Saline Remembers 9/11

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It was bright and warm when about a hundred Salinians gathered in between the City Hall that serves them and one of the fire trucks that protects them, late on the morning of September 11 2021. But the overcast, windless sky gave the city a somber, but clear eyed feeling as the city marked the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania, Washington DC and of course, New York City, that changed the lives of everyone who is old enough to have been alive then and everyone they knew.

“When tragedy hit and America was glued to their televisions and radios, every firefighter in this country wanted to respond to that call and every firefighter felt powerless as they watched Ground Zero from across the country and not being able to help,” Saline Fire Chief Jason Spears wrote in a speech, which was read about by Lieutenant Brandon Sears. “While 9/11 was one of the worst days I’ve ever experienced, the support I felt on 9/12 has carried me through my career.”

Lt. Brandon Sears

New York City lost 343 fire fighters, over 70 police officers, over 50 military officers, more EMS workers, and even more civilians. and the country lost about 7,000 soldiers when the Twin Towers were struck by hijacked airliners and crashed them deliberately into the twin symbols of American capitalism and prosperity twenty years ago. American Airlines Flight 77 killed 184 people when it was crashed into the Pentagon. Movies have been made dramatizing the bravery of 40 passengers on United Flight 93, who thwarted the hijacking of the fourth plane and forced it to crash land into a field in Shankesville, Pennsylvania. According to CNN, the victims who were murdered by 19 religious extremists were as old as 85 and as young as two.

Thousands more people who were in Lower Manhattan the day that the country was attacked keep dying of cancers caused by the debris that rained down on the skyscrapers that day. Mental health issues like depression, PTSD and survivors’ guilt are still leading people to take their own lives.

The office of the New
York
Medical
Examiner
is still using DNA to positively identify victims. The office announced on September 7 that they have successfully identified two more people. Only 1,647 of the 2,753 people who were murdered in New York twenty years ago. The 19 terrorists who did this in the name of religious intolerance are generally not included in these numbers.

Today in New York, two massive square pools of water fall down an artificial waterfall to a smaller lower pool where the twin towers once stood in the memorial park that used to be a business epicenter. The names of the people from America and dozens of other nationalities that were murdered in the north tower or the plane that struck it are etched into the railings, and the same is true for the victims who died in the south tower.

“I do not believe that freedom loving people can be threatened, terrorized or deterred from our common cause. That cause is our ongoing struggle that every one of God’s children lives a life of their own choosing; where hard work is rewarded, respect and compassion revered, service is emphasized above self, unity over division and the future is full of unlimited possibilities. The caveat of course is freedom requires sacrifice,” Saline Mayor Brian Marl said in his opening speech. “At this defining moment in our history, with so much uncertainty and countless challenges, the world just can’t afford an indifferent, faint hearted, self-indulgent America. Humanity needs our strength, leadership and moral clarity. The suggestion that we will become stronger through isolation is folly. Our individual and national problems are and always will be dependent on the problems of the entire world.”

Mayor Brian Marl

The American military response quickly eliminated the threat that Al Qaeda as a serious threat to American national security, especially after then-President Obama authorized a nighttime raid that eliminated its leader in a night raid.

“I could ask anybody here ‘what did you do on your last birthday?’ You’d have to stop and think. But if I asked you ‘Where were you on 9/11 2001?’ everybody in this audience knows exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing. Think about that and never forget it,” Retired Colonel Erie Engelmeier said in a speech representing Saline’s American Legion Post 322. “One thing that’s made this worse for us than 1941 or the War of 1812 is that we didn’t have TV. But our news media got all of the coverage. You couldn’t turn the channel and not see what was going on in New York and Washington DC. That really hit home. We have to remember as we raise our kids and move forward as a country: there was a day that caused us all to come together. There was no politics involved. This country came together and did what we had to do to help those families that lost their families in this horrible event.”

American politics is famously gridlocked and partisan, but it wasn’t always like that. Unity and patriotism flooded through American life like a flash flood in the aftermath of the attack.

