Remembering the day
For several seconds after the first question had been asked, all he could do was sit silently in thought. This is the same reaction I receive from most people when I ask them where they were on 9/11. The man in front of me was Lieutenant Colonel Lopez of the Houston Battalion Army ROTC unit here at the University of Houston, a 28-year veteran of the United States Army.
It was telling how alike his reaction was to those of other people I’ve asked. A blank emptiness that refused to offer an answer to the events that occurred ten years ago but live on so vividly in my mind — a 4th grade classroom filled with classmates, the hollow expression on the two teachers by the door as they exchanged information.
As he regained the composure to speak, Lopez began to recall that fateful Tuesday morning as well.
“We had just finished our morning PT,” he said, his eyes flickering for thought as the memories rushed back. He told me how he had been watching Good Morning America, which is filmed in New York City. The first plane had already hit the North Tower but it was speculated that it was just a low-flying plane. However, after the second plane crashed, Lopez knew someone had just attacked the US.
As host Charlie Gibson frantically asked his crew to play that moment back, to verify what they had seen was indeed true, familiar emotions set in. First: bewilderment. A long time veteran of the US Army, Lopez knew that there was always a chance for someone to attempt an attack on the US. But while many other Americans huddled around TVs, dumbstruck and speechless, Lopez wondered not why, but how. How, despite all the best efforts of the American intelligence community, could anyone hijack, not one, but four planes, and use them as a weapon to bring America to her knees? How could this have happened to America?
Then numbness finally set in. As he continued, his recollections came out in sporadic bursts, a flash of memory of that terrible day followed by silence. For the next hour or so, he simply sat there, watching the TV just like so many of us had.
I remember my father, an immigrant to this country from the Killing Fields of Cambodia, sitting with tightly drawn lips as the news rolled in.
Lopez continued, wearing the same expression that my father wore when he had watched the news that day.
It has been ten years to the day since that underhanded, cowardly strike on our fellow Americans. A memorial in New York City has been constructed honoring those lost in the attacks. We’ve seen the slow, but absolute and systematic dismantling of al-Qaida’s chain of command. Earlier this year, Navy SEAL Team 6 successfully provided closure to one of the darkest chapters in American history with the overdue death of the 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden.
“Our intelligence networks have gotten better, as evidenced by the mission to take out Osama bin Laden,” Lopez stated with firm satisfaction. That moment did well to honor the memory of those who have given their lives so far and helped to redeem us as a nation.
We as Americans fought, and still do fight, the great struggle against oppression and against those who seek to destroy the things we cherish most — to cripple our sense of freedom. We strive to bring freedom to people who never have had a chance to know what freedom was ever like.
9/11 was, and forever will be, a day of solemn memorial to those who died in the ashes of the World Trade Centers, in the walls of the Pentagon, in that Pennsylvania field and overseas in the Middle East, fighting to keep the fight from spilling back over to American soil. And to the families who mourned Sunday the loss of their loved ones: “Know that we have wasted no effort to honor those lost on 9/11.”
And know that we as a nation will never forget.
James Wang is a history freshman and may be reached at [email protected].