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-
Email Michael Nevin, Jr.
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
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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