On September 11, 2001, just 16 years ago today, nearly 3,000 people tragically lost their lives to the largest terrorist attack on American land.
It began at 8:46 A.M. when terrorists on American Airlines Flight 11 hijacked the plane and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and 17 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 was hijacked and crashed into the South Tower. Both towers came down less than one hour after being hit.
But the attacks didn’t stop in New York. Flight 77 crashed into the western portion of the Pentagon in Washington D.C. at 9:37 A.M. The fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all of the passengers on board after they tried to take control from the hijackers.
Among all the innocent lives lost, our country lost 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel.
The aftermath of this event is still very much with us whether the event directly impacted you or not. The catastrophe has shaped so much of our society today from how we board an airplane to the fear we feel when going to a crowded place. We mourn, reflect and remember on this day every year, but as much as that day was filled with sadness, fear and loss, it was also filled with bravery, strength and love.
Here are twelve quotes and stories from family members that pay tribute to the many lives lost, the heroes and lessons learned from the tragedy.
“The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.” -Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” -Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl
“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.” -Senator John Kerry
“What we learned on September 11 is that the unthinkable is now thinkable in the world.” -John Ashcroft
“September 11 impressed upon us that life is a precious gift … And I think we all have a duty to devote at least a small portion of our daily lives to ensuring that neither America nor the world ever forgets September 11.” -Senator Bill Frist
“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we list, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” -Former President Barack Obama
“What separates use from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” -David Levithan
“September 11, 2001, revealed heroism in ordinary people who might have gone through their lives never called upon to demonstrate the extent of their courage.” -Geraldine Brooks
“My older brother John lived his life in Technicolor… When he walked in the door, the whole house lit up. And I’m sure heaven lit up when he got there too.” -Anthoula Katsimatides
“My father, Norberto, was a pastry chef at Windows on the World in Tower One. For 10 years, he made many fancy and famous desserts, but the sweetest dessert he made was the marble cake he made for us at home. … Whenever we parted, Poppi would say, ‘Te amo. Vaya con Dios.’ And this morning, I want to say the same thing to you, Poppi. I love you. Go with God.” -Catherine Hernandez
“It’s the nature of the world that most people have moved on, but the people directly involved with 9/11, for them, twice a day it’s 9/11” -Former FDNY firefighter Robert Reeg
“My father was the best person I have ever known and though he was taken from me on that day, nothing and no one will ever be able to take way the eight years and two days of my life that I shared with him. After my father died, and after I lost so much, I promised myself that I would never lose who I am as a person- the person that my father brought me up to be… If you owe someone an apology, tell them you are sorry today. If someone asks for your forgiveness, forgive them. Start being the person you always wanted to be today and don’t waste your time worrying about tomorrow.” -Mary Kate McErlean, who lost her father to 9/11