9/11: Why We Remember
Each calendar year is marked with a variety of poignant anniversaries: the attack on Pearl Harbor, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and a variety of other dates that require a moment of reflection across the country. In the twenty-first century, however, one particular anniversary has an unparalleled impact every year it rolls around: September 11th.
At Apex High School this year, I am in the minority of people who were alive on September 11th, 2001. I was nine months old, obviously too young to have any sort of recollection of the day. While none of us students remember the day itself, by talking to our parents or teachers it is easy to recognize that living through 9/11 was a life-changing event. While the foundational impacts of what happened are often discussed: the War on Terror, the changes made to flying, the rebuilding and relief efforts, and so much more, it is difficult for us to truly understand the magnitude of what happened to the 2,996 people who did not make it home that day.
Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm whose corporate headquarters were located on the 101st to 105th floors of the North Tower, lost 658 employees who made up sixty-eight percent of its workforce on September 11th. Those 658 employees marked the most significant loss of life by one particular institution during the attacks, more than the New York City fire and police departments combined. While the numbers are startling themselves, the true desperation of one Cantor Fitzgerald employee and the thousands of others who perished that day can be captured in a simple phone call:
“I know you’ve got a lot in the building but we’re up on the top. Smoke rises too. Come on, I can barely breathe now — can’t see. It’s really bad, it’s black, it’s arid. We’re young men, not ready to die.”
One of the most harrowing parts of 9/11 came in the form of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who after hearing about what had happened in New York City and at the Pentagon, made the decision to revolt against the terrorists who had hijacked their plane. Many of them had the opportunity to contact their families during the ordeal, resulting in the documentation of their heroic act. Todd Beamer, a database salesmen from Flint, Michigan, can be heard in a spotty recording saying the famous words: “Let’s roll” as the passengers rushed the cockpit, laying down their lives in order to the protect hundreds of Americans at the terrorists’ intended target.
Much like those aboard Flight 93, the first responders of 9/11 of New York City are remembered as the face of bravery as they marched into the twin towers as everyone else ran out. By the numbers 343 Fire Department of New York firefighters, thirty-seven Port Authority Police Officers, and twenty-three New York Police Department officers died that day. While these numbers are remarkable enough, it is believed that nearly 2,000 others who contributed to the rescue and clean-up effort at Ground Zero have died due to exposure to toxic dust, debris and ash.
While the sheer numbers are enough to make you stop in your tracks, working to understand the impact 9/11 had on so many individuals should never be passed by. The more you read or watch about 9/11, the more it begins to hit you: these were real people, who did nothing but go to work that day.
While topics like this are difficult to discuss, it is important for those who struggle to understand the magnitude of 9/11 to to ask questions, understand, learn, and reflect. After all, it is what we owe to the memory of those who never made it home.