By Judy Reed, Editor
Some things are just hard to forget.
September 11, 2001, was a beautiful day. The kids were in school, and I was at home, living the life of a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. Feeling safe and secure. And then the phone rang. It was my mother, telling me I better turn on the television, that something was happening. When I did, newscasters were trying to make sense of why a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It looked like a bad accident. Only, a couple of minutes later, I watched as another plane flew into the other tower and burst into flames. I thought for a second that I was watching a replay. Then I realized in horror that I wasn’t. We were under attack from some unknown source. And I didn’t feel so safe anymore.
Most people I’ve talked to have similar stories. They know where they were and what they were doing at 8:45 a.m. when the first plane hit. The second one hit 18 minutes later. Then at 9:45 a.m., a third jet slammed into the Pentagon. What we didn’t know at the time was that each of these planes had been hijacked by Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist group and they were filled with American people—innocent victims, just like those killed in each of the buildings. Each one of those travelers thought they were going to California that morning.
Less than 15 minutes after the terrorists struck the Pentagon, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. At 10:30 a.m., the other Trade Center tower collapsed. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center attack, including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for injuries.
A fourth plane never made it to its target, thanks to the heroic efforts of some of the passengers, who attacked the hijackers in the cockpit. One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Another passenger, Todd Beamer, was heard saying, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” over an open line. That plane’s target was unknown, but the people aboard probably saved many lives while sacrificing their own.
The attacks left many feeling hopeless. But the people in Cedar Springs showed they were made of sterner—and more compassionate—stuff. In the days immediately following, churches everywhere opened their doors for prayer meetings. A national day of prayer was decreed, and churches were open to help those looking for divine strength and understanding. Even the schools observed a moment of silence on that day. More people turned out for the monthly blood drive at the United Methodist Church than they could handle. A special salute was done before the Friday football game in honor of the rescue personnel lost. A separate memorial service was organized and held at Skinner Field to honor and remember victims of the tragedy. Wolverine World Wide sent 2,100 pairs of boots to New York City firefighters. Kids saved nickels and dimes to give to the Red Cross.
One of the acts of kindness that will live on indefinitely was created by students at Cedar View Elementary—fourth and fifth graders. The flag they created stretched from the ceiling to the floor in the school hallway. The stripes were made up of hand cut outs on which the students had written special messages such as, “I’m sorry for all the people who lost their family members,” “Thank you survivors who went back and tried to save other people,” “Thank you for donating blood, thank you for putting out fires,” “We are praying for the police, fireman and doctors,” and “I’m glad to be an American.” They sent the banner to New York City when it was completed, and it hung in St. Paul’s Chapel where rescue workers went to take breaks. Someone even sent back pictures of it hanging in the chapel. When it was taken down, it went to the Smithsonian for their 9/11 exhibit, and the special picture shown on the front page was sent to Cedar View Elementary, thanking them on behalf of all the rescue workers and one million visitors to St. Paul’s Chapel who were touched by the school’s gift of love, creativity and compassion. Those students graduated in 2009 and 2010 and can proudly say they were part of something special.
When we remember 9/11 this weekend and honor the memories of those lost, let’s try to remember more than just the horrible event. Let’s try to remember the feeling of camaraderie, of loving our neighbors, helping those less fortunate, what it means to be kind to one another, what it really means to give. I think the people who lost their lives that day would want it that way.