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At the footprint of the World Trade Center towers, the National 911 Memorial in New York remembers the nearly 3,000 who died that day.

Most cataclysmic events seem very far away.

Whether it’s a tsunami in Thailand, an earthquake in Italy or a rocket attack in Israel, it is tragic – but at the same time we somehow feel disconnected. It doesn’t affect our daily lives.

That’s why, for so many – especially here in Northern Virginia – 9/11 was different. One of the attacks 20 years ago happened literally in our backyard. Many of us had visited New York, had seen the World Trade Center and perhaps even been to the top. We all had friends or neighbors who worked at the Pentagon. Our firefighters and police officers rushed to the scene to help.

Nearly 3,000 people died that day in New York, Shanksville and Arlington, including 23 from Prince William. Thousands more were injured. Thousands more, including many of the first-responders in New York, have suffered long-term mental and physical effects. 

For the injured, for the families, for all of us, nothing was the same after 9/11. Air travel, of course, became more difficult. Concrete barriers in front of important buildings became ubiquitous. We all wondered and worried about when and where the next attack would come – and we remain grateful to our hard-working military and intelligence communities for preventing one.

But one important intangible changed as well – how we treated one another. For an all-too-brief period of time, we came together as a nation, Black and white, Republican and Democrat.  Suddenly the driver who cut in front of you on Interstate 95 was greeted with a wave instead of a one-finger salute. We wore American flag lapel pins without questioning their meaning. We greeted strangers with a friendly smile or nod instead of wondering which side they were on.  We celebrated the timely songs of musicians such as Lee Greenwood without complaining about whether he requires concert-goers to be vaccinated.

Over time, that spirit of togetherness waned. We grew apart again. Last year, we hoped the threat of a pandemic might unite us, but, alas, it has served only to divide us, more so than ever before. 

But, perhaps, as you read in these pages the memories of that horrific day 20 years ago, or as you visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York (a must-see), or as you pause for a moment Saturday morning to remember where you were when… perhaps you will remember that we are all humans, we are all Americans, and even when issues divide us we can come together.

That is why we must #neverforget.

(1) comment

Janet Smith

American History 101 - A year after the end of the War of 1812 (after the British burned down Washington) America began the canal-building era and settlement of the American Middle West.

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