No two numbers have more meaning to Americans who, on that day, witnessed the largest attack against the United States on home soil in history.
In my case, it started out like any other day that soon turned into a day I’ll never forget; like when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and when the rocket carrying seven astronauts exploded just minutes after takeoff. There are only a few days in life when tragedy strikes, that one will never forget where they were or what they were doing. I spent a good part of the day today watching tributes paid to the more than 3,000 who died on 9.11.2001, by political figures and family members. In my own mind, I relived that day.
As I was leaving my studio apartment in USHLI’s office building, a “Breaking News” report came on the air. MSNBC reported that a plane had deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I watched as a second plane struck the second tower at the World Trade Center. I quickly ran to the elevator, took it to my office floor, and turned on the TV. My disbelief soon turned to horror and heartbreak.
The immense heat from the plane’s explosion brought the first tower down. I couldn’t help but worry about the people in the tower and how quickly their lives came to an end. Soon the second tower fell, also from the other plane’s explosion. Knowing that up to 50,000 people could be in the two towers on any given day, I wondered how many lives had been lost. What about the first responders who had rushed into the building soon after the planes struck? What were the chances that any of them survived? The attack saturated the news the rest of the day and night, as everyone tried to figure out who planned the attack and who the terrorists were. A co-worker asked me after the first tower fell, who did I think did this? Without hesitation I said, Osama Bin Laden. At the end of the day, I went home, heartbroken.
The next morning, I drove back to my office in downtown Chicago. The expressway and the streets were almost completely deserted. I felt totally alone. Seems like everyone was just in shock and didn’t want to be anywhere near a skyscraper. I felt more anger than fear, but powerless too. Powerlessness is a very bad feeling. The only thing I could think of to do was to call home and tell my wife to hang our American flag outside. I smiled and cried at the same time, when I got home.
The attack is remembered for the thousands of lives lost, the number of people widowed, and the number of children who lost one parent, if not both. It’s remembered for the countless number of family members and friends who lost loved ones. It’s also remembered for starting America’s longest war, which has lasted almost five times longer than the Civil War and World War II. It’s a day that many of us will never forget.
Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr.
United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, Inc.