Like you, I have a very distinct memory of where I was on September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget it.
I was in our weekly city staff meeting which began at 0900. I got a call from then-Deputy Chief of Police, Jim Mynsberge who tells me that a plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. It was a very unusual call for him to make but I still said, Ok, thanks and hung up, puzzling over why he would call and tell me that. Moments later he called back and said, “You are not hearing me, a jet airliner flew into that building–something big is happening.” So I hung up, announced to the entire meeting what had happened and returned to the Public Safety Building to call a meeting of the executive command staff. We watched the news coverage. We tried calling the FBI; anyone we could think of to attempt to find out what was known about what was happening to no avail. Like you, I watched in horror as the towers fell.
In the day following we answered the call by the NYPD for police assistance. Five of our personnel: Lt. Thomas Hardesty, Sergeants Mike O’Hala, Rick Leonard, Detective Mike Thomas and Officer Jim Stoinski volunteered to join with a group of officers from other Oakland County police agencies and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and go to New York to assist. They spent about 5 days in New York taking shifts digging debris from the site looking for survivors, evidence and human remains. Meanwhile, because we wanted to make it possible to send representatives from our department and because we are a 24x7x365 operation, co workers volunteered their time to cover the shifts and the work of those who went. Nearly everyone contributed something.
As I watch the preparations at all levels to mark the 10th anniversary of that fateful day, I find that I don’t really have much of a desire to participate in the events or watch ceremonies marking the date. It was a terrible and tragic day. I haven’t forgotten.
I agree that it is a time to reflect on what 9/11 means. It has me thinking about who we are as a nation and as a people. I agree with author Thomas Friedman in his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded when he says:
Let us never forget: They [our enemies] are the people of 9/11. We are the people of 7/4. We are the people of the Fourth of July. That is my national holiday—not 9/11. I weep for all who died that day. We must honor them, learn from their loss, and protect ourselves from a repeat. But we must never let that terrible day define us—especially now.
On the Fourth of July 1776 we built a new nation in which people determined to govern themselves–a radical idea. As a nation, we are not homogeneous; we are different races, religions, economic classes; we speak different languages–it is what makes us great. We are not a nation because we are alike–we are a nation because we believe in this crazy idea. And we’ve made the idea work: that we can govern ourselves and prosper together. We believe in the Constitution and we believe in the Bill of Rights. It is what made us great on 9/10 and it was still true on 9/12. Because on 9/12 we got up again and we got going again – still living our values of 7/4. Just when our enemies thought they’d delivered us a knockout punch, we got up.
So that is what I’ll be thinking on Sunday.
I’ll be the person of 7/4 and 9/12.