The spirit and principle of sacred remembrance is vital to the preservation of our freedom and our moral heritage. If we are not careful, days that are dedicated and set apart for commemoration of that which is truly most important and memorable can lose their true meaning over time. For example, we speak of the “world’s greatest generation” and those who literally and in the most vivid and intimate ways experienced World War II first hand. They witnessed the combined forces of good and evil at war among all nations. As Winston Churchill stated, “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization”…. “and victory would enable the world to “move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.” Following that glorious victory, a grateful America returned home and by official act of Congress, soon added the words, “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Also, under then President (formerly General) Dwight Eisenhower, “IN GOD WE TRUST” became our official national motto.
Today, we are similarly reminded of the tragedy and the heroes of 9/11 that have so profoundly influenced us as a nation. When attacked, America united in a spirit of deep patriotism and determined resolve in support of our leaders, our armed forces and our Country. It was, indeed, a defining moment of “moral clarity” for our generation. As William Bennett has written,
“In the wake of September 11, the doubts and questions that had only recently plagued Americans about their Nation seemed to fade into insignificance. Good was distinguished from evil, truth from falsehood. We were firm, dedicated, unified. It was, in short, a moment of moral clarity – a moment when we began to rediscover ourselves as one people even as we began to gird for battle with a not yet fully defined foe.” (Why We Fight – Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, p. 10).
The War on Terror did not just begin on September 11th, 2001. It was preceded by the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of the U.S. Barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the suicide assaults on two American Embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the USS Cole at Yemen in 2000.
Eleven years ago today, hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower and thundered into the 95th-102nd floors. 76 passengers, 9 flight attendants, 2 pilots and the 5 hijackers all perished in the crash. 1 hour and 40 minutes later, the entire North Tower collapsed after the initial impact.
The South Tower was hit by hijacked American Airlines Flight 175 (the 86th-92nd floors). 51 passengers, 7 flight attendants, 2 pilots and the five hijackers all died in the crash. The South Tower collapsed 56 minutes after impact.
Hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 (believed to be headed for the White House or the Capitol) was bravely diverted by the passengers. 45 were killed when the plane crashed in a remote field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 184 people were killed when a fourth plane crashed into the Pentagon. The victims there included 55 military personnel. Overall, the 9/11 death toll was 2,993 and 24 remain listed as missing.
As Pearl Harbor marked the World War II generation, 9/11 is forever etched in the minds and hearts of the current generation as a similar and tragic “day of infamy”. It has stirred and inspired our nation with a renewed appreciation for the price and meaning and blessing of freedom. From a wonderful book, Heroes, Fifty Stories of the American Spirit by Lenore Skomal, we are reminded of the more than 400 New York firefighters, paramedics and police officers who were killed in the line of duty as they gave their lives in the valiant rescue and firefighting attempts that saved thousands. Here are some samples of the heart wrenching accounts and personal sacrifice of those closest to the fall of the Twin Towers when the unthinkable happened:
Heroes of 9/11
Terrence Hatton was Captain of Rescue 1. He was one of the first fire fighters to respond to the call for help on the morning of September 11th. He rushed in to bring people out of the swaying infernos. He was carried out several weeks later, cradled in the arms of his fellow firefighters. His remains were uncovered in the five-story pile of rubble. He was found alongside another fire fighter from his unit, the two of them bringing the number of dead from the Rescue 1 Team to eleven out of its twenty-six total firefighters. The bodies of the two fallen men were draped in the red, white and blue of the American Flag. As they were carried out, rescue workers and firefighters removed their dust-covered helmets from their heads and saluted their fallen comrades.
Hatton had already demonstrated his bravery on numerous prior occasions. He was decorated 19 times in his 21-year career for bravery and successful rescues. His wife, Petrone, told all her friends and family how much she loved him and was proud to be his wife. Shortly after September 11th, she learned that her husband had left her with a lasting gift – a child. She was pregnant and would bring their new little baby into this world made better by the bravery and sacrifice of the baby’s father.
Captain John Perry did not fit the profile of a New York City Police Officer. He was a lawyer and a very articulate advocate who spoke five languages. September 11th was to be his last day on the beat. The 38-year old cop had taken the day off from the 40th precinct in the Bronx to turn in his retirement papers. He planned to start his own law practice. Instead, like so many other police officers that day, he bolted out of police headquarters when he heard that a plane had smashed into one of the Twin Towers. He wanted to help. It would be his last act. When the North Tower fell, he was buried inside.
