Every September I wear a 9/11 pin on my lapel that says, “never forget.” Designed by a Philadelphia jeweler and sold in conjunction with Michael Smerconish on his radio program, all of the profits from sales go to 9/11 charities.
Not usually prone to such expenditures, I was drawn to it because the original charity benefiting was the Flight 93 memorial, heroes who should never be forgotten. The planes that hit the twin towers and the Pentagon that day left an indelible mark on their respective cities, but the plane that was forced down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, before reaching its target, really only left some scorched earth on a hill. Their sacrifice deserves far better.
For many of us, 9/11 is like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination. We remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard. I remember being woken up in time to see the second plane hit in real time. I remember that it was one of those bright, sunny September days where you don’t want to go to work, because summer is fading.
I remember that all hands were on deck at the paper, not because we received a call, just because we knew that was where we were needed. And it was a day where you wanted to be needed. To do something. All day culling stories, building pages and calling anyone we knew who might have witnessed something and had ties to our area. The entire day, the TV on in the background, as we watched the towers fall.
One of the remarkable aspects of a monumental moment such as 9/11 is the passage of time. Seventeen years have now passed. Today’s high-schoolers were too young to remember or had yet to be born. They have only known this country in a time of war.
And that’s one of the most important reasons we can never forget. The casualties of 9/11 are still happening today.
Just last week, in an insider attack, a U.S. servicemember became the sixth to die this year in America’s longest war. A war many in this country don’t really pay much mind to. A war longer than the Civil War, World War II, even Vietnam. A war that will soon be fought by many of those children currently in high school, and I’m starting to fear as I grow older, their children as well.
Meanwhile, five years after the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri is still out there. Whether he is the mastermind now, or simply a pretender, the videos keep coming. They just don’t make the news anymore. Bin Laden’s death may have provided a convenient bookend for many, but tell that to the men and women downrange.
Casualties happen here at home as well, and not just to those scarred by war.
A recent story in the Los Angeles Times documented the alarming level of cancer deaths among first responders and investigators exposed to toxins in the aftermath of the attacks. “It’s like Bin Laden is still reaching out from the grave,” FBI Agent Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, is quoted as saying.
Not 17 years ago. Today.
Many first responders were lost that day. Many lives were lost in the wars that followed. And an increasing number are still dying. Each and every one should be remembered. They chose to sacrifice their lives for something greater: their fellow citizens in a moment of need, the safety of their nation from foreign attack.
That’s their legacy, and we should use it to dedicate ourselves to the greater good. To finding a way to bring those war fighters home. To do right by those FBI agents. None should die in vain or in the shadows.
Chris Six is Editor-In-Chief of the Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @christophersix1