9/11–20 Years Later

Phil Rossi

A generation and beyond

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With the 20-year commemoration of the 2001 Terrorist Attacks upon us, I’d rather focus on the national strides we’ve made as a whole. Instead of dwelling on the falling skies of the newborn 20s, I’d rather incorporate an optimistic outlook. That includes going forward.

Let us never forget — the lives lost and the people who stepped up to answer the call on that fateful day, 20 years ago. They haven't gone anywhere. Despite our flaws, I’ll always have faith in our spirit, fortitude, and determination to create a better future and the will to protect this enhanced world — at all costs.

In the 20 years since 9/11, we haven’t had another terrorist attack as significant on American soil. Not with the scope, scale, and magnitude of 9/11. Nor have we had any jumbo jets hijacked in our nation’s airspace.

It’s easy these days to pine for continuity, a yearning for any semblance of normal. We feel anxious — wondering if our nation’s spirit is fractured, if not lost. Fearful the next nefarious event will leave us stranded. Hopeless and held hostage by the moment, the damage, and the renegades behind it.

Maybe the reason we haven’t seen these heroes and this spirit is that we haven’t required it. We haven’t had any skyscrapers ablaze with trapped citizens (knock on wood) along with any attacks and hijackings. With no burning buildings to enter, there is no distress calls this high and urgent to answer.

In the weeks and months after 9/11, no one would have guessed, much less believe, that over 20 years, our anti-terrorism campaign would have been this successful.

In the wake of those attacks, cable news flooded their telecasts with panels of talking heads. An army of experts claiming the next 9/11 was inevitable. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.

The know-it-alls proclaimed the next event would surpass 9/11 in size, means, and casualties. Dirty Bomb became a cable news buzzword. Fellow dramatists relished in raising the temperature even higher. Claiming dirty bombs were kids’ stuff — that the radicals would smuggle in and detonate a nuclear device.

Leave it to Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC to drum up the fear and anxiety of its primetime audience. Holding us hostage in our front row seats. Laz-E-Boys and couches across America full of thousand-yard stares, fried-to-pieces, and shell-shocked citizens. Just when we thought that 2020 was the breakout year of cable news. Ha.

There have been terrorist attacks since 9/11. Most notably, mass shootings that were al-Queda and ISIS-inspired and orchestrated. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the San Bernadino tragedies to name a few.

In September ‘01, I was driving a taxi cab for a mom-and-pop company. A small fleet that ran 24/7. I ‘hacked’ the overnight shift from 6 PM to 6 AM, five days a week.

One of our taxi stands was at the ferry terminal. A hot spot for NYC commuters returning to New Jersey. Once the shuttle services ended, many would opt for cab fare to take them home.

Parked in these commuter lots were vehicles left behind. As people were identified and declared dead, their cars, one by one, left the lots. Idle in my cab, I’d watch the tow trucks retrieve these orphaned vehicles.

A local man mourning his brother. Asking Why? Why Daniel? As he wandered the streets in a daze. In the rain, without an umbrella in the overnight hours.

Weeks later, I passed a convoy of hearses in the Lincoln Tunnel heading for New Jersey. Through their side panel windows, flag-draped caskets, transporting remains to loved ones and memorial services.

Photos of the deceased were printed in pages resembling a yearbook of the New York Post and Daily News. People I had met in my taxi cab.

In the days before 9/11, I had driven a young stockbroker who worked in the WTC. We talked about the incoming NFL season. A nothing about nothing, let’s pass the time convo. Two weeks later, I saw that same guy’s photo in the Those We Lost section.

The dispatcher at the taxi company had a son that was in the WTC. He was in the lobby exiting the building when the tower collapsed. Buried in the debris, his body was recovered and sent to the hospital. You could only imagine Enrique’s day. En route to the hospital thinking, he’d have to identify his eldest son. When he had arrived, Enrique discovered his son had survived.