“Like you, I also remember September 12, 2001. Despite our differences, we came together to defend our homeland. The attacks led many young women and men to join our armed services. During the post-9/11 wars, thousands of brave women and men made the ultimate sacrifice to our country and all that made it home safely to their families, but must now endure the physical and mental scars,” Saline Police Chief Jarrod Hart told the audience. He later added “America is vastly different now. Three years after the attack, Facebook was launched; three years later, Twitter; several other apps to keep up with the first iteration of the iPhone. … Many can’t imagine life without smartphones and in many ways, technology has enhanced our lives. Today there is a dark side, and it is palpable. Hateful, spiteful comments with little or no [consequences] and misinformation is dividing us and pushing us further away from that September 12 feeling. Is this how we choose to honor the victims of 9/11 and those who sacrificed so much in the aftermath?”

Two pastors spoke at the event and David Vaughn sung the national anthem with a deep, operatic voice. Ordinary citizens chatted and munched on the donuts that the city provided before dispersing, and at least some of them asked where they were when they heard. Jeannet Kulscar-Lirette was living in California when she found out that her country was under attack.

David Vaughn

“We were just waking up. I was actually watching the news that morning as the second plane hit live,” Kulscar-Lirette said. When asked how her feelings and views of 9/11 have changed over the course of a generation, Kulscar-Lirette added. “I’m really glad that Saline did have an event, not all of the communities in the area did. I think that it’s a really important time to get together as a community and remember what happened. The fact that we just pulled our troops out is hard. I can see both sides where people think that it was a hard decision to leave, but we were there for 20 years. I think it was important to go.”

President Biden has been much criticized for how the United States withdrew. The official predictions that the Afghan government could keep the Taliban from power proved just as wrong as analysts who predicted that the elected government would last perhaps a few months as province after province fell. The withdrawal
was
negotiated
by the former Trump administration in talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. Biden extended the deadline from last May to August 31 to get as many people as possible out. The Biden administration maintains that their hands were essentially tied by the deal. The Taliban themselves were surprised at just how quickly they toppled and changed forever the 4 million plus people who live in Kabul.

The long, awkward situation where American troops reentered the country and controlled the airport for as long as possible. According to Reuters, about 15,000 people were – American civilians, military personnel, diplomats and Afghan civilians – were air lifted out. Estimates of how many American civilians remained trapped in what the Taliban are calling an emirate run in the hundreds. Untold millions more of Afghanistan’s 38 million or so citizens are trying any way they can to get out. Most of the refugees the Americans got out are currently at an air force base in Qatar, to be thoroughly vetted and processed before being brought for permanent resettlement in the United States.

Don Kirchhoff was on the way to the church he was the then pastor of when he found out about the attack that caused then-President George W. Bush to launch the invasion to eliminate the terrorists that the Taliban were hosting. But now that American military presence in Afghanistan has ended, Don Kirchhoff says that he is trying hard to make sure that he doesn’t forget.

“Whenever I see 9/11 I have flashbacks to that particular day and thinking about the sacrifices that so many people have made. I have a number of good friends who are first responders, firefighters. And [I] think about them when they are pulled into emergency situations, and the fear that very often envelopes so much of our world because of the violence of some,” Mr. Kirchhoff said.

His wife Jane Kirchhoff wasn’t watching TV when her her father-in-law called her and said to turn on the TV right away.

“He said ‘You need to turn it on.’ I did and the heartbreaking view in front of me and all that was happening. The shock, the grieving for those that were being lost, the thankfulness for those who were helping and America pulling together, which I pray for today,” Mrs. Kirchoff said. Now that Mrs. Kirchhoff has had 20 years to process what happened, she said “It’s still something to always remember and always grieve for the loss. But also, be thankful to live in this country and be thankful for the freedoms that we have. I pray that we don’t lose our Democracy and God’s comfort and presence with all of us. I’m just grateful to be an American.”

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