Seventeen years ago, today, September 12, 2001, it was the next day after the worst terrorist attacks the United States had ever seen. The confusion of the day before was just starting to settle down to some extent. Naturally, there were still questions such as “who was behind this attack?” “Why did they hate us so much?” “How many survivors might we find?” and dozens if not hundreds of more similar questions zipped around the nation.
Most of America woke up on September 12, 2001, still shaken, upset, mad, and hurt. Families had been torn apart with death and destruction. The eerie silence in the skies had ended as planes started to fly once more. The various branches of the government worked vigorously to meet a President and Congress’ demand to know who did this to us. The military stood on high alert around the world, many waiting for the word to go, find, destroy, and take out those who were responsible. A President transformed from a leader intent on being an “Education President” to one now charged with leading the nation in a new kind of war. Bush would now become like Truman, Roosevelt, Johnson, Lincoln and so many others. He would become a “War President.”
As Americans stayed home, locked their doors, opened their Bibles and other religious text, some for the first time in years, it seemed like it all should have been a dream. It should have been something we read about happening in other places, other countries, and somewhere other than home. No generation living could remember a time that the U.S. mainland had been attacked with such destruction. For a moment, as America stood frozen in fear, it seemed as if the terrorist had won. They had brought America to her knees. They had terrified citizens from sea to shining sea. They had put the military on the highest alert it had been on since perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis. Around the world, those who supported the terrorist watched and cheered. Those who thought of America as the shining symbol of hope, stood by perplexed, shocked, and wondering if this was how it all would end.
As the world waited, something unique happened in America. It was started with a small symbolic gesture of firemen at ground zero. A photographer over 150 yards away used a telephoto lens to snap the picture of the firemen raising the American flag at 5 p.m. on September 11. The flag had been borrowed from a yacht named “Star of America” and the next day, September 12, the picture appeared to the world.
The raising of the flag at ground zero, where the worst of the destruction, the most loss of life, and the horrible pictures of planes hitting the towers had been seen, became a symbol of something more than hope. It was from that moment at ground zero that the nation’s heartbeat began to spread. Flags had always been a part of America, but now Old Glory went up with a vigor and pride not seen in years. Flagpoles at government offices, hospitals, car lots, malls, businesses began to assert themselves to the world. Some flagpoles that had been vacant for years, found the flag going up them. Homes began to display the flag, and boats, trains, and even planes had them displayed. Around the world, wherever there was a United States presence, the flag went up with more force and emotion than it had in years. On September 12, with the mass raising of flags across America, it was clear to the world that we were not gone, we were not going anywhere, and that soon we would be coming after those who attacked us.
The United States became truly united again on September 12, 2001. Nobody worried about race or sex. Nobody worried about Democrat or Republican. Nobody worried about the history of this statue or that statue or the controversy over something as trivial as long-outdated flags from another war. On that day in 2001, we were not Democrats and Republicans, we were not black and white, and we were not right or left. We were Americans and we were united. We all agreed, and we were going after those who did this to the United States.
Perhaps today as September 12, 2018, ends, we need to look back and remember who we were and who we are still. Maybe we need to look beyond our frustrations with administrations, government, left, and right. Maybe we need to look back to the one thing that brings us together in this world. We are fifty states, represented by fifty stars on the flag of this country. We are the foundations of today and the foundations of tomorrow built on the foundations that have come before us. We need to stop and remember that for all our differences, all our bickering, and all our frustrations with each other, that at the end of the day we are still united. We are from townships, counties, states, and regions, but we are all represented under one flag with fifty stars that says to the world, “We are united, and we are still here.” As an old song once said, “We may have done some fighting amongst ourselves, but you outside people best leave us alone. Cause we’ll all stick together.” On September 12, 2001, we proved those words true. Maybe together we can prove them true again in 2018 and beyond with a simple reminder that on the next day in 2001, we showed the world we were always together.