Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 13, 2012

Keeping the memories and lessons of Sept. 11

The Andover Townsman

---- — The 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 passed fairly quietly and uneventfully for most Americans on Tuesday. The number of memorial services seems to diminish each year, as does the national recognition of the date.

But Sept. 11 shouldn’t ever pass without all of us taking time to remember the thousands of Americans who died as a result of the terrorist attacks of that terrible day, and the sacrifices made by our armed servicemen and women. Over 3,000 died on American soil in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, including four Andover residents honored with a memorial plaque in Town Offices. In the years since, America has lost some 6,600 servicemen and women in the wars we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many thousands more have returned from the war with wounds that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

We’re glad Andover takes the time each Sept. 11 morning to have a simple ceremony remembering Sept. 11 and honoring those who were lost, including Andover residents Christopher Morrison, who died in the World Trade Center; grandmother Millie Naiman and flight attendant Betty Ong, who died when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the Trade Center; and Len Taylor, who died when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.

Eleven years after Sept. 11, 2001, we need to remain on guard — not only against further terrorist attacks but also against the fading of memory.

It is too easy to forget how a clear September day was shattered by the smashing of jets laden with innocent passengers into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It is too easy to forget the confusion, shock and anger as the nation watched the towers crumble in massive clouds of dust and debris, the sight of desperate people leaping to their deaths, the bravery of hundreds of firefighters who climbed the stairwells of the towers as others fled in panic.

It’s too easy to forget that before the planned attacks were even completed, Americans struck the first blow in our defense as passengers on Flight 93 — targeted for either the Capitol or the White House — fought the hijackers before the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Andover’s Betty Ong was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 credited with contacting ground control and sharing important details about the hijackers. We must never forget that, with two of the hijacked airplanes originating in Boston, many of the passengers and crew on the doomed flights also were our friends and neighbors from the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire.

It is important that we remember the bitterness of that day, as our parents and grandparents remembered Pearl Harbor, so that we are never again caught so completely off-guard. It was a terrible price to pay for a reality check — that there are people in the world who hate us.

We have seen successes in the War on Terror since, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden, the ousting of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the destruction of numerous cells and camps, and effective prevention of further attacks on the United States.

But the successes are far from complete. The price has been high in both lives and treasure. And our nation has been fundamentally changed in many ways — we have surrendered freedoms in exchange for more security.

In one of his first speeches to Congress in the dark days after the 2001 attack, then-President Bush stated that this war against terrorism could last five years or perhaps more. That seemed like an impossibly long time.

Yet here we are, 11 years later, and the war is still not fully won, and probably never will be. At home, the national unity we enjoyed for a brief moment after the attacks is just a distant memory. When we no longer believed our survival was at stake, we quickly refocused on our petty differences and bickering.

The raw terror, anger and shock of Sept. 11 is gone now, washed over by the years. But Sept. 11 should always remain a day of national reflection. We should remember the sacrifices, the successes, the mistakes and the causes of the War on Terror. We should remember the unity and common purpose we shared.

And we should acknowledge our gratitude for men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for us, no matter how long the conflict may last nor how difficult the mission.

Eleven years is a long time. We must always keep the memories and lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, close to our hearts.