained EMT. Even though he was working on the other side of the Pentagon on that day, he ran into the danger to try and rescue and treat people.
Heroes in the air over Pennsylvania who rushed the terrorists in control of the plane even though they must have known it would lead to their own death. People like Todd Burnett, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Gluck and Todd Beamer who led the passengers on United Flight 93 into the cockpit and crashed the plane into an empty field in Pennsylvania. The last words heard from Beamer were: “You ready? OK, let’s roll.” All 44 passengers died.
And there are more.
Over the years, I heard about many service members who said that the reason they enlisted was because of what happened 18 years ago. Staff Sgt. Matthew West is one of those heroes. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, had a profound impact on him, according to a story written by Meg Jones of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She wrote of Staff Sgt. West:
“‘It hit him pretty hard and he decided it was his turn,’ said his father, John West. ‘When he joined he didn’t even call me first, he called my father, a World War II and Korean War veteran who served in the Navy. Of course, his grandfather was very proud of him. He didn’t do what would be considered a normal route to the Army.’”
Ms. Jones went on to report that West “trained for ordnance disposal and as a member of the bomb squad he stayed busy, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had already re-enlisted once and was considering applying to officer candidate school. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan when he died in an explosion that killed four other soldiers, leaving behind his wife and three children under the age of 5.”
The loss of one innocent American life is one too many, but on this week 18 years ago, a foreign enemy came onto American soil and took 2,977 innocent lives. We must never forget.
On the Friday after the attacks 18 years ago, President George W. Bush called for people to go out on their porch that night and light a candle. Tonette invited a bunch of parents from school to come over and as we opened our front door that night, our yard was full of families.
We took a bunch of old candles and cut them into pieces and gave everyone their own to hold. My dad prayed and then we sang “God Bless America.”
As horrible as the image of the towers collapsing was (and we should never forget what they did to us), I want my children to remember that night, when we all came together as one country.
United We Stand. Never Forget. Two phrases we should live by — not just on Patriot Day — but every day.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him @ScottWalker.
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