Two words were a rallying cry for this nation 15 years ago, and they can still be a rallying cry today.
Those words: “Let’s roll.”
America was the target of a devastating attack on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon, killing 2,952 people. Another 44 died when Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Thanks to four men — Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick and Tom Burnett — Flight 93 never made it to its destination. These men decided to fight back after learning through cell phone communications the horror that was happening around the country. They used a food cart to ram their way into the cockpit, taking down the terrorists and ensuring that Flight 93 wasn’t used as a missile on the White House or U.S. Capitol.
As the four heroes got ready to act, Beamer was heard to say, “Let’s roll.”
And America “rolled.”
We became a nation determined that this attack was not going to destroy us, but instead, make us stronger. In the days, weeks and months that followed, we truly became the United States of America.
We prayed together and cried together. We hugged our children and flew the stars and stripes with a new passion. Police officers and firefighters across the nation were heralded, a tribute to the heroic efforts of their brethren in New York City. In Lima, the Ford Engine Plant, The Lima News and community leaders worked together to bring a group of New York firefighters to our city, where they were honored at a community rally.
Of course, the “one for all” and “all for one” spirit didn’t last, nor should we have expected it to last. We live in a large, diverse nation that cherishes its individualism and freedom. The unity we displayed eventually yielded to political debate. That’s healthy and is what makes America “roll.”
Yet, there also has been truth in the words of those who claimed America would never be the same again. Sept. 11 didn’t change everything, but it changed a lot.
In the name of safety, we have allowed government secrecy to increase, which can lead to a lack of accountability. We also have become more willing to surrender some of our individual liberties without fully understanding the consequences.
Perhaps more troublesome is that we have become more intolerant of lifestyles, religions and viewpoints of those with whom we disagree. This polarization, especially on the political landscape, feeds the illusion that it is “one way or the other” when in fact there are thousands of alternatives potentially open.
Today, a person under the age of 20 likely has little memory of what happened on 9/11. Many sophomores in high school had yet to be born. Even those who lived during the historic attack are already starting to have fading memories. That’s why it is important to make note of such anniversaries.
Sept. 11, 2001, was like a death in a family, although this family wasn’t the Smiths or the Jones, but one named America.
It is a family that remains remarkably resilient, and one that will continue to “roll” as long as we stay true to our highest ideals of liberty, justice and compassion.