The initial report on the radio was so strange it was hard to comprehend. A plane had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. How could this happen? It was 7:46 a.m., Missouri time, and many of us were on the way to work as the news broke. Seventeen minutes later, a second plane struck the south tower. This was no accident. America was under attack.
Barely a half hour passed before a third plane crashed, this one striking the Pentagon. By then, people all across America were glued to their televisions. We watched in horror as the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a cloud of dust that engulfed the city. Our thoughts immediately went to all the people frantically trying to escape the building, and to the first responders who bravely rushed toward the towers.
The FAA halted all commercial air travel and ordered planes to land at the nearest airport. It was too late for United Airlines Flight 93, which was in route from New Jersey to California. Hijackers were in control of the plane and headed for the White House, U.S. Capitol or some other symbolic target. Passengers, aware of the prior attacks through cell phone communications, stormed the cockpit and forced the plane to the ground in a Pennsylvania field, sacrificing their own lives to prevent another attack. We saw the north tower fall on live television just 25 minutes later.
In a few days, America will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a day those of us who witnessed the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon will never forget. In the span of just two and half hours, 19 terrorists armed only with box cutters killed 2,977 innocent people and injured thousands more. They also changed the course of history, ignited a spirit of unity among the American people and instilled a determination to defeat a new and different kind of enemy – an enemy not recognizable by uniforms or flags, but by a hatred of America.
Speaking to the nation the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush said “our way of life, our very freedom, came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts . . . These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Nine days later, in a speech before a joint session of Congress, the president focused the nation’s anger at Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. He rallied the nation and sought congressional support for military action in Afghanistan for the purpose of finding Bin Laden and ousting the fundamentalist Taliban regime harboring him.
It’s a cruel irony that the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack falls just days after America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the Taliban again in control of Afghanistan, many question why we spent the past two decades fighting. Historians will have their say on that question, but there’s one thing I am sure about: America’s military has been faithful to the nation’s resolve following 9/11. For the past 20 years, the men and women of America’s armed forces have diligently waged a global war on terror. They have gone where they’ve been told, and performed their duties courageously and professionally. If there has been any failure, it has been one of leadership, and not on the part of the warriors whose feet were on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
There will be plenty of time to review leadership, policy and mission. In the coming days, our thoughts will be on the nearly 3,000 people who perished on 9/11. We’ll especially remember 415 brave firefighters, police officers and first responders who gave their lives trying to save others. We pray for the families of victims and for all of those who still suffer physical and emotional damage from the attacks. I believe it’s also an appropriate time to reflect on the sacrifices of America’s military personnel in the war on terror. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the 13 servicemen and women killed during evacuation efforts at the Kabul airport in August.
September 11, 2001, was perhaps America’s darkest day. But it was also one of our proudest moments. It was a day when all Americans stood together as one, committed to helping each other survive, and determined to persevere. I hope we all remember that spirit as we reflect on the tragedy of the day.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.