9/11: Two Decades Later

The 20 year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11


Photo by Amber Murphy

A memorial display in Forest Park. One flag stands for each American who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed the lives of thousands of Americans forever. At 8:45 AM, a Boeing 767 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Every news outlet jumped on the story and had the cameras rolling 18 minutes later when a second airplane hit the South Tower– confirming that America was under attack.

There was a lot of speculation and confusion following the crashes of the two planes into the World Trade Center. Even those in the military and special forces at the time were uninformed about what was going on.

“I joined the military in January of 2001 while I was still a student [at West], but I didn’t go to basic training until August after I graduated, so I was in boot camp when 9/11 happened,” Christopher Mincher, Assistant Principal and Army National Guard combat engineer said. “It was weird because helicopters kept flying over, airplanes kept flying over, there were people driving up and down the roadway, more than we had seen in the first seven weeks that we were there. We were like, ‘What in the world is going on?’”

Memorial gate in Shanksville, PA to honor those lost on Flight 93. (Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

A total of 2,977 people were killed as a result of the attacks. This number includes the passengers on each of the four planes, innocent civilians who were trapped in the towers, military officials at the Pentagon, as well as firefighters, police officers and paramedics who responded to the events, according to history.com. The next day, President George W. Bush declared a War on Terror.

“That night, they brought us out into a big open field area,” Mincher said. “And they said, ‘Hey, this is what happened. We do not really know what is going on, but you guys got 30 seconds to call your parents to let them know you are okay, but you are probably going to war.”

Immediately after the attacks, there was a surge in patriotism and unity among American citizens. In response to the events of 9/11, 254,418 people enlisted in the reserves and active-duty ranks combined, according to militarytimes.com. 20 years later, however, this patriotism has lessened.

“From what I understand, there were American flags everywhere, and people were very Pro-America,” Mincher said. “I came home around Christmas time, so that [patriotism] kind of faded a little bit. And over the last 20 years, I think it kind of comes and goes, depending on what is going on. Again, it has been 20 years; there is a whole group of people that just weren’t alive when it happened to understand [what happened].”

Because there is now an entire generation of people who did not experience the attacks of 9/11 first-hand, most schools make it a prominent lesson that is taught to students from an early age. Every year on September 11, most classes take time to revisit the timeline of events and remember those who passed.

“It’s a piece of American history,” senior Morgan Smith said. “It’s just as important as learning about the American Revolution. We have to learn how we got where we are today to prevent attacks like this from happening in the future. We also can’t forget about all of the people who gave their lives that day. It is important to remember those heroes.”

Young people today are still inspired by the bravery of those who fought the terrorists who attacked their home country, even though they did not witness the events themselves.

“Personally, 9/11 is part of the reason I am inspired to join the military,” Smith said. “Seeing the events that unfolded during 9/11 incited a sort of patriotism in me that made me want to get out there and try to do my part to prevent any terrorism from happening in this country again.”

Today’s kids will never know the pain and fear that thousands of Americans experienced on the morning of September 11, 2001; however, the events will never be forgotten. In a country that is constantly divided within itself, at the end of the day, we are all Americans, even in times of peace.

“I think that, that we always need to realize that we’re from the same place,” Mincher said. “We’re all Americans. We’re all in this together, whether we look the same, talk the same, act the same; we are one country, and it’s a shame that it takes something like that to bring everybody together. It’s us against everybody else.”

The September 11 memorial in New York City, NY to honor those who were lost in the attacks. (Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

Since 2001, many memorials have been built across the country, and September 11 is now known as Patriot Day to remember those who were lost. One World Trade Center has also been built in place of the Twin Towers, and airport security has increased significantly.

“Our generation grew up post 9/11,” Smith said. “We didn’t have the before and after. We just had the after. I realize that I could never understand the fear that went through Americans during that time, but I want to do my best to prevent Americans from ever feeling that again.”