“I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” President George W. Bush came to thank the first responders searching the World Trade Center’s remains just days after the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. These words were his spontaneous response when someone yelled that they could not hear him from the crowd.
Amazingly, the students in our schools today never heard those words because they were born after the 9/11 attacks on America. Instead of living through it, all of the students from kindergarten to high school, plus many of the freshmen and sophomores in college who are 19 or younger learned about it from other people. For them, learning about 9/11 is like me learning about the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Now, more than ever, we must never forget the lives lost. We must never forget the heroic actions of so many who ran into the danger. And it is important to remember who did this to us — and why they did it.
We lost nearly 3,000 innocent lives on Sept. 11, 2001. Hijacked commercial airplanes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Another hit the side of the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. And a final plane, believed to be headed toward the White House, the U.S. Capitol or another major site, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
We will never forget.
Each year, Young America’s Foundation (YAF) helps students put up 2,977 American flags on campuses all across the country as part of their 9/11: Never Forget Project. Over the years, it has been an extraordinary tribute to the lives lost that day.
In New York City, 343 firefighters, 23 city police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers died. At the Pentagon, 184 people died. And there were 40 passengers on United Flight 93. A number of them forced the plane to crash into a field instead of a major site in our nation’s capital. There were so many amazing heroes.
We will never forget.
To be clear, the people who carried out the attacks were radical Islamic terrorists. Terrorizing Americans and freedom-loving people around the world was their goal. They targeted the World Trade Center buildings as they represented the financial strength of America. They targeted the buildings in the D.C. area as they represented the seat of government in America.
Most of all, they targeted the United States because of our freedoms. They despised our government system that protects the free practice of all religions, allows anyone to participate in the free enterprise system, provides all citizens the right to speak out and a free press to report on it. They did not like our system where all people are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our freedoms threatened the people who did this to us. They chose symbols of those freedoms as targets to terrorize us and the rest of the world.
We will never forget.
My wife and I have two sons. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was getting them ready for elementary school. Tonette was already at work and called to tell me to turn on the television in the other room. I watched in horror as the second plane hit the other tower. Later, we learned of the towers crashing to the ground.
My first reaction was shock. How could this happen on American soil? Eventually, I became worried about our sons. Was this the start of another world war? Would the images of the fallen twin towers haunt them for the rest of their lives?
Then, something unique happened to us. President Bush invited all Americans to come out on their porches that Friday night. Tonette and I mentioned it to some of the families at school. When we opened our front door that evening, there was a crowd in our front yard.
We ran into the house to get some candlesticks and cut them into pieces, so everyone got one. Then, we said a prayer and sang patriotic songs for an hour. Thankfully, my sons’ memories of that week are of holding candles and seeing the faces of family and friends as we gathered together in our yard — and in communities all across America.
We will never forget the lives that were lost. We will never forget the heroes. We will never forget the people who did this to us and why they did it to us. And we will never forget that, despite our occasional differences, we are still one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.