Port Authority Police Officer George Howard was off-duty September 11th. He had planned to enjoy it. He was sitting in front of his computer at home in Hicksville, N.Y., when he heard that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. He didn’t think twice. It didn’t matter that it was his day off. Instinct took over. He left his home, sped to his post at Kennedy Airport and hopped a rescue truck headed for lower Manhattan. He made it to the Twin Towers moments before the second tower collapsed. A giant slab of metal took his life. His body was found in front of the place where the Towers once stood. “He didn’t have to go, but he did anyway,” said the Port Authority Chaplain. “George gave his life saving others, not only on September 11th. He spent a lifetime saving others.” Days after the disaster, George’s mother, Arlene Howard, presented her son’s badge to President Bush when he met with relatives of missing cops and firefighters.
It is anyone’s guess how many people could have gotten out of the Twin Towers safely but gave their lives to save others. Bruce Eagleson was one of them. A Vice President of Westfield America, with offices in the South Tower, Eagleson was in charge of eleven employees. When the plane struck the tower, his employees were his first concern. He focused on making sure all of them escaped. Witnesses said he kept going back to the building, to the other offices, to make sure that as many people as he could find were evacuated. He was last seen returning to his office to get two-way radios. He thought it would help if they could communicate with each other as they descended the stairwells.
Alayne Gentul, a Mountainside, N.J. mother of two was another lifesaver. She was the Human Resources Director for Fiduciary Trust Company. She would have turned 45 on October 4, 2001. She was the kind of person people turned to for direction. That morning, the 700 employees who worked with her on the 90-97th floors in the South Tower of the World Trade Center looked to her once again. At that point, confusion reigned. The Fiduciary Trust employees didn’t know what to do. Nora Haldon remembers standing at the door leading to the 90th floor. She asked Alayne, “What do you want us to do?” Alayne responded, “Nora, everyone should go downstairs in an orderly way. Go now.”
Alayne held the door open as the other employees filed through it. Haldon remembers how calm Alayne was. Then Alayne went upstairs. She knew that the technical support employees on the 97th floor were busy backing up all electronic records of client accounts, trades and money transfers. People who knew Alayne well weren’t surprised at all that she went upstairs to evacuate the others. “It was her nature to always put other people first”, said her friend, Allison Katz, a manager in her Department.
Alayne called her husband, Jeff, from the 97th floor. She told them that she found 8 employees huddled there and holding wet clothes over their mouths. Smoke was pouring in through the vents. They didn’t’ know what was happening. Had the fire spread from the other Tower? Were they better off staying or leaving? “I’m not sure we can get out,” she told her husband. He was the Dean of Students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He stayed on the phone with his wife and called out for his colleagues to help. Someone called the 9/11 operators to let them know Alayne and others were trapped on the 97th floor. The South Tower security guard recommended that they try to leave the building. Another gave advice on how to trip the sprinkler system but his advice didn’t work. The group decided to try to evacuate. They were running out of time.
Alayne told her husband she was scared. She let him know how much she loved him and asked him to tell the same to her two sons, Alex, 12, and Robby, 8. They were the lights of her life. She would leave home at 6:30 every morning so she could return in time to put dinner on the table for her family at a reasonable hour. She “did for them” on the weekends, biking with them and playing their favorite games.
While they were on the phone, Jack Gentul said he heard a large explosion. He later assumed it was American Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 757 that slammed into the South Tower below the floors where the Fiduciary Trust Company had its offices. He knew he had to let his wife go after they expressed their love for each other, over and over again. He later told the newspaper that it was the hardest thing he had ever done in his entire life. He paced his office, prayed fervently that his wife and her colleagues would safely make it out alive.
Nora Haldon was about a block away from the South Tower when the second plane hit. She looked back when she heard the explosion. “I knew Alayne would still be there,” said Haldon. “As long as there were still people upstairs, she wouldn’t come out. That was just Alayne.” She knew Alayne would never make it out now. This very special woman – who taught Sunday School to little children for nine years at Community Church in Mountain Lakes, N.J. was soon gone. However, because of her, at least 40 other families did not suffer the pain and loss that her family did.
Eleven Years Later . . .
It has now been eleven years since that momentous morning when the news flashed all around the world of the evil act of terrorism committed against the United States of America. Saddam Hussein is gone. Osama Bin Laden is gone. Iraq has a Constitution and more than 13 million people have exercised the right to vote in their liberated Country. From President George W. Bush’s message to the American people:
“It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We’ll go back to our lives and routines and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We’ll remember the moment when the news came – where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember the image of a fire, or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever . . .
Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war and we know that God is not neutral between them. …. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.”
Home of the Brave
Our national motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST” must never be forgotten or neglected. It must be an enduring reality in our blessed nation. 9/11 will always be a day to remember and honor the freedom and bravery of America and the memory of the heroes of 9/11.
Posted by: LaVar Christensen
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