Remembering 9/11 and the unity of the day for all Americans

I remember the phone ringing, my attempt to corral my three-year-old daughter failing, and get out the door to work.

We didn't have cable television at the time; our life was a steady stream of kid videos, but on the phone was my semi-hysterical mother, who was going on about New York, planes and the World Trade Center.

By the time I got to work at our twice-weekly newspaper in Hemet, Calif., it was clear that it was a terrorist attack of the worst sort. Everyone in our office was emotional, tearful and almost paralyzed by the crushing news.


Across the street, Hemet firefighters who were search and rescue specialists were already staging to deploy to New York.

The monument to the fallen firefighters of New York Fire Department Battalion 9.

This was when you remembered exactly where you were, what you were doing, and that your mission was clear. We produced a newspaper that day full of relevant information for our readers — how to donate, how to help, who was going to provide aid, did we need to worry about more attacks?

The things you never forget, at least to me, included the eerie silence that night because airplanes were grounded. Hundreds of planes a day crisscrossed the Southern California skies on any given night, but not on that night.

Businesses closed. We all went home to watch the events in New York, Washington, D.C. and in a field in Pennsylvania. It was hard to fathom the loss of life, especially for those of us with firefighters in our families. We all, for that moment, were unified.

I imagine that much was the same here in Kerrville on that evening of Sept. 11, 2001. No matter where you lived, what political ideal you held, there was fixed attention on the situation and the reassuring confidence of President George W. Bush's message to the nation.

The lesson of 9-11 was the sacrifices made. We saw heroics that day in the calm of American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ong to those on United 93 who said, "Let's Roll." They were made by those who volunteered to recover those who died, many not knowing they were working upon a toxic heap. There were so many stories on that day. After 20 years, we keep learning about new stories related to 9-11 — stories of loss, of bravery, and sacrifice.

In the years since I've had three opportunities to visit Ground Zero in New York City. It is a place of indescribable solemnity and reflection. I hope to return again out of respect for those we lost, and the remembrance of the sacrifices made that day.

We were united then. In the face of evil, we moved with purpose as one nation. In 2021, it sometimes feels we're nowhere close to that unity, but my optimism fails to wane because that dishonors those we lost that day.

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