It’s impossible to forget what we witnessed 16 years ago.

Planes flying into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The fire, smoke and ash that permeated the air as seemingly impenetrable skyscrapers in our country’s most populous city crashed to the ground. The heart of the nation’s military, a symbol of the might wielded by the country, was severely wounded. Scattered debris around a huge crater near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the signs of a sacrifice we didn’t immediately grasp the magnitude of.

It was a foreign attack on our soil, an event that hadn’t happened here in generations. Our resources were used against us in a terrorist attack that scarred our national psyche. We were heartbroken, and still are when we think about the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day and the promise they took with them.

We were also fiercely proud and patriotic as we learned about the heroes who emerged in the face of terror. Flight attendants provided through phone calls critical information about the hijackers that aided in the investigation. There were the first responders who ran toward the danger in New York, who helped as many people as possible go down stairs as they continued to climb up them in the World Trade Center buildings in hopes of saving as many as possible. When the towers fell, so did they: 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers died that day.

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At the Pentagon, military and civilian employees helped their colleagues leave the building as fires raged. That plane that crashed into a lonely Pennsylvania field was the result of the passengers of Flight 93 taking on the hijackers. They learned what had happened in New York and Washington, D.C., and realized their plane had a similar fate in store. They knew their lives would likely end if they tried to interfere. But they did, and that plane did not reach its target in the nation’s capital. In a feat of unimaginable bravery, they gave their lives so others wouldn’t die. And there are more examples of bravery and heroics, both those we know about and probably thousands more of those we don’t.

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We came together in solidarity as Americans — a virtue sorely lacking these days. The country has waged the War on Terror against those who perpetrated the attack since it occurred. The lingering effects of Sept. 11 are still felt today, whether through beefed up check-in processes at airports or the ongoing debate on immigration policy and who should be allowed into the country. And the cohesiveness we felt then has eroded, with the differences that divide us seemingly widening more every day.

Today, though, should be a day where our similarities are not shoved to the side any more. Sixteen years ago we wept together in anger and sadness. We were united, and we can honor those lost in the terrorist attacks by striving for that unity once more.

Today is a day to remember the passengers, firefighters and police officers, flight attendants, soldiers and everyday Joes who helped strangers. It’s to pray for peace for the survivors of those who died, for whom Sept. 11 is recalled daily and not just once a year. And it is a day we should all pledge that it should not take a terrorist attack for us to come together as a country.


(c)2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

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