In my lifetime, 9/11 remains our darkest hour. Two things strike me the most about that day. The juxtaposition between the real and hypothetical:

The Real:

In one morning, we witnessed the most evil of mankind. In response to this evil, we also witnessed the best. As people leaped to their deaths, men and women below, knowing they might not return, rushed those buildings for survivors in need of attention and rescue.

This valor and sacrifice haven’t been replaced with something less or lost altogether. It isn’t extinct — vaulted by history and folklore. Neither expired or gone, this supply is available whenever we need it. I’m confident in this belief.

This is us, our country, and our people. This is who we are, what we stand for, and what we do. This isn’t propaganda — it’s fact and history. It happened. Events that unfolded with reason, purpose, and conviction. This is the heart, soul, and fabric of the people on our team.

Since 9/11, could anyone tell me how many jumbo jets have been hijacked in American air space? How many citizens have been murdered by terrorists on American soil? This might be the reason these people aren’t around.

We haven’t had first responders — police, fire, and EMTs rushing any burning buildings since the terrorists haven’t struck on such a massive scale. This hasn’t stopped the radicals from plotting their destruction. We know they haven’t given up.

As a nation, we’ve dug in. We’re more alert, educated, and on the offensive.

The Hypothetical:

The 9/11 hijackers screwed up. They had one chance to do this. They carried out their deadly mission but failed to kill thousands more.

The two planes that hit both towers of the WTC struck at 8:11 and 8:30 AM. These jumbo jets made two errors. First, they hijacked and crashed too early. Second, they entered both towers on the way upper halves of the buildings.

Had the aircraft been hijacked two hours later, the WTC would have neared full capacity. It is estimated that upwards of 50,000 people worked daily at the WTC in September 2001, dispersed between both towers.

Second, we could have lost many more people if the hijackers directed the planes to strike both towers at a much lower point. The attacks killed 2,606 people in and within the vicinity of the towers and all 157 onboard the two aircraft.

Many more might have been trapped had the terrorists pierced the towers at a lower and more halfway point. Two impacts at 50 to 60 stories would still pose a significant challenge to the rescue attempt. Since the top halves of each tower would have been sealed, the casualty rate could have been exponentially higher.

True, a gruesome hypothetical, but still worth noting. Add in the remaining hijacked aircraft and their altered missions, we see another lightened scenario.

Four hijackers instead of five enabled the passengers on Flight 11 to combat the terrorists, seize control of the jet, and divert their destruction. Meanwhile, the fourth plane couldn’t locate its intended target: the White House.

Since Flight 11 was supposed to strike the Capitol Building, the fourth team decided to ditch the White House and target CIA Headquarters. When they couldn’t find that complex either, they flew for the Pentagon.

Easier to locate from the air, the hijackers slammed into a stone and concrete structure. The airliner disintegrated on impact, unable to destroy the Pentagon. Damage and lost lives, but not on the scale that could have been.

It makes no difference that whatever the hijackers achieved satisfied their terror group. Despite the casualties, high or low, they would still be immortalized by the movement.

It’s one thing to trash America’s history and politics, but the spirit and ethos of America’s common and anonymous man? Take a hike. Honor and integrity are not extinct. Not on the main and local streets of America. Far from it.

Honor and integrity act beyond as if. It remains humble and quiet. It knows when to speak. Not as an alarmist crying wolf. Not as a talking head stirring the pots, their platform, and ratings. It also ignores the parade of fools masquerading as experts.

Honor and integrity sound loudest when it responds. Action speaks volumes. As the stakes rise, so do the voices of valor. Climbing higher above the chaos and only high enough to do so. Any higher, would be bragging and a no-no.

These days, this voice chooses to remain quiet. Watching over us. Walking amongst us — in spirit.

The axiom attached to 9/11 lives on: Let us never forget. The lives lost, yet the unconditional spirit of all those who answered the call that Tuesday morning.

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Phil is a blogger interested in sports, culture, politics, and the art scene.

Hackensack, NJ
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