Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11? Most of us do. I was a private first class in the Third Infantry Division and we were conducting railcar training meant to teach us how to load and mobilize our equipment via train in the event that it ever became necessary for an operation. Suddenly, the NCO stopped in the middle of the training and told us that the World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists. We all looked at each other somewhat confused, thinking that the NCO was meaning to introduce a training scenario for us as a precursor to loading up the railcars for this fictional scenario.
However, the continued somber look on his face made clear that training was over and he was being dead serious. I rushed back to the battalion office and saw the rest of my section watching a TV intently as smoke billowed from the crater left in the North Tower by American Airlines Flight 11. The concern on their faces was plain, and I looked at the television just in time to see United Airlines Flight 175 collide with the South Tower. The rest of the day was both surreal and infuriating. The scenes that followed would be unnerving to watch on television, I can only imagine the horror experienced by those who actually lived them. Here we are now – 14 years later. 9/11’s legacy has proven to be terrible and long-lasting. Loved ones lost. Physical and psychological trauma for many with no closure in sight. A prolonged war in Iraq which has now demonstrated itself to be a waste of human life and government resources as the US withdrawal from Iraq functionally surrendered the country into the hands of ISIS (along with premium military equipment originally given to Iraqi forces). Our economy suffered (and continues to suffer). Race and religious tensions reached new heights. Sadly, even the national unity and pride that came from our joint struggle of that day—perhaps the one silver lining many could point to for a period—is no more. We are a house divided—arguably more now than ever with the exception of years leading up to the Civil War.
How then should we feel about today? Should we lie to ourselves and pretend we have healed and all is well? That our enemies did not strike a blow to our core that we still feel today and will feel for years to come? No, there is no point in engaging in self-denial. Yet, to focus on the loss we have sustained as a result of that day is to continue to give those who brought terror to our doorstep exactly what they want—Americans in perpetual fear and suffering. I have no intention of acquiescing and neither should you. I am and always have been a huge superhero fan. The interest began with watching Superman as a boy and only grew with me in the years that followed. To me, 9/11 is not about our losses, our internal division, or ISIS. To me, 9/11 is National Superhero Day. It’s all about American superheroes. It’s about firefighters and police officers sprinting towards a collapsing building when everyone else was running away. It’s about civilians responding to the scene of the attack and culling through rubble trying to save lives. It’s about unarmed passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 taking back a plane and saving many lives at the expense of their own. It’s about an 18 year-old graduate enlisting on 9/12 knowing war is on the horizon. It’s about our President singing God Bless America on national television. It’s about the men and women I served with overseas and, most specifically, Corporal Brown and Staff Sergeant Booker. It’s about one very simple truth that we must always remember, and Superman himself summed it up aptly: “[Being Superman is] not about where you were born. Or what powers you have. Or what you wear on your chest. It’s about what you do . . . it’s about action.” Americans proved in the days that followed 9/11 (and in multiple other points in history) that we are about action and there is within us a capacity for great feats of selflessness and heroism. We have unknown reserves of courage, strength, and hope that we willingly expend for not only ourselves and our loved ones, but even for complete strangers in times of dire need. It is easy to be a superhero when bullets bounce off you or you are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I, for one, am much more impressed by the ones who take up the mantle knowing it may well be the last thing they do. But that is who we can be, who we are as a people deep inside. It’s not a religious identity. It’s not a Republican or Democratic identity. It is an American identity that will live on because of 9/11 and, in that regard, we have a message of victory. For that reason, I wish all of you living in the land of the free and the home of the brave a very happy National Superhero Day.