When I awoke on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was excited to begin a much-anticipated, two-week police weaponless defense instructor course. I stopped by the police station to grab a cup of coffee and some equipment before I headed to a nearby regional training center. While at the station, I watched the news in disbelief, first as one plane, then another, crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
As a drove to the training site, my mind was not on arrest and control techniques, nor defensive tactics, but rather on the obvious loss of life resulting from the attack by a then-unknown enemy, and the uncertainty that was sure to follow in the days ahead.
I was immediately concerned for my friend and fellow officer, who was flying back from vacation on the morning of Sept. 11 to attend the training course. When my friend arrived just prior to the start of training, I told him I was glad he was OK and that I had been worried about him. Ironically, despite having just flown on a commercial airline, my friend had no idea that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
As they say, the show must go on. During that first day of training, we focused on the task at hand, which was to learn new techniques that we would later pass on to officers at our respective agencies. But during every break, officers huddled around the only accessible television and wondered who was responsible for such an act of unimaginable cowardice.
I, like many other Americans, naively assumed that those responsible for the act would be identified and brought to justice in short order. It never crossed my mind that the mastermind who attacked innocent civilians on American soil would elude capture for nearly a decade.
Sept. 11 forced this country to acknowledge its vulnerability to acts of terrorism on its own soil. No longer was terrorism an abstract idea to Americans. Instead, it was a very real threat to the security of our nation and its people. Many Americans could not comprehend why anyone would hate us enough to attack innocent civilians, though then-President George W. Bush summed up the terrorists’ motivation by stating, “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
The attacks of Sept. 11 instilled fear in the hearts and minds of Americans, but more importantly, it also strengthened our resolve to fight for the freedoms upon which America was founded. There was a newfound respect for emergency responders, many of whom gave their lives “just doing their job” that day.
Sept. 11 was all the proof America needed that pure evil still exists in our modern society, but the responsibility for protecting American citizens does not rest solely on the shoulders of law enforcement and military personnel. The heroic actions displayed by the passengers of United Flight 93 saved countless lives, and 11 years later, they serve as a reminder that some things are worth dying for, and that sometimes it is the individual citizen — not the government — who must intervene to save the day.
Sept. 11, 2001, changed this country forever. Let us not forget the nearly 3,000 Americans whose lives were cut tragically short that fateful morning, nor the thousands of Americans whose loved ones’ lives were unfairly taken.