It started like any other Tuesday. I had to be at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City by 7:30 for class, and that meant joining the fray with every other commuter who fought the non-stop rush of cars from Davis County to the capitol. Up early, showered, and fed, I ventured into the temperate September air along the Wasatch Front. The drive was uneventfully normal along the I-15 corridor as I hit 100 South and started east toward the campus, the Todd and Erin morning show playing on the radio.
At about 6:45, Todd and Erin returned from a song to some breaking news: a small twin-engine plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. While I was amazed, I wasn’t too terribly concerned, but I remember hoping that no one was hurt too badly. Minutes later, the story changed. It wasn’t a small Cessna-like plane… it was a commercial airliner.
I reached the university and waited a few minutes before walking to the Naval Sciences building to start my navigation class, but no further news came. When I got to the boxy two-story building, I checked my mailbox – every NROTC midshipman had one to deliver important messages from the battalion – and went upstairs to get ready for class. Once I crossed the threshold, I found the speculation in full gear. Our instructor gave permission to listen to the radio while we worked on our assignment, and that’s when we got the full details.
I remember the sense of fear I had, coupled with anger and frustration. I will admit that I was angry at all Muslims at that point, but that was before I fully understood the details about extremism and terrorism. I now understand, nine years later, that my anger was misdirected. I never acted on those emotions, and I am glad I didn’t. I also am happy that I was able to learn about another complexity in the human tapestry.
In the immediate aftermath, Americans were buoyed up as a single voice under the call to action based on revenge. For every question of “where were you when the world stopped turning,” there was a yell to kick some ass because it’s the “American way.” New legislation that was supposed to protect national security and make us more safe ended up biting back with illegal wiretaps and tracking of born and raised American citizens who had no intention of betraying the red, white, and blue. Now we stand divided amongst ourselves and listening to the screaming voices who still believe that all Muslims stand allied in favor of the actions of extremists.
The scenes nine years ago were certainly shocking and game-changing, but I firmly believe that we should stand together against those who would do us harm, not against a category of people who had no more to do with the attacks than I did. “Patriot Day,” which in my opinion needs to be re-named, should be a day of solemn reflection, not political grandstanding.
I honor those who sacrificed their health or lives in efforts to rescue the fallen. I honor those who sacrificed their lives to prevent United Flight 93 from impacting in Washington, DC. I honor those who were killed in the impacts of American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 175. I honor those who died in the aftermath.
I honor those who fight to defend our freedom from those who would take it. I honor those who practice tolerance in the name of those freedoms in lieu of allowing hatred and bigotry to rule their actions. I honor those who rise above petty politics and divisive labels to ensure our freedom persists and help to heal our wounds.
I honor those who remind us that we are all members of the human race, despite our color, religion, sexuality, gender, or other factors are used to divide us.
Above all, I vow to never forget.