Friday brought disturbing and horrifying images, as it has every year for the past 19 years as we think about that terrible Sept. 11, 2001, when a beautiful day was destroyed by a dastardly attack on America and all that is good in this country. The images remind of us the day two hijacked passenger jets deliberately flew into the World Trade Center, the pride of New York City, and a third crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth plane was headed toward Washington to wreak even more destruction, but alert passengers rushed the captors and the plane crashed in field north of rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It's hard to believe, but few students now at A&M have any memory of that day, but those of us older than the typical student certainly remember where we were when we learned about the assault on America and its values. Some were watching the morning news shows, when the hosts said what at first was believed to be a small plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a symbol of America's greatness. Soon, as cameras went live, a second jet crashed into the South Tower and we realized this was no terrible accident. We were under attack.
We watched in horror as people jumped from the upper floors of the towers rather than face the raging fires. Surely, it couldn't get any worse -- but it did. Less than two hours after the attacks, we stared in disbelief as both towers collapsed, trapping thousands of people who simply had been going about the workday shortly before.
Then we learned of the attack on the Pentagon, and then the crash southeast of Pittsburgh. It took some time for us to wrap our minds around the extent of the horror. It was too much to absorb at once.
One thing that was clear that day is there were heroes, so many heroes. Firefighters and law enforcement officers who rushed into danger, helping countless thousands of people escape the burning towers. They rushed up the stairs to assist as many people as possible. They were doing their job under the most unimaginable circumstances. The natural human instinct is to run away, but they ran into the smoke and the chaos.
That terrible day, 343 firefighters died in the World Trade Center tragedy, as did 71 law enforcement officers. Americans were united in their gratitude and respect for their sacrifice.
In the years since then, law enforcement has come under attack time and again, some of it deserved as we have watched too often young Black men shot or killed in some fashion at the hands of police. As horrible as those deaths are, it is important to remember that the vast majority of law enforcement officers do their job professionally and with honor. We must not tar them with the blame assigned those who committed crimes against Black Americans. Those officers must be punished and police departments must work hard to weed out their members who are capable of such crimes.
Firefighters have been called on to enter danger zones far too frequently. Right now, more than 12,000 firefighters are battling horrendous wildfires in California and Oregon. They must be reaching the point of exhaustion, but still they fight. Lives and property depend on them.
We live in complicated times and each of us must look deep within to cleanse ourselves of the prejudices and the mistrust that have brought us to this point.
We must remember how we felt on Sept. 11, 2001, and how we faced down those who would harm us united and with a common will. Whatever our political differences -- and they are many -- let us remember that we all are Americans, all with a stake in the future of this great nation.
God bless each of us and God bless America.
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