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Americans still unite when it matters most

Sept. 11, 2001.

Bring that date up to anyone of my or older generations and that person can surely tell you what he or she was doing and where he or she was when it happened.

Reports came in. Live video of smoke billowing from the first tower in New York was plastered all over our TVs. People still weren’t quite sure what was going on.

Then, as we watched live, an airplane smashed into the other tower.

Then we learned yet another plane had crashed into the side of the Pentagon in Washington.

We helplessly watched as one of the Twin Towers crumbled to ground.

Then we heard about a fourth plane that had crash landed right here in Central Pennsylvania, which we’d eventually learn was likely headed to the White House or Capitol but had been valiantly thwarted by a passenger revolt.

Then we watched in horror, shock and disbelief as the other tower collapsed, leaving an iconic symbol of our nation’s financial might in its most populous city lying in smoke and ashes.

The scale of destruction seemed almost incomprehensible.

We later heard, for the first time, the name of the man who had become the most infamous person since Adolf Hitler — Osama bin Laden. We heard the name of an organization very few in America knew existed just hours before — al-Qaida.

We felt sad. We felt angry. We felt helpless.

We cried. We prayed. We hugged our family and friends tighter than perhaps we ever had before. We wondered why and how this could happen.

But what we felt most of all was pride for our wounded nation and a desire to show the world the American spirit cannot be broken.

I was a high school junior that day. I remember being in school (I had first-period gym class, which had us outside playing flag football, meaning I was nowhere near a TV until just before 9 a.m. and, therefore, was among the last in my school to learn what had happened).

My classmates, teachers and I watched the towers collapse on TV. We saw the video of the plane ramming into the Pentagon. For the first time in the my life or that of my classmates, someone had attacked America and the feeling of safety we had all known was gone in an instant. Some parents rushed to pick up their kids, fearing for their well-being.

I remember in the days that followed how shellshocked everyone was as they tried to process what had happened and why. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for those whose loved ones perished during the attack.

I couldn’t tell you what the final score was, but I remember vividly, prior to our football team’s game that Friday night, how moved I was as my teammates and I stood on the sideline with our helmets under our left arms — that for the first time bore an image of the American flag on the back — and our right hands over our hearts as the band played the national anthem. I also know I wasn’t the only one as there was barely a dry eye in the stadium that night. It’s why sometimes hearing the anthem will still get to me — it takes me back to that moment.

But most importantly, never in my life before or since have I seen Americans of every color in which they come as united as they were then.

In today’s world, with 24-hour news channels, endless political bickering and constant reminders of that which makes us different, it’s hard for those too young to remember that day to imagine all Americans feeling as one.

As we observe another somber anniversary of one of the most tragic days in our nation’s history, may we remember how what transpired made us feel and that although we may argue and get angry with one another, at the end of the day, we are all fortunate to call this great nation our home, we will always stand with our fellow Americans when they need it most and no terrorist attack will ever take that away.

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Managing editor Brian Cox may be reached at bcox@lewistownsentinel.com.

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