This week’s issue is our Dallas Voice Big September Issue for 2020. This is the issue we devote each year to the things that put the “Big” in Big D, the issue in which we celebrate big achievements and acknowledge our big setbacks. And it is also one of our biggest issues of the year.
But this is also Sept. 11, 2020, the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. And we cannot let this day pass without remembering that horrible day.
Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, and more than 6,000 were injured. Most of those who died that day were “civilians,” but about 415 were first responders, mostly firefighters and police officers who rushed to the site of the World Trade Center towers to try to rescue the people trapped there after terrorists crashed one American Airlines plane and one United Airlines plane into the twin towers.
Those first responders died when the towers collapsed; they are the heroes of 9/11. Another nearly 10,000 first responders from that day have since been diagnosed with cancer, traceable to the smoke and dust and debris they were exposed to as they struggled to rescue victims from the rubble, and many of them have died. In fact, by 2018, more than 2,000 people had died from 9/11-related illnesses.
They are heroes, too, as are the passengers and crew members of United Flight 93, including gay man Mark Bingham, who realized what was happening and fought back against the terrorists on that plane, crashing it into an empty field in Pennsylvania, rather than allowing it to reach its planned target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol Building. The crew members of American Airlines Flight 11 who, even as they saw their death approaching, remained calm and contacted people on the ground to tell them what was happening and identify the terrorists that had taken over their flight — they are heroes, as are the crews and flight attendants on United Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77. Those flight attendants and crew members were, in fact, the first heroes that day and among the first casualties.
Today, we remember and we honor those heroes of 9/11, the ones who died and those who lived but whose lives were so dramatically changed, some irreparably damaged.
Sept. 11, 2001 is one of those “I remember when” days for those of us alive then. I remember with perfect clarity standing in front of the TV, buttoning my shirt as I dressed for a meeting later that day, watching the live feed of the North Tower of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers burning after American Flight 11 had crashed into it. I remember that feeling of stunned disbelief as the second plane, United Flight 175, slammed into the South Tower.
I stood there, transfixed with horror, watching those towers burn, unwilling to believe this was more than some tragic accident, until President George W. Bush, who had been visiting an elementary school in Florida, announced that the crashes were terroristic attacks on our country. Then just three minutes later, American Flight 99 crashed into the Pentagon.
In less than an hour, our world had changed.
Now, 19 years later, it is hard for me to comprehend that practically an entire generation has been born and has grown into young adults since 9/11. They — and those that were too young to understand — have no “what I was doing” memories from that day. They don’t remember what those burning towers looked like, they don’t remember those last minute final messages that the passengers of United Flight 93 were able to send via cell phone to loved ones.
And they either do not remember or were not there to experience, in those hectic, frightened days following, that sense of unity, that sense of common threat and common purpose that brought the people of this country together, at least for a little while.
It’s strange to me to realize that fact. And even stranger still to realize that that sense of unity actually existed, even for a little while, considering how divided we are now, how divided we have been for the last four years.
I was not a fan, to put it mildly, of President George W. Bush. But I remember watching him on 9/11 and the days that followed. I remember how hard he worked to pull the country together and reassure us, to be a president for all of us. He was the exact opposite of what we have now — a so-called president who seems to thrive on hatred, who blatantly lies to promote division for his own purposes. Today, we face a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than 190,000 Americans in just over six months, a tanking economy with millions out of work, racial unrest that is filling our streets with protests that are spilling over into violence. I am a month shy of 60 years old, and I swear, I have never seen this country so divided, so hateful, so on edge and so at odds.
In less than two months, we have a chance, I believe, to change that. We have a chance to begin to move toward healing this great divide that has grown so wide in the last 19 years. I most sincerely hope we make the best of that opportunity and start to bring this country together again. Because we owe it to those heroes who, on Sept. 11, 2001, gave their all for their country and the people who live in it.
Tammye Nash is managing editor of Dallas Voice. The opinions here are her own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Dallas Voice and Voice Publishing Co.