The 20th Anniversary of 9/11: Reflecting on Then and Today
September 11th, 2001.
Now twenty years ago.
For many Americans, this date is all it takes to strike up unnerving images and mournful memories. The date holds so much significance for the United States of America that not much conversing has to be done to remember the tragic events of the day. Though devastating for our country, it also marks an occasion of unification for the American people. It was a day when almost every citizen felt the urgency to help those in need. People sitting at home felt a yearning to go to their fellow, endangered Americans. First responders stepped up in ways they had not yet imagined, while (unknowingly) inspiring the world of eyes that watched them try to think through the chaos.
One of those young pairs of eyes watching was Eric Bryan who, during that time, was a twenty-one-year-old college student at UMSL. When reflecting on that day, Eric says, “I had a 9:00 am class at UMSL that morning in Clark Hall. I woke up at 7:45 (one minute before the North Tower was struck at 8:46 NYC time). As my usual routine, I walked into my living room in my apartment and turned on the TV to Channel 5 news. I went into the kitchen when Jennifer Blome broke in programming and said that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.” Upon seeing this, Eric’s first thought was that a single-engine plane had some trouble or that a pilot had become distressed in some way--leading to a crash--he couldn’t have guessed what was going on.
He says, “When I went in and looked at the live shot on TV, my heart dropped. The Today Show then came on and took over with live coverage. While I ate my breakfast, I was glued to the TV watching what seems like the most horrible real-life reenactment of a Hollywood production. I sat a bit longer watching the coverage before getting dressed and that’s when I saw the second plane come in and strike the South Tower on live TV. It was horrifying.” From there, Eric says he decided to continue to his class, despite not knowing exactly what would happen since UMSL is located so close to the airport. He recalls the drive to school, “traveling down interstate 70 east going past Lambert, I could see all the planes they grounded, lined up in the sky preparing to land one after the other. It was one of the eeriest things I had seen!”
Though many adults watched the scene play out in fear, other eyes watching weren’t quite old enough to remember the tragedy. I spoke with a current army firefighter in her early twenties named Libby. Being a one-year-old at the time, she doesn’t remember anything from the day but was still affected by the events that took place. When asked if she noticed herself being affected by the day growing up she says, “I didn’t notice it growing up really affecting much about my life, that is, until we wrote papers in middle school and I chose the topic of the 9/11 attacks. Honestly, it’s where my interest in firefighting began, and when it was offered to me at MEPS a few years back, I felt like it was almost a calling and now I’m building my career around that.”
Eric recalled doing similar assignments in one of his college classes: Writing for Teachers. He says, “The teacher had us use the event in free writes and other such class activities. We were getting ready to start a research project called an I-Search paper.” Eric explained that these papers focus on a specific topic that students are interested in or passionate about. He had noticed many people putting American flag decals/stickers on their car’s back window and became curious. So curious that he did his I-Search paper on the American flag which, much like Libby, sparked an interest he didn’t have previously.
Another firefighter in his early twenties shared his story with me. Similar to Libby’s story, Connor Brown was three years old at the time and can’t recall anything from the day itself. Despite not remembering it, he says, “I do feel like that day really impacted all of America. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons I became a firefighter. To do my part to help my community any way that I can.” Also comparable to Libby’s story, Connor doesn’t recall being directly affected growing up explaining, “I was too young to really understand what was going on, but growing up it has taught me to respect every service member that continues to give their lives to help others.”
When asked what comes to mind when he thinks of that day, Connor states, “The 343 firemen who hugged and kissed their families goodbye one last time. Leaving their homes not knowing it was the last time. I think about the firemen who climbed those towers knowing they weren’t going to come out alive, just hoping to save some lives.”
Libby responds to the same question saying, “How exhausting, devastating, and destructive the attacks were, and what the 343 firefighters--who do what I do now--went through on that day. In the past years on September 11th, we’ve climbed the 2,071 steps in honor of those fallen firefighters. Honestly, it puts a whole different perspective in mind when you do so because those heroes on that day didn’t just climb the stairs, they saved lives until they lost their own. I think of all the fallen and lost heroes.”
When asked that same question, too, Eric says, “I can’t help but reflect on the amount of heartbreak, tragedy, and fear that all of those directly involved with that day experienced. But then I’m reminded of the great heroism and selfless sacrifice the first responders displayed and how so many people helped their fellow man in the wake of such a horrible event. The way the country united after that was a really cool thing to see--that we can actually come together and not allow politics to divide us.”
Though what comes to their minds when they think of September 11th varies, Connor’s, Libby’s, and Eric’s responses show the unification that America experienced on 9/11. Not only the unification between American citizens but of the service people that risked their lives on that day. That unification may not be as strong today, but we all united on September 11th, 2001. Eric discussed this by saying, “We, as a nation, really came together after that day and didn’t worry about anyone’s background, vices, or societal status. Today I feel like everything is politicized so much that we can’t move forward very far at all before being knocked back several strides. A good bit of reflection might do some good for the nation.”
Mourning the many lives we lost that day is necessary, but so is healing from the losses. Our nation did not leave the Towers’ spots empty or build over them to try and forget. We united, built a memorial, and remembered. Visiting the memorial twice, Eric states, “It is a must-stop for any visitor. Even if a person isn’t able to spend time in the museum, just being at the memorial is an amazing and moving experience. Being there and seeing the reflecting pools that are in the place of the Twin Towers footprints is so awe-inspiring.” The memorial is not to remind us of the pain faced, but of the lives lost so we can continue to mend our country’s wounds.
September 11th, 2001.
Twenty years ago, we united.
September 11th, 2021.
What are we doing?
9/11 memorial and museum website: https://www.911memorial.org/
To donate to the Never Forget Fund: https://www.911memorial.org/20th-anniversary/inspire/never-forget-fund
By Stephanie Kim; Editor-in-Chief