Tired of 9/11? Americans can’t afford to forget it
September 11, 2001. It’s a date we all know, a date we’ve all heard, and a date that changed us all.
September 16, 2002. Three hundred seventy days since, and American flags still grace many porches, and FDNY shirts clothe many people. Not a single one of those 370 days has passed that images of black turnout coats and blue police uniforms swarming on a pile of devastating gray rubble don’t flash through my mind. As someone who comes from an emergency services background, I was deeply touched by the events of 9/11 and will continue to be for as long as I live. Yet, I wonder if everyone remembers the images of that unique day as vividly as I do.
Last month, while tuned into a Sacramento rock radio station, I was heartbroken by the sentiment expressed by two morning disc jockeys. In unison, the two expressed that they were sick of hearing about 9/11, the actions taken by New York emergency services personnel and patriotism in general. For them, and the rest of you who no longer want to “hear” about it, allow me to let you into the world of those who were there.
On September 11, 2001, personnel from across the nation responded without hesitation to assist the New York City Fire Department and others. These people – and dogs – came from Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams, law enforcement agencies and national volunteer organizations to accomplish whatever they were capable of wherever they were needed. These people saw sights that human beings were not meant to see, and yet would not give up.
Why? Because as part of an emergency services agency, each of these individuals had a tie to each of the firefighters and police officers buried underneath masses of steel, and an obligation to the civilians lying somewhere in the dust. They were there solely because their hearts told them to be and because it is firmly assured within the fire department that no one is left behind. When a member of a fire company or police precinct was located in the pile, searchers would back off and the company of that man would carry him out. Why? Because no one gets left behind. That man may have had no relation through blood, but he was there to watch your back when you needed him, and he was your family.
Now put yourself in that position. Imagine if you were standing on that rubble and it was your brother you were retrieving. Imagine if after you had ensured his body was safe, you put your helmet back on and went right back to work until you found another. Or at least until you found another body part. Yes, it’s gruesome, but perhaps until the people who no longer want to talk about it feel the heartbreak that each and every one of the people who were in New York that day felt and understand exactly how horrific it was, the insensitive ones will continue to forget, day by day, exactly how extreme of an event we witnessed.
In the same earlier mentioned radio show, they stated that patriotism was like a blanket that should be kept in a box at the end of your bed and brought out only when it was needed. If that’s not the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, I honestly don’t know what is. According to Webster, patriotism is a love for and loyalty to one’s country. If we were to love and be loyal to our country only in times of disaster, the United States would be in a state of utter chaos. Last time I checked, it was customary to be loyal to our country full time, under any circumstance. Loyalty and love are not things you stick at the foot of your bed. They are things that belong in your heart, and as honorable citizens we should be patriotic to the fullest extent from here on out.
It is also my firm belief that in order to be patriotic, we must continue to hear about 9/11 and exactly what happened there, for as soon as we become insensitive to it, we will forget. All the firefighters, police, search and rescue teams, dogs, airline passengers, New Yorkers and families – the least we owe them is remembrance.
A small piece of my heart is forever in lower Manhattan, along with the hearts of many others. I just worry that the hearts of two Sacramento DJs and perhaps a few others are in the wrong place completely, and that’s what got us into this situation in the first place.
Natalie Russell, a 16-year-old Grass Valley resident, is a junior at Nevada Union High School. She writes a monthly column. E-mail her at
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