IT WAS 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Goffstown Rotary Club dedicated a small park they built overlooking the Piscataquog River on the Main Street of Goffstown. The weather was perfect. Community leaders and club members gathered to hear a few words about the importance of community and the values of hard work, service, and sacrifice. It was a celebration of the community spirit of our town and the freedom we all enjoy in a great nation.
Little did those in attendance know that at 8:46 a.m., hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 would crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center between the 93rd and 99th floors. In the next 78 minutes, three more hijacked planes would crash: United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center; American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon; and United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Shanksville, Pa.
A horrified nation watched as nearly 3,000 Americans would die in the worst terrorist attack on American soil in its history.
But as they did then, the terrorists continue to underestimate the will, bravery, and determination of the American people. It is a determination to never let terror defeat us, and to reject hatred based on an evil ideology that will eventually land on the dust heap of history.
When the passengers of Flight 93, the last plane to be hijacked, learned the fate of the three other planes that had crashed, they did what seems nearly incomprehensible two decades later — they became the first Americans to fight back. The first to say, this will not stand — we will not let this plane kill more innocent people. In what was most assuredly a plane headed to crash into the U.S. Capitol or the White House, the brave passengers of Flight 93 fought back. They worked together, formed a plan, rushed the cockpit of the plane, swarmed the terrorists, and drove the plane into the ground in Shanksville. In doing so they, without a doubt, saved the lives of hundreds of innocent Americans.
During the long hours that followed the attacks, we all watched with horror the collapse of both the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, the impact at the Pentagon, and the scarred remains of a field in Shanksville. That day, we were only beginning to understand the enormous loss of life and our sense of security and safety in the world. We heard the desperate cries of those trapped in the towers; grieved for the families and loved ones left behind; raged at the senseless hatred of those who could conceive of, let alone carry out, such a heinous, cowardly attack on people who they did not know, and for whom they cared so little. It was inhumane beyond words and inexplicable to our children.
On Sept. 11, 2001, America was given a stark reminder that the world is still a dangerous place, filled with some people who are capable of evil beyond description. We must always remember that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and we must renew our determination to stand up to those who seek to do us harm.
Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, we pause to reflect on that day. It is most fitting that we do. On the 20th anniversary, it is especially important to honor the memories of the 2,977 people who lost their lives. Among those killed were 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers. More than 600 people were injured. They were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. They were part of the American family.
When I think of the 9/11 victims, I’m reminded of the English poet and cleric John Donne. One afternoon in 1610, Donne was working in his garden when the bells from the village church began to toll. As was custom at the time, this often signaled that a member of the village had passed away. Soon, a neighbor approached on the road into town and as he was passing, John Donne asked, “Where are you going my friend?” The neighbor replied, “I’m heading to the village to see who among us has passed.” And John Donne paused, and admonished the neighbor and said, “As we are each a part of the village of humankind, when we lose one amongst us, we lose a part of ourselves. So, ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
We must never forget 9/11, for indeed, we all lost a part of ourselves.