It has been 18 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The vast majority of us can remember where we were and what we were doing when we watched, saw or heard about the attacks.
I have plenty of friends who remember sitting in school and their teachers turning the TVs on to watch. I am also meeting more and more adults who were not old enough to remember that day—or who weren’t even born yet.
I was just 9 years old and home-schooled. I was sitting on my parents’ dark green floral couch trying to work through school work in the living room when the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s north tower at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday.
I can’t recall why we had turned the TV on—maybe we had it on and the news broadcast interrupted the programming—but I remember watching as commentators tried to determine what was happening as they showed a live feed of the north tower burning.
That Tuesday morning, we had an air conditioning repairman at our house working on our A/C unit outside of the basement garage. The repairman had come upstairs to ask a question and joined in watching the broadcast. I’m sure our living room is a vivid memory for him, as well.
Commentators began speculating that (perhaps in hope) there had been an aviation accident or an explosion. No information was available yet. We were watching live as an indistinguishable dot approached off the side of the screen and hit the south tower.
It became quickly clear to me and the commentators that this was no accident.
The attack committed by 19 al Qaeda terrorists killed 2,977 people and injured over 6,000 others in New York, Pennsylvania and Arlington, Va. Debris and the collapsing of the trade towers resulted in the deaths of 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers.
Those affected by the attacks continue to increase, though.
Just in July, the Fire Department of New York reported that with the passing of Kevin Nollan and Richard Driscoll, 200 firefighters have now succumbed to World Trade Center-related illness.
Four more law enforcement officers died from illness directly related to Ground Zero during the summer months as well—Sgt. Jeffrey Cicora, officer Raymond Harris, Lt. Robert Jones and detective Christopher Cranston.
In June, Congress reauthorized the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which covers close to 90,000 first responders and 400,000 survivors who lived or worked south of Canal Street.
Comedian Jon Stewart appeared with NYPD detective and Ground Zero responder Luis Alvarez to push Congress to act. Stewart sharply criticized Congress for dragging its feet on extending the compensation fund. Alvarez suffered from WTC-related cancer and died shortly after his visit to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.
As of June 2019, nearly 13,300 World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program members held at least one cancer certification. These data do not include 732 deceased members who held cancer certifications.
The WTC Health Program provides health care to those directly affected by the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Many more of those exposed to WTC toxins in the days and months following the event have also been plagued by sinus issues, digestive issues, asthma, sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the WTC Health Program, Alabama is home to between 100 and 499 of its total 95,000 members.
As sickness and disease continue to affect survivors, long-awaited justice continues to be sought after.
Just on Friday, Aug. 30, an Air Force judge set a trial date in early 2021 for five men accused of planning and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks. It is the first time a start date has been set in the case.
The five men were arraigned in May 2012 and have been held at Guantanamo Bay since September 2006. All five spent several years in secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) facilities following their capture in 2002 and 2003.
Those five include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is said to be the “principal architect” of the attacks. The other four men are described as helping the hijackers with training, travel or finances.
According to the Associated Press, the five face charges of war crimes, including terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder. They face the death penalty if found guilty.
With blood of thousands of innocent lives on their hands, I can only hope through the issuing of justice, these men realize the evil they have helped to commit and feel the due horror themselves—if that is even possible.
I think it should be noted that these men would unlikely to be dignified with a trial and representation if they were being judged by al Qaeda for similar crimes.
While we wait for justice, today, let our hearts and prayers extend to those who lost loved ones in the worst attack committed on U.S. soil. Let us remember the bravery of the firefighters and law enforcement offices who ran towards the towers and lost their lives.
In their memory, may we fill this day we’ve been given with unusual kindness and bravery.
I will close with the ending paragraph of TIME Magazine’s report of the attacks published on Sept. 14, 2001—only three days after the attacks:
“Do we now panic, or will we be brave? Once the dump trucks and bulldozers have cleared away the rubble and a thousand funeral masses have been said, once the streets are swept clean of ash and glass and the stores and monuments and airports reopen, once we have begun to explain this to our children and to ourselves, what will we do? What else but build new cathedrals, and if they are bombed, build some more. Because the faith is in the act of building, not the building itself, and no amount of terror can keep us from scraping the sky.”