KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Every generation has a defining moment of tragedy or hardship. The Great Depression; the attack on Pearl Harbor; Sept. 11, 2001. And each generation of Americans can probably remember where they were or what they were doing when they first heard the news.
Most Americans, who are old enough to remember 9/11, remember where they were or what they were doing when it happened.
A less-asked question, but an equally, if not more, important question is “What did you do after 9/11?” How did we react as individuals and a nation, and how have those choices affected us in the years since?
As individuals, we were shocked. We were sad. Husbands and wives called each other at work. Teachers herded young students into gymnasiums and auditoriums as they tried to comprehend what happened.
I was a captain at the time, stationed in Washington D.C. but on temporary duty in Europe that day. As a result of cancelled flights home, I had to stay in London for several days. I was personally touched by the outpouring of support for the United States. Impromptu memorials and candlelight vigils filled the streets of London and I was overcome by the selfless acts of humanity in support of America by another country.
As a nation, we were angry, surprised and upset, but we were determined. “Let’s roll!” became a motivating, get-things-done catchphrase that voiced an attitude of American resolve.
That surprise attack left us reeling, but not for long – we regrouped, refocused and came together as Americans.
Throughout my career I’ve met many people who joined the Air Force in response to 9/11. As a result, they’ve led successful careers, built lives for themselves and served their country proudly. But it’s not just people who decided to serve that helped – everyone had a part.
Every single person who sent a letter, condolence basket or handmade quilt to someone affected by the attacks, traveled to New York City and the Pentagon to provide rescue workers relief, joined the military and any other number of kind acts was a testament to the unbreakable resolve we have as Americans.
As we get older, new generations won’t really know what happened; they’ll read about it in American History textbooks and hear stories from older family members. But they will always be able to see how 9/11 changed our worldview.
It’s important to remember that wherever horrible events take place, there will always be good people around; there will always be an opportunity to recover and flourish. For every Pearl Harbor there will be a Sailor and a nurse kissing in Times Square during Victory over Japan Day. For every 9/11, there will be New York City firefighters hanging the American Flag on a protruding beam as they pull their countrymen from the debris.
How a nation and its people recover from a disaster, whether manmade or natural, is a true measure of one’s worth. The often-nameless heroes immortalized in those photos and stories are the people that helped us recover.
Tragedy leads to recovery. Recovery leads to resiliency. Resiliency leads to strength. And our strength makes us the greatest nation in the world.
Recognizing 9/11 isn’t about remembering the people who hurt us. It’s about honoring those we lost and those that helped us bounce back at home and abroad, undeterred despite our losses.
We rallied behind a cause.
Today, remember that cause. As individuals, as an Air Force and as a nation, remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, and remember that no matter the hardship there will always be someone to help us up and brush the dust off.
Celebrate today as a triumph of the American spirit.