Grief, shock, terror and courage are all words associated with one dreadful day 16 years ago. Years later, Americans remember the damage done, lives lost and sacrifices made on Sept. 11, 2001.
At 8:45 a.m. on what seemed like a normal and bright Tuesday morning, an American Airlines plane flown by militants associated with the Islamic extremist group Al-Queda flew into the 80th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Instantly, hundreds were killed and many were trapped in the floors above.
Initially, news organizations were broadcasting images of what most people thought was a freak accident, but 18 minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., a United Airlines plane hit the south tower, right near the 60th floor. As the buildings exploded with burning debris, the slight thought that America could be under attack became a shocking reality.
As many were watching the events closely in New York City, an American Airlines plane flew into Washington, D.C. and crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:45 a.m. A portion of the military headquarters building structurally collapsed, killing 125 military personnel and civilians, as well as all 64 people aboard the plane.
In the 15 minutes following the Pentagon attack, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and at 10:30 a.m., the north tower fell as well. Six people in both buildings combined at the time survived and about 10,000 were treated for injuries of all kinds.
As if three attacks wasn’t tragic enough, United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked by four attackers on its way to California. A delayed flight, many passengers had heard of the events unfolding in New York City and Washington, D.C., and soon after the hijackers told passengers they wouldn’t be returning to an airport, passengers and flight attendants tried to take over. It is suspected that many went to the cockpit to try and extinguish the fire and others tried to fight the hijackers, but the plane flipped over and was headed for the ground at about 500 miles per hour. The plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:10 a.m. and all 44 people aboard the flight were killed.
One passenger, Thomas Burnett, Jr., called his wife and said, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”
Todd Beamer, another passenger, said, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll,” over the open radio line.
Although the intended target of this flight is unknown, “theories include the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland or one of several nuclear power plants along the eastern seaboard,” according to history.com.
Including the 19 hijackers aboard all four planes, 2,996 people were killed in the attacks. To break it down, 2,763 died following the two plane crashes into the World Trade Center. Included in this number, while saving workers trapped on the upper floors and trying to evacuate the buildings, are 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers as well. This day is known as the deadliest day in history for New York City firefighters.
At the Pentagon, 189 people were killed, including the 64 on the plane.
In Pennsylvania, the 44 people aboard the plane died as well.
But why did all of this happen? It’s been reported that the Islamic terrorists, sent by Osama bin Laden, were retaliating against the U.S. for the support of Israel, the involvement in the Persian Gulf War and the lingering military presence in the Middle East. Many of the terrorists had lived in the United States for over a year and taken flying lessons at flight schools, while others came here not long before the attacks and were considered the “muscle” in the operation, per history.com.
“The 19 terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four early-morning flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists commandeered the four planes and took the controls, transforming ordinary passenger jets into guided missiles,” stated an article of the 9/11 timeline on history.com.
President George W. Bush returned to the White House from Florida that day at 7 p.m. and delivered an address from the Oval Office later that night. He said, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
Following the attacks, an American-led effort to deplete the Taliban regime began. On Oct. 7, U.S. forces began removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and effectively did so within two months. As the war continued though, U.S. and coalition forces tried to fight against a Taliban insurgency campaign which was based in Pakistan, according to history.com.
The mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, remained uncaptured until 10 and a half years later, when he was tracked down and killed by the U.S. military. For more information on his capture, see President Obama on bin Laden: “Justice has been done,” in the May 3, 2017 edition of The Equinox. In March of 2006, construction began on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. In the very spots where the twin towers one stood, two acre-long manmade waterfalls spill into two reflecting pools, and on bronze panels lining the pools are the names of everyone killed during the attack.
This memorial serves as a powerful reminder of those who lost their lives in the attacks. As the largest number of deaths caused by foreign attacks on U.S. soil and the largest number of rescue personnel deaths in American history, the lives of many will never be forgotten, and their courage will always be remembered.
All information from this article is retrieved from history.com.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org