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American Resolve on 9-11
by Michael Nevin, Jr.
11 September 2003World Trade Center

The war on terrorism began over that Pennsylvania field when extraordinary Americans proved their willingness to fight back.

On March 17, 2001, I marched with over fifty San Francisco police officers in New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Dozens of San Francisco firefighters also made the trip and we all participated in one of New York City’s greatest traditions.  The camaraderie we felt with the NYPD and FDNY coupled with all the laughs and good times were moments to treasure.  Touring with several of my friends on the last day of our trip, we stood atop the World Trade Center and took in the breathtaking view.  I promised myself a return trip, because the Big Apple demands more attention than a four- day tour.

Almost six months later, America watched in horror as two commercial airliners flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th.  Another plane would hit the Pentagon and a fourth would crash in a Pennsylvania field.  All four planes had been simultaneously hijacked by nineteen terrorists who would kill over 3,000 people in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania in only a few hours. This day, which would become known as 9-11, was the single worst terrorist attack on American soil and one of the darkest days in American history.  Who could forget the images and calamity associated with that nightmare? 

What’s important is that we never forget.  Don’t forget those people jumping out of those buildings and don’t forget those firefighters and police officers that went in to save them.  Over 400 of New York City’s finest and bravest perished that day, and their courage will inspire me for the rest of my life.  In the back of my mind, I’ll always wonder how many men we met perished that September day.

President Bush visited and spoke at the site of the fallen twin towers, commonly referred to as Ground Zero, and was briefly interrupted by a rescue worker:  “We can’t hear you!”  Bush replied, “Well I can hear you.  The whole world can hear you.  And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”  Later in that same week while addressing Congress, the president held up the police shield of George Howard, an officer in the Port Authority who was killed in the WTC attack.  These moments still seem frozen in time. 

The first Americans who fought in the war on terrorism were brought together by chance and didn’t have much time to train for battle.  Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Lou Nacke, Honor Wainio, CeeCee Lyles, and Sandra Bradshaw were just a few of the passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 bound from Newark to San Francisco.  Transcripts of their phone calls and black box recordings suggest they (and possibly others) took action to prevent the plane from hitting its intended target.  Todd Beamer speaking to an operator, Lisa Jefferson, advised, “We’re going to do something.  I know I’m not going to get out of this.”  Beamer asks Jefferson to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him and the last words she hears:  “Are you ready guys?  Let’s roll.”  The plane would soon crash nose first into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and those brave souls would succeed in turning the course of history.  The war on terrorism began over that Pennsylvania field when extraordinary Americans proved their willingness to fight back.  Todd Beamer and the others proved what Dorothy Bernard once said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” 

It is clear that this war on terrorism will be fought unlike any other conflict in history.    President Bush advised on September 20, 2001:  “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes.  Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”  It has taken our troops into Afghanistan and Iraq where they are facing an enemy who makes no distinction between civilian and military targets.  Why do they hate us so much?  Part of the answer may be found in a quote from Yussuf al-Ayyeri, a former Al Qaeda operative who was killed in Saudi Arabia-- “It is not the American war machine that should be the utmost concern to Muslims.  What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy.”    

The key to victory is not only military success but American resolve at home.  Ordinary citizens aboard Flight 93 had resolve as they faced evil up close but chose not to back down and allow other innocent deaths.  Firefighters, police officers, and other emergency workers who ran into burning buildings to save strangers had resolve.  Our soldiers also have resolve as President Bush explains, “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets in our own cities.” 

The next time you’re at Starbucks or picking the kids up at soccer practice remember one thing--you were the target of the 9-11 attack.  Our fellow citizens who died on that day must never be forgotten.  We must find the resolve to continue to support the good fight.  It’s the anniversary of 9-11 and time to remember Todd Beamer, George Howard, and the neighborhood kid now patrolling the streets of Baghdad.  And it’s time for me to plan that next trip to New York.

Michael Nevin is a California law enforcement officer.

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