Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost somewhere on the sea. When they find it, they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?
– RAdm Tarrant, The Bridges at Toko-Ri
It wasn’t unique. In fact, the day was pretty average. Gallons of sunshine poured out of a flawless cyan sky. Temperatures hovered in the nineties. The long, lazy days of summer washed into another school year like breakers on Sunset Beach.
September 11, 2011 was pretty much like every other Indian Summer day in southern California. In other words, it was perfect – until two airliners tore into the Twin Towers.
And America has never been the same.
Amid the shock, confusion and grief, one of the things that stood out on that terrible, tragic day was the quiet. Southern California skies usually hum with air traffic of all shapes of sizes, everything from thundering commercial flights to lumbering military cargo planes to the mosquito whine of light aircraft. It was all gone on September 11, 2001, when the FAA ordered all flights grounded. The result? A suffocating silence, terrible in its unnatural eeriness.
Up to my eyeballs in homeschooling and other pursuits, I didn’t even hear about the tragedy until my husband came home from work that evening. “Turn on the news” Chris said when he walked through the door.
“Why?” I said. “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t you hear?”
“About New York?” Blank stare.
“Two planes flew into the Twin Towers this morning.”
“Was anyone hurt?” I thought he meant two Cessnas with engine trouble. Someone got confused. Strayed off the flight plan. An accident. Minor injuries and a dozen insurance claims. Turning on the TV, it took about five seconds for reality to sink in.
Years later, this event and those responsible are household words. Oceans of ink have been spilled and scores of song, words and commentary have been filed on the subject of 9/11. Documentaries have been produced. Testimonials shared. Solemn memorials observed. And we remember.
Many Americans set September 11 aside as a “day of infamy” – and something else. We mourn the lives lost. But we also remember the heroes. And in remembering, we honor the sacrifices of first responders – law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and scores of “ordinary” Americans who were anything but. We saw countless Americans go above and beyond the call of duty to protect and serve others.
Remember the days that followed? The fund-raisers? The Red Cross blood drives? Prayer services? An entire country awash in a sea of stars and stripes?
It’s been a few year, but the events of that ‘Indian Summer’ day in September still reverberate. They aren’t quiet. They touched a chord. For those who looked, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 showed America at her best: Generous. Selfless. Resourceful. Resilient and resolute. United. Uncowed.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri is set during the Korean War, but RAdm Tarrant’s question lives. We see answers every day if we know where to look.