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What We Saw

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One of my earliest and most vivid memories took place on September 11, 2001. I was eleven years old and in the fourth grade at the time. On that morning, my teacher’s lesson was interrupted by a phone call. She subsequently had us pack up our things and line up by the door. She told us that we were going home for the day. We would have been overjoyed had we not sensed that something was terribly wrong by the worried look in her eyes.

I rode home on the bus listening to frenzied reports of the attacks on the radio but, in my youth, comprehending nothing. When I arrived at my house, my mother explained to me that three planes had been piloted into three different buildings. I didn’t understand why this had occurred, but even at age eleven, I recognized its severity and was genuinely frightened.

Unmoving, I watched the television reports for several hours after that. I saw endless repeats of the footage of the planes crashing into the towers; I saw human beings, some of them on fire, jumping from the towers and dying as they hit the concrete below; and I saw both of the towers collapse, ending thousands of innocent lives.

Millions of people my age had similar experiences on September 11, 2001. Although we could barely comprehend all that occurred, we saw every detail unfold on live television. We watched as 2,974 Americans died. We were exposed to suffering and death, many of us for the first time. We were concerned for the victims of the attacks and somehow frightened for our own safety.

We watched as our entire nation shut itself down for several days: schools were dismissed, flights were cancelled, and the stock market was closed. We witnessed subsequent changes in security procedures and foreign policies; we saw the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the institution of the Patriot Act, and the beginning of the War on Terror. We were the youngest Americans to be affected by the tragedy, and we lost a little bit of our childhood and our innocence that day.

But our generation gained something else. We were able to witness America rise out of the ashes and unite as one to form a strong, solid, compassionate, indomitable force. Immediately following the attacks, 200 units of the New York City Fire Department, supplemented by hundreds of off-duty fire fighters and EMTs, rushed into the towers to aid in the rescue efforts, valuing the lives of others above their own.

Proud American flags permeated commercial and residential areas as Americans kept alive a spirit of unity and resiliency by rallying around the phrase “United We Stand”. The number of blood donations rose dramatically and relief funds were quickly established to aid the families of victims.

Such solidarity even abounded internationally: in Berlin, 200,000 Germans marched to demonstrate their sympathy; the national anthem was played at Buckingham Palace; the Irish government held a national day of mourning; and a prominent French newspaper ran the headline “Nous sommes tous Americains”, or “We are all Americans”.

On September 12th, 2001, the United States of America was, for the first time since World War II, truly united. And our generation was there to witness it all. The tragedy of September 11th will always be among our childhood memories, but alongside it will be another memory: the image of Americans joining together in support of their country. The image of millions of ordinary citizens working as one to provide physical and emotional relief for one another. The image of individuals giving of themselves simply because it was the right thing to do.

And that, above all else, is the legacy September 11th contributed to our generation.





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ImmortalDay said...
Mar. 7, 2010 at 2:04 pm
I was 11 and spent my first class period watching it on the new with the girl next to me worryied about her uncle who worked there. for a year the school played I'm proud to be an American.
 
Andrew B. replied...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm
I think we're fortunate in that we are just old enough to remember both the tragedy and the American's people's response. 9/11 was (and is) a very painful experience, but I believe in defined our generation in significant, unexpected, and extraordinarily positive ways. It's our Pearl Harbor: something that made us cry and then made us unite.
 
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