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How Do You Feel 20 Years Later?

Do you still feel the same way you did on the morning of September 11, 2001, or the days after terrorists flew hijacked planes into the two World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon? What emotions come over you when you think of Flight 93 that came down in a field in Pennsylvania?

Are you still angry? Are you still aghast? Are you still horrified? Or have you moved on?

This is how I feel.

I am sad that we no longer greet and treat every American regardless of their skin color, sex, religion, gender, country of origin, or any other demographic different than yours as a fellow citizen. The days after the attack, I remember that we were all Americans.

I have vivid memories of how well we treated each other. How nice we were to each other. There was no road rage or any further indignation toward each other.  We were all collectively Americans who had our homeland invaded by treacherous fanatical terrorists, whom a despot led with money and the desire to pull off such an operation.

The days after the attack, we were pleasant and kind to each other. We were tolerant of others who were different from us because they were Americans first, before anything else. We were united because we had been mutually hurt and attacked for only one reason — we were Americans. We were not divided by political, geographic, and economic lines. I long for those days again when we were united — but without the hurt, pain, and agony we felt or experienced after the heinous crime had been committed on our soil.

I am sad because we seem to be losing that comradery. It choked me up to watch Republicans and Democrats from Congress spontaneously break out singing God Bless America after a press conference on the Capitol Hill steps on the afternoon of September 11th.  I am sad to hear that many communities no longer hold a 9/11 remembrance ceremony.

However, it my firm belief that every community should remember and live by the motto, "Never Forget." As 20 years have passed, the memory that 2,996 people, which includes 343 FDNY members, went to bed the night before, not knowing it was their last night on the earth.

How many left their homes with some undone chore and thought they would take care of it when they got home? Their sacrifice and what was done to our homeland should not be forgotten, and remembrance ceremonies are one such way of not forgetting.

Their lives are worth remembering.

I am delighted to see that another tower has risen in the place of the Twin Towers. Just like the American spirit cannot be broken, the construction of the Freedom Tower is a clear signal that we can build and rise from the ashes.

I am appreciative of the memorial which has been established on the site. The site of the attacks will always be hallowed and sacred ground to me. The deaths of 343 firefighters, 37 police officers from the Port Authority, 23 police officers from NYPD, eight EMTs and paramedics from private ambulance companies, and one patrolman from New York Fire Patrol, have sanctified the ground upon which they died trying to save others. I can hope and pray that future visitors pay the respect, reverence, and dignity that the site deserves for decades.

I am sad for those who have died from 9/11 cancers after they breathed and were exposed to some of the harshest chemicals – only because they were attempting to rescue others.

I am cautious. The only time that America has ever been attacked was when we were complacent. When we were not on alert. When we were not looking over the horizon. Pearl Harbor was another time we were looking the other way. We are in a better position these days when it comes to intelligence gathering and preparation. Unfortunately, this only applies to organized terror groups. What about the lone wolf? The lone wolf or lone actor attack is the toughest to defend against since usually it is not known until it happens. One of the most horrible lone wolf attacks occurred on the evening of October 1, 2017, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. He fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his 32nd-floor suites in the Mandalay Bay hotel, which killed 60 people and wounded 411, with the ensuing panic bringing the injury total to 867.

The attack in Las Vegas proves that it is not only international terrorism but domestic terrorism that can cause significant damage to our country. We should look over the horizon and internally since we walk among some who wish this country harm.

I am happy that billions have been given to fire departments in the form of AFG, SAFER, MMRS, and other federal grants for equipment, training and staffing. Only through preparation when the event occurs can we mitigate its impact, whether international or domestic terrorism or a lone wolf.

I am grateful as I reflect 20 years later for those who serve in the fire service, law enforcement, and EMS and have been at the front lines protecting their communities and this nation.

I am incredibly grateful to those who serve in our military after being handed the mantle for the fight against terrorism. I am indebted to those who wear the uniform and have taken the fight to other lands against those who plot and wish to do America harm. We sleep better at night because they stand on that wall and protect this country.

Lastly, I am elated that I live in the United States of America and have all the freedoms I enjoy, with our outstanding economy, advances in technology, and the many other things we are blessed with. There is a reason that those from different countries worldwide clamor to live within our borders.

I am also elated that we have bounced back from 9/11 and that those who hate and wish to destroy this country have not been successful.

May God bless the United States of America and continue to comfort those that lost loved ones as a result of 9/11.


Fire Chief Gary Ludwig is the fire chief of the ISO Class 1 Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department. He has 41 years of fire, rescue, and EMS experience. He is a recent past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, 2019 - 2020. 

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