We are gathered here today on Patriot Day, the official name Congress approved three months after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. On that day, almost 3,000 people died as a direct result of the attacks, most of them at the World Trade Center in New York City, but others in the attack at the Pentagon and the United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania with heroes on board.
It took only 19 Al-Qaida militants and four airplanes to change America forever and to bring nations to stand with us, shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity and sympathy as we are doing here today.
President George W. Bush delivered a televised address at 9 p.m. that night from the Oval Office, declaring “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”
The world mourned.
In London, Queen Elizabeth allowed the Star-Spangled Banner to be played for the first time during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Place. She sang words to the song, the first time she had ever been seen to do so. People outside the gates held little American flags and wiped away tears. Traffic came to a standstill at The Mall.
Thousands of people stood outside St. Paul’s Cathedral listening to the 9/11 Memorial while people inside sang the National Anthem, televised on CNN—seemingly without any hand-out for the lyrics.
In Moscow, women who spoke no English and had never been to the United States were captured on film sobbing in front of a makeshift tribute on a sidewalk. In Belgium, people held hands, forming a human chain in front of the Brussels World Trade Center. Strangers in Indonesia found themselves drawn to the beach to pray together, as if trying to get as close as possible to America. Rio de Janeiro displayed billboards of the city’s Christ the Redeemer statue hugging the New York skyline.
In France, the headline in the paper read “We Are All Americans.”
In Italy, Pope John Paul II fell to his knees in prayer at the Vatican.
Firefighters in Hungary tied black ribbons to their trucks, firefighters in South Africa flew red, white and blue, and firefighters in Poland sounded their sirens, letting loose a collective wail all over the country.
Here at home, time stood still with the quiet skies void of airplanes. We can remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news.
The 9/11 attacks happened 18 years ago but many people are still suffering and dying from the aftermath. Thousands of people have become ill or died from the recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
America lost 343 Firefighters that day and have since lost 187 more due to related causes. And, we lost 23 from the New York Police Department with an additional 156 who have since passed away.
When that attack occurred, thousands of people ran TOWARD danger – and right here in Navarro County, our first responders do it on a daily basis in some form. While they are well trained and using the best equipment available, they are constantly sacrificing themselves to keep our citizens safe. This sacrifice, which could at any time be the ultimate sacrifice, is also invisible.
One third of a firefighter’s life is spent away from family. There is always someone on duty in our Police Station, Fire Station, Sheriff’s Department. Always someone with eyes out there on our roads. Always someone to answer a 911 call. Always someone missing a birthday party, Christmas dinner, a little league baseball game, the first of something. Our Police Officers arrive for their shift knowing that their ultimate job is to stop the threat of danger – with their own lives if they must.
So it is on this day, and every year on this day, that while we come together to remember and pray for the victims and their families, we should also look around us with immense gratitude for those who have made our way of life their sense of obligation. And, we are indebted to the men and women of our Armed Forces who miss entire years of American life, who soldier on to prevent acts of violence against our nation while protecting our freedom.
Thank you for taking the time to honor this important day in our history, and acknowledging along with me, the vital role our first responders play not only today, but in our future, and in our children’s future.
I would like to close with a quote from President Ronald Reagan to take with you in thought:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in our bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on to them to do the same.”
God Bless America.