Some of you may remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
Others may recall where they were and what they were doing when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart just over a minute after launching on January 28, 1986.
Probably all of us can picture where we were and what we were doing 22 years ago today when the deadliest terrorist act on U.S. soil occurred.
We all have the date – September 11, 2001 – indelibly etched upon our minds. Our lives were changed forever. We’ll never forget.
4 planes, 19 terrorists
Today I want to give you a brief recap of that fateful day and remind you of what has changed as a result. I also want to give you an opportunity to chime in with your memories of 9/11. And ask how you commemorate the men and women who lost their lives that day.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning across most of the U.S. when word started coming in that several commercial flights were flying off target with no communication to the FAA or local towers.
Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes, each taking off from Eastern U.S. airports and headed to the West Coast. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, while United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower 17 minutes later.
American Flight 77 struck the west wall of the Pentagon. United Flight 93 crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania after passengers thwarted the efforts of terrorists steering the plane toward Washington, D.C. and presumably the White House.
War on terror commences
You’re probably reading this paragraph moments after finishing the previous one. But that’s not how I wrote it. I had to step away from my computer for a few minutes to compose myself. My grief and anger came rushing back at me much more forcefully than I had anticipated.
I don’t know about you, but it’s 22 years later and I’m not close to getting over that hideously horrible act of cowardice by America’s enemies. No other event during my lifetime has left me more sad and furious at the same time.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day due to the senseless attacks and at least twice that number were injured. Structural damage was estimated at $100 billion, with total economic damage up to $2 trillion.
Al-Qaeda’s attacks launched a global war on terror that continues to this day. Three years after the attacks, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility after having denied it. In 2011, he was killed during a raid on his compound in Pakistan by the U.S military.
Homeland Security founded
As we are all very much aware, many things have changed since 9/11. Especially in connection with national security and travel.
The U.S. and some of our allies have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to battle terrorists whose stated goals include the destruction of America.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was established in 2003, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. The chief goal of this agency was to develop a security framework to protect our country from large-scale attacks directed from abroad.
There are now nearly 250,000 Homeland Security employees. Among its missions are anti-terrorism, border security, and disaster prevention and management.
The rules have changed
Anyone who has traveled by air over the past 20-plus years knows how dramatically that previously simple activity has changed.
We now stand in long lines, removing shoes and belts. And we now have our persons and our belongings scanned much more carefully than before.
While many people become frustrated over the tactics of the Transportation Security Administration, there is no question that it is much more difficult than before to hijack a commercial flight.
Similar safeguards have been put into place with other forms of travel. Including water and train travel.
Attack sparks patriotism
What about the mindset of Americans following 9/11? How did that change? Shock, sadness, fear, and anger were the immediate reactions of many citizens.
A surge in patriotism ensued. Following U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, nearly 80% of Americans said they had displayed an American flag.
Political differences were set aside, with President George W. Bush’s approval rating leaping 35 percentage points in a three-week span.
Public trust in government rose dramatically. As did the percentage of Americans who turned to churches or prayer in response to the attacks.
Americans are resilient
Of course, nothing lasts forever. While national security remains a major focus of the U.S. government 22 years after 9/11, trust in government has lessened and political partisanship has grown.
The emphasis on security has probably made us a safer nation, but there are many threats we are still grappling with. Including cyber attacks targeting the country’s infrastructure and threatening to disrupt our daily lives.
Americans are resilient people. We always will be. We don’t shy away from challenges and we come together – despite our differences – when the situation calls for it.
None of us will ever be the same after the events of September 11, 2001, but perhaps in some ways we’re better. We’ve proven we can get up off the canvas and proactively carry the fight against our enemies. We’re determined to never be caught off-guard again.
It’s your turn
As promised, I want to provide you with the chance to express your thoughts and memories of this tragic date in U.S. history.
You might want to include where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. How has 9/11 impacted your life since then?
Please feel free to do that in the comments section below. If there is anything special you have done or are planning to do to honor the women and men who perished on 9/11, please include that as well.