Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost somewhere on the sea. When they find it, they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?
– RAdm Tarrant, The Bridges at Toko-Ri
September 11, 2001 was like every other Indian Summer day in California, the Golden State. Gallons of sunshine poured out of a flawless azure sky. Temperatures hovered in the nineties. The long, lazy days of summer washed into another school year like breakers on Sunset Beach. In other words, the day was practically perfect. Until two airliners tore into the Twin Towers.
And America has never been the same.
Neck-deep in other responsibilities, I hadn’t tuned in to the news all day. “Turn on the TV” my husband said that evening.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t you hear?”
“About New York.” Blank stare.
“Two planes flew into the Twin Towers this morning.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
I thought he meant two Cessnas with engine trouble. Someone got confused. Strayed off course. An accident. Minor injuries and a dozen insurance claims. Turning on the TV, it took about five seconds for reality to sink in.
Amid the shock, confusion and grief of that terrible, tragic day and its immediate aftermath loomed an unnatural quiet.
Southern California skies usually hum with air traffic of all shapes and sizes. Everything from thundering commercial flights to lumbering military cargo planes to the mosquito whine of light aircraft. It was all gone on September 11, 2001, when the FAA ordered all flights grounded. The result? A suffocating silence, terrible in its unnatural eeriness.
Years later, this event and those responsible are household words. Oceans of ink have been spilled on the subject of 9/11. Documentaries have been produced. Testimonials shared. Solemn memorials observed.
And we remember.
Many Americans set September 11 aside as a “day of infamy” – and something else. We mourn the lives lost. But we also remember the heroes. And in remembering, we honor the sacrifices of first responders – law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS. Scores of “ordinary” Americans who were anything but. On that Indian Summer day in 2001, we saw countless Americans go above and beyond the call of duty to protect and serve others.
It’s been a few years, but the events of that September morning still reverberate. They aren’t quiet. They touched a chord. For those who looked, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 showed America at her best: Generous. Selfless. Resourceful. Resilient and resolute. United. Uncowed.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri is set during the Korean War. But RAdm Tarrant’s question lingers: Where do we get such men and women?
We get them from Texas oil rigs. Iowa corn fields. Virginia coal mines. From Wall Street to Lombard Street. From football fields and baseball diamonds to basketball courts and hockey rinks. From blue collars to white. From New England fishing fleets. Florida citrus farms. Illinois’ windy city. From the Bay State to the North Star State to the Evergreen State. And all points in between.
From the courage and commitment of Navy pilots and first responders to the generosity and compassion of ordinary citizens, we “get such men and women” from all across the fruited plain. Americans at our best: Generous. Selfless. Resourceful. Resilient and resolute. United. Uncowed.
It’s who we are. Remember?
When the night seems to say
All hope is lost, gone away
But I know, I’m not alone
By the light she stands.
There she waves, faithful friend
Shimmering stars, westward wind
Show the way, carry me
To the place she stands.
Just when you think it might be over
Just when you think the fight is gone
Someone will risk his life to raise her
There she stands.
There she flies, clear blue skies
Reminds us with red of those that died
Washed in white by the brave
In their dream she stands.
When evil calls itself a martyr
When all your hopes come crashing down
Someone will pull her from the rubble
There she stands.
We’ve seen her flying torn and tattered
We’ve seen her stand the test of time
And through it all the fools have fallen
There she stands.
By the dawn’s early light
And through the fight, she stands.
Michael W. Smith is a contemporary Christian singer/songwriter. He’s sold more than 15 million albums, scored twenty-eight No. 1 hits, earned three GRAMMYs and more than 40 Dove Awards.
* Today is Patriot Day. In case you forgot.