Published on September 10, 2021

Never Forget

The Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11: Never Forget

At pivotal moments, Americans have often found their collective voice in a short phrase. For the founders of the United States in 1776, the rallying cry was “Liberty or Death.” Those three words, taken from a speech by Patrick Henry of Virginia, became the powerful expression of the choice facing the citizens of the thirteen American colonies. It paved the way for three more words that Americans have taken to heart: “We the People.”

Today, as we look back on the two decades that have passed since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the unifying phrase that has become embedded in our language and the American culture is “Never Forget.”

Never Forget is the terse reminder that on September 11, 2001, the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the plane crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killed 2,507 civilians, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel. Never Forget means that the memory of these innocent victims and selfless heroes is sacred to the citizens of this country.

Never Forget is our commitment to the courageous first responders—the ones who went into the towers to try to help when everyone else was running out, the paramedics and military personnel who responded to the attack on the Pentagon, and the desperate and heroic actions of the passengers on United Flight 93 who rushed the cockpit and brought the plane down into a field to prevent greater loss of life in D.C. The lives they sought to save are our lives. Never Forget the selflessness and sacrifice they made in the confusion and chaos 20 years ago.

Never Forget is a call to honor the most enduring message left for us by those who perished in the attacks. When faced with certain death, again and again the innocent victims of 9/11 used whatever means they could to send a message to the ones that they loved. The words they used the most were “I love you.” Never Forget that love is still the victor, even in the face of death.

The photographs and video images have not lost their power to move us emotionally, even as 9/11 recedes into history. Never Forget that the faces in those photos, the last brave acts of courage and selflessness, the ways in which heroism was revealed, are entrusted to us to honor through remembrance and recognition.

The heroes of 9/11 call on us to live the lives that they were denied. Never Forget that the way this story turns out is in our hands now; we are the ones writing the history. The courage, the selflessness, the singular commitment to a common purpose: these are the values that, after 20 years of remembering and seeking to understand, are as a clear as that morning in September 2001. Never Forget.

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