Ten years ago, September 11, 2001 happened.
We will never forget where we were or what we felt at that moment.
It is important for us to remember what it felt like in order to understand the impact this single day has had on all of us: the shock, fear, anger, grief and loss…as we heard that a jet, American Flight 11, had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Just 17 minutes later, with TV cameras still trained on the burning North Tower, we watched a second jetliner, United Flight 175, deliberately crash into floors 78 to 87 of the South Tower.
That was when we began to realize this was not a mistake, but two sickeningly deliberate acts designed to kill Americans.
Then the stunning ultimate betrayals happened. The 110-story South Tower suddenly collapsed with horrifying precision in about twelve seconds, one burning floor dropping onto the next lower one, then that floor collapsing on the next, keeping the exact form of the building all the way down and sending a huge cloud of ash and building debris into the streets.
It was described later by a building inspector as a sight never seen before by the human eye.
Minutes later, the North Tower came down in exactly the same fashion, again sending vast amounts of smoke, ash and debris into the streets.
All this happened just on one morning, and just in New York City.
News of the attack on the Pentagon in Washington DC and the crash of United’s Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania farm field were still to come.
News of the FAA order that grounded all commercial flights in the United States, abruptly stranding thousand of domestic and international travelers, was still to come.
News of the hijackers’ names and origins and grainy footage of a smiling Osama bin Laden in his terrorist training camp was still to come.
The final tally of more that 3,000 deaths as a result of these multiple terrorist acts on 9/11 came much later.
In the days immediately following, we watched as policemen, firemen, and first-responders began their frantic search for survivors as the eerie beeping of locator alarms worn by their missing comrades came from under the burning rubble of the destroyed buildings. They were hoping against hope, and we did too, as tv brought us every detail of their heroic efforts.
In the weeks after the attacks, we watched as desperate families, friends, and co-workers searched in vain for their missing, carrying photos or posting signs on message boards, and our heartbreak matched theirs.
No community…no heart…in America was left untouched by the attacks that occurred on that one day.
When people in Everett woke up the next day on September 12th, many felt a fear they had never felt before. When it was reported that an EHS ‘Class of 1954’ man, Jim Trentini and his wife Mary had been aboard that first jet to crash into the World Trade Center and were presumed dead, the shock was felt by everyone from Main Street, to Broadway, to Ferry Street.
We came together as a community and struggled to defeat that fear as we mourned our dead.
In the years following, we learned that the sole purpose of terrorism is to frighten and confuse the population of the target country so that they no longer trust their government or each other…and to force that targeted government into repressive action that would limit the freedoms of their people to create fear and hatred of those governments.
We discovered that to defeat terrorism we had to let reason, not fear, govern our actions as we looked for ways to defend our homes and our nation without sacrificing our basic freedoms.
Now we stand together again at this candlelight ceremony to observe the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001.
We have come a long way in ten years…struggling to find the right way to protect ourselves and to seek justice for those who did us harm, while still preserving what makes us uniquely American.
Just a few days ago, a recent poll was published showing that terror fears are finally subsiding in Massachusetts. We apparently have been able to make some kind of peace with the knowledge that terrorists could still make something terrible happen. As one man who has been forced to raise his son without his wife who died on 9/11, puts it: “every time my son laughs, the terrorists lose”.
India’s famous political leader, M.K. Gandhi, who led his country to independence with a philosophy of non-violence, and who knew a few things about fear and terror, said it best; he said that taking “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Over these ten years, America has not taken that “eye for an eye”. Our country’s laws and beliefs have been severely challenged and they have proved to be true. I am proud to be able to say today that it is the terrorists who have failed, not America!
I am proud, too, that people here in Everett have been able to work together to defeat terrorism. We have not attempted to take the law into our own hands to seek revenge on innocent people.
In fact, Everett Public Schools provides education from preschool through Grade 12 for students who come from 70 different countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.
Today, in honor of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, let us vow to preserve the rights of others.
Let us continue to work together to preserve our American principles, beliefs, and way of life as we, each in our own way, struggle to cope with the pain and loss of that terrible day.
Finally, let us pledge to use reason, not fear, to find ways to protect ourselves against the possibility of future terrorist attacks.
Then, when we come together again in 10 more years to observe the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we will be able to do so with the same pride in Everett, and in America, that we feel today.