This is a personal reflection by a 9-year member of the GovX staff. What are your memories of September 11, 2001? Please join us in the comments below to share your thoughts.
When the FAA grounded flights on September 11th, 2001, my father became stuck in Philadelphia.
He was on a business trip. I was only 14 years old, so I naturally assumed the worst. How long would flights be grounded? Would he be stranded there? Would there be another attack? These panicked thoughts competed with my other fear that my older brother, a 19-year-old NROTC midshipman in his first year at college, would soon ship off to fight World War III.
Remembering all this now feels silly. But I’m not alone in this kind of annual introspection. All of us can remember where we were on that day 20 years ago. What we were doing. What we felt. This is how we internalize it. We make it ours. We keep the memory in our minds so we don’t forget, because no matter how many decades go by, we believe no one ever should.
I was munching on Frosted Flakes that morning, watching the towers burn. Around the time they both collapsed, I was heading into first period Spanish class to take a verb conjugation test.
Three days passed before my dad managed to book a seat aboard the first flight out of Philadelphia. I remember leaving school that afternoon to walk home, when suddenly my dad appeared in a rental car to surprise me. I hugged him tight through the car window. I cried. I was so glad he was home.
My dad loves telling the story of that flight. He remembers everyone in the terminal watching the 24/7 news coverage, eagerly waiting to board. Once on the plane, passengers were uncharacteristically cordial with each other. Flight attendants apologized because they didn’t have enough pillows for everyone aboard, so younger passengers offered their pillows to elderly ones. People shared magazines and books and snacks. A pregnant woman was given extra special care. Total strangers became best friends, sharing long conversations with each other. My dad remembers doing the “proud father” thing and showing his seatmates photos of his three sons.
Everyone on that flight shared both a common trauma and a common goal. Separated from their families like my father was, they witnessed a national tragedy on TV and three days of not knowing when they’d get to return home. Everyone aboard that flight understood the only way forward was together, united in a common purpose.
We also became united in our appreciation of Americans with service-related backgrounds. These men and women suddenly became something more.
Before 9/11, military veterans were icons. After 9/11, they became legends.
Before 9/11, we thanked active-duty military for their service. After 9/11, we considered them the bravest heroes on the front lines.
Before 9/11, we were grateful for firefighters, police, and emergency responders. After 9/11, we revered them.
Here at GovX, our goal is to ensure that gratitude stays alive. We have a community of over five million Americans of service, men and women from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, beliefs and creeds. You serve in fire houses and police departments from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. You are servicemembers bearing the same American flag on your shoulders in every branch of the Armed Forces. You are paramedics, first responders, and medical professionals. You are capable government workers, loyal public servants, and compassionate educators of our nation’s children.
20 years after the day where nearly 3,000 Americans were taken from us, I join my colleagues on the GovX staff when I say that I have never been more grateful for your service and sacrifices. Your military service—no matter where you fought, how many times you deployed, or whatever your community was—will never be forgotten or taken for granted. Your contributions to your communities will always be honored.
You are all united in service towards something greater than yourselves. In that sense, you are also the men and women aboard that first flight out of Philadelphia. The flight that brought my father home, three days after the attacks that frightened me into believing I would never see him again. You are my fellow Americans, and I am proud to be one of you.
The GovX team invites you to share your thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. Join the conversation below.