On the morning after the planes hit, the desperate leaped, the towers fell, and our world changed forever — with dust still settling and with emergency workers still poking through rubble, listening intently for, hoping for, sounds of life — we made a pledge.
Our vow was encapsulated in the headline over the News Tribune’s editorial that morning, two decades ago this weekend: “Remember 9/11,” the headline commanded.
“‘Remember 9/11’ will be the rallying cry of this generation of Americans standing for freedom against terrorism,” the newspaper’s opinion stated on Sept. 12, 2001. “Make no mistake about it, suicide bombers who hijacked commercial airliners yesterday and targeted 50,000 Americans in the World Trade Center and 20,000 Americans in the Pentagon took aim at every man, woman, and child in the United States. No American is secure from this kind of threat. … As we mourn the dead, comfort the families of victims, and rebuild damaged and destroyed buildings, we must show our resolve and unity of purpose as a people.”
The reasons abounded then — and they still do now — to never forget.
But we have, haven’t we? Never entirely, of course. But little by little, year after passing year, 9/11 has moved further from us, has grown smaller in our collective rearview mirror. It’s become easier and easier to just let today’s date slip by.
Despite the lives lost, the threats to our freedoms, the panic and hopelessness we shared that morning, and the unity of resolve that rallied us in the days that followed — and despite the horrible gut punch delivered by terrorists in New York City, at the Pentagon, and inside a passenger plane that crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania — we seem to care a little less with each passing anniversary.
Some years in Duluth, no remembrances, vigils, or commemoration events were held at all. Some years on today’s date, there was barely a blip in the local news. On more recent 9/11s, when we did remember, our prayer circles and other gatherings of community and unity paled in comparison to those early anniversaries, some so big they had to be held at Bayfront Festival Park.
This year promises to be different, however. On the occasion of today’s milestone 20th anniversary, commemoration opportunities are plentiful. We have the chance to put the enormity and impact of that horrible moment back into our focus, whether privately or via a public event.
In Duluth, police and fire officials, the mayor, the Duluth Fire and Police Honor Guard, and others are to participate in a remembrance ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. There’ll be prayers, speeches, a bell ceremony, a rifle salute and Taps, and more. Masks are required to attend. Anyone who can’t make it can watch it live on the city’s Facebook page and elsewhere.
“Not only is it really important to remember what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but it has impacted so many people across the country and here in Duluth,” Duluth Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele said in an interview this week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “It continues to bring our community together to celebrate and remember the lives that were lost.”
Also today in Duluth, our firefighters have invited colleagues from departments in Superior, Cloquet, and the Iron Range to join them in completing a 9/11 memorial stair climb at Amsoil Arena. Duluth firefighters did the climb last year, too, in tribute to the 343 New York City firefighters who perished on 9/11. They climb the equivalent of the World Trade Center's 110 stories, picking up, at the completion of each story, a badge with the name and picture of one of the fallen. "This is a very humbling event where we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect others, and (we) think about their families," Duluth firefighter and event organizer Andrew Olsen said in an exclusive statement to the News Tribune Opinion page before last year’s climb.
Elsewhere in the Northland, Sparta and Ashland are among cities hosting commemorations.
At the Capitol in St. Paul, a multimedia “9/11 Day of Remembrance” is planned, beginning at 7:30 a.m. with the reading of the names of Minnesotans killed on 9/11 and in the global war on terrorism. Bells will chime across St. Paul this morning to mark the moment in time each flight crashed in 2001.
However we choose to do so today, we can still remember in droves. We can still pay tribute and honor. And we can recall the words of former New York Gov. George Pataki: "The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reshaped the face of the nation and the course of history,” he wrote for CNN on the five-year anniversary. “Our lives and the lives of those to come … changed forever. … The date, Sept. 11, will forever evoke recollections of unimaginable tragedy, of lives callously lost and brutally cut short, and of unspeakable horror and sorrow in the hearts and minds of all of us. We must never forget the depths of inhumanity to which terrorist fanatics are willing to sink in the name of their depraved cause as they seek to destroy the very principles of freedom and democracy on which this great nation was founded. …
“Remembering that day is not a choice but our solemn obligation," Pataki further wrote. "Always remember that we were attacked not for what we do wrong but for what we do right."
The News Tribune Opinion page has shared Pataki's words before on the occasion of today’s somber anniversary. They provide all the more reason to recall, to honor, to memorialize — and to never forget.