Eighteen years after 9/11 I remember a column Peggy Noonan wrote on the fifteenth anniversary of that horrible day:
What do I think about when I think about that day? The firemen who climbed “the stairway to Heaven” with 50, 60 pounds of gear. The people who called from Windows on the World and said: “I just want you to know I love you.” The men on the plane who tried to take the cockpit of Flight 93 before it went down in a Pennsylvania field: “Let’s roll.”
It was the worst day, and yet it brought out the best is us.
What I remember most vividly was a call from a friend who asked, “Did you know Barbara Olson was on one of those planes?” Barbara, pundit, author, and IWF board member, was on the plane that went down at the Pentagon. She was fearless and full of life.
Michael Goodwin points out the paradox of remembering 9/11 this year:
[F]ew anniversaries of 9/11 have been as fraught with troubling emotions as today’s. From the vantage point of the 18th anniversary, it is unfortunately true that the worst day in American history forged the last great moment of national unity.
The mourning and sense of common purpose that were so distinct then seem as if they happened in a different country in another century. Now our nation is not just polarized. It is fractured.
But, as Goodwin also notes, there remains a legacy of the courage and unity we as a country showed on the aftermath of that day:
For its part, New York has somber memorials to the dead as well as living reminders of the undaunted courage we witnessed on that awful day. The Post reports that 13 children of firefighters who died trying to save others are members of the FDNY Academy class that will graduate in two weeks.
The “legacy” class also includes the son of a police officer killed on 9/11 and the sons of two firefighters who died of illnesses linked to their recovery work at Ground Zero.
“Bravery runs in these extraordinary families,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
A brother of one of the probies put it this way: “There are no negatives. We know the risks. We always liked helping people.”
Those brave, straightforward words echo the eulogies at the funerals that dominated the city for weeks in the aftermath. Survivors and loved ones told the stories of people who had the extraordinary courage to run into the burning towers and up the stairs to save others.
IWF honors Barbara Olson every year when we give our Barbara Olson Woman of Valor award.