There are certain days in history that people can ask you, “Where were you when…?” and you will remember if you were more than an infant. Pearl Harbor Day, VE Day, Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s assassination, Watergate, and most recently, 9/11/2001, the day the planes crashed into the towers in New York City.
Twenty years ago today, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York. A third plane flew into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. And a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, as brave passengers thwarted terrorists.
We need to remember how this happened.
During the September 11 attacks in 2001, 2,977 people were killed, 19 hijackers committed murder–suicide, and more than 6,000 others were injured. The immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagonhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_September_11_attacks
There were nineteen terrorists actively involved in carrying out the attacks. Fifteen of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Lebanon, and one was from Egypt. These terrorists trained at camps in Afghanistan. They freely entered the United States on visas, due to lenient immigration policies of the time, as a student, tourists, and businessmen.
In spite of known terrorist associations and activities, all were granted legal entry visas. The one student visa issued to Hani Hanjour was for English as a second language training in Oakland, which he never attended. Instead, he took flight lessons, got a commercial pilot’s license, and later flew the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Nawaf Muhammed Salim al-Hazmi, another of the hijackers, fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and planned parts of the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, shifted bases from Pakistan to Sudan to Afghanistan. The sole Egyptian terrorist and ring leader Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta also trained in the US, and while headquartered in Germany, also spent time in Afghanistan planning and training.
In an investigation into the specifics of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security states:
"Today's hearing is a sobering reminder that we cannot afford to let down our guard, or become complacent about security. It is completely unacceptable that a decade after 9/ 11, GAO has uncovered weaknesses in our security controls that were supposed to be fixed a decade ago. GAO's findings are clear, and those are, not all foreign nationals who train to fly airplanes inside the United States have been properly vetted." https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg79848/html/CHRG-112hhrg79848.htm
Within the last month, more than 65,000 Afghan refugees have been flown out, and many are destined for the United States. We should stand by our allies, and help those in danger of Taliban reprisals. BUT such hurried humanitarian gestures, without proper controls, can be the seeds of disaster. Former Navy SEAL and Arizona candidate for U.S. Congress Eli Crane, a veteran of three overseas tours, believes that the refugees are not being vetted, and were not carefully chosen. The State Department estimates that close to 20,000 people were airlifted in a single 24 hour period – one can only wonder how extensive the checking was, given the pressure and security situation around Kabul Airport. The State Department acknowledges that some of the evacuees hold business and student visas, the same type that was issued to the original 9/11 terrorists. According to Politifact,
“we have found in the past that no vetting system is foolproof, and there are challenges to collecting data even in settings less urgent than the airport in Kabul.”https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/aug/25/how-are-afghan-refugees-being-vetted-heres-what-we/
Secretary of State Blinken has said:
“In our effort to get as many people out as fast as we can while we had the airport functioning, we focused on doing just that,” Blinken said, adding that State Department officials are “doing accountings on the back end as people arrive in the United States.”https://dennismichaellynch.com/report-some-incredibly-worried-after-blinken-admission-on-refugee-vetting-process/
which admits that very little if any vetting was done at Kabul airport. One report states that a convicted rapist was given passage.
In addition to political concerns, the compressed chaos of evacuation left no time for COVID tests.
America should open its doors to those who were our friends in Afghanistan, and women fleeing the misogynistic policies of the Taliban – but we can’t afford to welcome terrorists through lax policies, or set off another wave of COVID.
Where are they today?
There were countless heroes during the carnage of 9/11. Many, including those like Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Sarah Bradshaw, CeeCee Lyles, and Marion Britton (with a host of others on Flight 93) gave their lives to save others. No one on the flight survived. Others died in the towers, helping others out.
Welles Crowther, then 24, an equities trader in the south tower of the World Trade Center, risked his own life after the plane hit the tower to go back after people on the 78th floor. A prior volunteer firefighter, Crowther repeatedly went up and down fifteen flights of stairs to save more than a dozen people. Prior to the tragedy, he told his parents he’d decided to quit Wall Street and become a firefighter. He died assisting firefighters as the tower collapsed. His parents, like many other families, have to walk through life without him. They know that he died helping others, like Ling Young and Judy Wein, whom he led to safety. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/1043012/ProjectRebirth_Ling_Transcript.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y Interview with Ling Young, a survivor.
Send in the Marines
Two police officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, were chatting when the plane hit. They ended up trapped in debris up to twenty feet deep. Jason Thomas, former USMC sergeant, was dropping his daughter off at his mother’s on Long Island. When he heard what happened, he didn’t hesitate – he donned his old Marine uniform and headed for ground zero. Dave Karnes, former Marine staff sergeant saw the drama unfolding on TV, and like Thomas, put on his uniform and blazed to Manhattan. Both said, “Someone needed help. And someone has attacked my country.” With nothing but a flashlight and a shovel, they met and crawled over ash, concrete block, beams, and other debris calling out, “United States Marines! If you’re alive, yell!”
They discovered Jimeno and McLoughlin, listening. Both officers were seriously hurt, one at a depth of eight feet, the other at twenty feet. The Marines began digging and called New York Police for help. After three hours, they reached Jimeno, and eight hours to reach McLoughlin.
Brave Flight attendants
On American Airlines Flight 11, piloted by Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, the Egyptian, which crashed into the North Tower, two courageous flight attendants kept their wits about them and used their cell phones to communicate with the airline and authorities. Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney made independent calls, coolly and professionally communicating, so that the FBI was able to identify the hijackers and determine that they were al Qaeda. They let authorities know that three people had been stabbed, the plane was hijacked, and the cockpit door was locked. Both flight attendants ultimately died when the plane crashed into the tower.
… And the Army too
Rick Rescorla was already a hero, immortalized on the cover of the book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young” about the La Drang Valley battle in Vietnam. Awarded a Silver Star, he was head of security for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower. He’d complained to authorities about the security dangers of the towers but had forced a regimen of drills for those employees under his charge. It paid off – when the plane struck the South Tower, he reacted quickly, and because of the practices, got 2700 people out of the tower in sixteen minutes. Rescorla called his wife as he went back up to see if he could save more, telling her not to worry if he didn’t make it. He had to get his people out. His body was never found.
The echoes of the 9/11 tragedy are still spreading across our nation – children who grew up without fathers and mothers, wives and husbands who came home to empty houses and empty lives, the web of relational grief stretching out across the country to trap so many. Then there were the guilt-stricken, who traded a shift or didn’t take a flight at the last minute, narrowly avoiding tragedy, but thinking, “It should have been me.”
There are those that say the war in Afghanistan has been for naught, that it was bound to end this way, just a matter of time. But let’s not forget those who gave their lives on 9/11 and the 2248 US servicemen and women who died over the last twenty years keeping the wolf at bay.