In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks there were a number of buzzwords and phrases permeating the American consciousness.
“The giant is awake,” “United we stand” and “Let’s roll,” all immediately come to mind. But perhaps no phrase was more prevalent, or enduring as “Never forget.”
Clearly, anyone cognizant of what transpired that day will never forget what happened. The attacks were the generational equivalent of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination in terms of world-changing events, and most can recall exactly where they were or what they were doing that Tuesday morning-I walked into the living room to watch the coverage just before the second plane hit.
So why then did we need to keep telling each other, “never forget?”
For me, “never forget,” means so much more than just remembering every tragic image from that day. It means remembering the heroes who sacrificed themselves so others may live. The New York Fire and Police Department members or the New York Port Authority who ran into the burning towers, the passengers on United 93 who made sure the terrorists who hijacked their plane would fail and all those who volunteered to serve their country and help bring the perpetrators to justice.
It means remembering the joy felt every time a survivor was pulled from the rubble of the Twin Towers, and all the people who traveled across the country to give their time and effort to help a suddenly undermanned corps of first responders.
It means remembering the way we, as Americans, stood united in a common purpose and patriotism. People attended vigils and memorial services side-by-side; not as members of a specific community, but as Americans. I was coaching high school football at the time, and the emotion on the field and in the stands as the marching band started those familiar opening notes of the Star-Spangled Banner was tangible-and no, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
In the 15 years since the attacks, the country seems to have done the one thing we promised we never would, forget.
Almost every community will hold some kind of remembrance ceremony this Sept. 11. People will come together, have a moment of silence for those who were killed and walk away saying, “We’ll never forget.” In a way, they’ll be right, but in the most important sense of the phrase, we have forgotten.
We’ve forgotten how we revered those citizens who chose to don the badge with FD or PD on it, and some of them have forgotten the words protect and serve are blind. In the days following the attacks, police officers could hardly take a step without someone thanking them for their service, and those thanks were often met with a smile and some variation of “we’re here to serve you.” Now, citizens and officers are clashing in the streets and both regard each other with suspicion instead of respect.
We’ve forgotten how we looked out for each other, and volunteered our time to make the country a better place. Some have reverted to a “me-first” mentality and doing whatever it takes to better themselves, even if it comes at the expense of others.
Most importantly, we’ve forgotten the pride we felt as a country united. Patriotism was so high in the days following the attacks that stores couldn’t keep American flags on the shelves. We’ve since become so divided the country seems on the verge of splintering. We’ve forgotten that regardless of race, religion or social status, we are all Americans.
When we choose to work for the greater good instead of ourselves, when we choose to stop the division in our own lives and when we choose to come together as a country again, that’s when we can truly say we have “Never forgotten.”