(Editor’s note: This a commentary I wrote one year ago on the anniversary of the attacks.)
Fear is an invaluable human instinct that perpetuates our survival. Without fear, we might make any number of potentially fatal decisions each day—walk into traffic, pick up a poisonous snake, stand too close to the edge of a cliff.
Fear tells us to run away from danger. But there are individuals who overcome the powerful messages coming from their brain that tell them to flee, and instead run toward the danger.
Sunday marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11. On that fateful day, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
In each instance, men and women ran toward the terror to help others, putting their own lives at risk. They ran toward the fire.
In New York, 412 firefighters, police officers and emergency workers perished. Most of the deaths occurred when the buildings collapsed as the rescuers were trying to reach those who were trapped by the fires. Others were killed by falling debris.
At the Pentagon, the first acts of heroism were performed by individuals inside the massive building who survived the attack. They helped move the wounded to safety until emergency workers arrived and took over the rescue efforts.
It is believed that the hijackers on Flight 93 were going to crash that plane into the White House or the Capitol. Several passengers learned of the other attacks and decided to try to retake control of the plane.
Passenger Todd Beamer could be heard over a call to a telephone operator—”Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” The passengers were heard storming the cockpit, as the hijackers abandoned their plan of attack and instead crashed the plane, killing all on board.
Our country suffered a series of devastating attacks that day 20 years ago. The lives of 2,977 innocent people were lost in New York, Washington, D.C, and Shanksville. The savagery shook our country to the core.
On this anniversary 21 years later, we pause to remember the loss, honor the dead, and once again pledge our commitment to keeping our country secure while continuing the fight against the existential threat of terror.
But we also remember, with pride and humility, the first responders and the passengers of Flight 93 who gave their lives to try to save others. They must have been terrified, but they overcame the primal instincts to flee and instead ran into the fire. These men and women represent the best of us.