This year marks the twenty-second anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Millions of Americans remember exactly where they were and what we were doing when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the deadliest terror attacks on American soil.
It seemed like the entire world stood still when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. We watched together in horror as a second plane then struck the south tower. The nightmare continued as a third plane flew into the Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane, presumably headed for the White House or the U.S. Capitol, crashed in an empty field in Pennsylvania. We would later find the Pennsylvania crash was due to the bravery of the passengers on board United Flight 93 determined not to let the terrorists succeed. These moments that shook the nation are indelibly etched in the minds of so many of us.
For a growing number though, this is only a history lesson. In the two decades since the attack, over 100 million babies have been born in the United States.
September 11th is recognized annually as a day of service. Memorials vowing to “Never Forget” are located in many communities and also reliably trend on social media this time every year. For better or worse, enhanced security measures that were once thought intrusive have been normalized. The U.S. Government responded in part by creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, bringing together a diverse set of agencies designed to better share information to protect the American people, including our critical infrastructure.
With each passing year, there are fewer Americans who will never forget and more Americans who will never remember.
While 9/11 itself is designated as Patriot Day, President Biden recently proclaimed this weekend, September 8-10 National Days of Prayer and Remembrance “to renew our sacred vow: Never forget. Never forget the parents, children, spouses, friends, and loved ones we lost that day. Never forget the heroes who stepped up to rescue their fellow Americans and help our communities rebuild in the hours — and years — thereafter. And never forget our obligation to honor their memories and service by building a safer and more secure future for all.”
The president’s words ring true. I believe it is as important to understand why.
The 9/11 attack was an attempt to weaken democracy on American soil. Today, democracy remains under attack globally. One of many hot zones, Russia’s illegal invasion of its neighbor Ukraine has been a modern test of strength between autocracy and the free world. Some Republicans in Congress, appealing to extreme isolationists, have called to end our support for Ukraine. But we can’t turn our backs to a global fight for freedom. While fragile and imperfect, we can never stop defending democracy and must continue to stand against all terrorists – both foreign and domestic.
The recent attempts to overturn a free and fair election and the January 6th Capitol insurrection have not only further tested the strength of our democracy but seem to have diminished interest in public service in the post-9/11 generation. Millions of young Americans will never know the devastation of the 9/11 attacks and sadly, they will never know the unity and pride in our country and public servants that followed. Some of the most iconic images from that horrific day are of the first responders and other public servants who risked their lives to save others. Whether civil servants or volunteers, these men and women brought the country together, cleaned up the wreckage and helped get the nation back to a new normal. The heroism and leadership of these public servants during the country’s darkest times made us all proud to be American.
Maryland’s renewed emphasis on public and community service couldn’t have come at a better time. As a country, we are more divided than ever, more politically polarized, and are witnessing increasing instances of hate and intolerance. As older generations slowly forget the ties that bind us together, we have hope that the post-9/11 generations will forge a path forward with a renewed sense of togetherness, hope and community.
This National Day of Service and Remembrance, I’ll be honoring the lives lost on 9/11 and sharing my story and experience in public service with students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. My hope for this and future generations is that “Never Forget” becomes more than a motto found in history books – it’s an opportunity to move forward with a safer, more inclusive society at home and abroad.