A new day of infamy: The events of Sept. 11 tragedy should be remembered year round

From the moment American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, normalcy in the United States shattered.

We were stunned. Frightened. Horrified. We grieved.

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

At school, at work, on the subway, in the grocery store – most people were somewhere commonplace and ordinary. It was supposed to be another normal Tuesday morning. Today’s youth is nearing the age where it won’t be able to remember what it was doing on Sept. 11, 2001.

I do.

I was in second grade, sitting in the last row of a small classroom on the second floor of my elementary school. We were watching a movie when my principal’s voice interrupted over the loudspeaker: Something has happened.

There was a plane crash in New York City. People are hurt. People have died. Firefighters and police officers are trying to save as many people as they can.

My mind immediately went to my dad.

My dad has been a firefighter longer than I’ve been alive. He’s volunteered his time to help others for the majority of his life. Over the years I have seen him dehydrated, emotional, bleeding and concussed – all in the name of service to others.

Second grade me couldn’t quite comprehend the magnitude of what had just happened. Terrorism wasn’t in my vocabulary. But my dad understood.

Fire departments across the state were called down to New York City to help rescue efforts. The tiny volunteer company where my dad is now chief wasn’t asked to make the trek, but the events struck my dad and my family. We watched news coverage religiously. My dad saved The Buffalo News clippings about Sept. 11 and the days that followed – he still has them tucked away, folded and yellowing.

He empathized not only as a United States citizen but also as a first responder, as someone who had been trained to save lives. He knew how difficult it was for the responders at the scene and the immense emotional impact it would have on them – they were risking their lives but they were also simply doing their jobs.

He taught me to consider these ordinary people as extraordinary.

Sept. 11 is undoubtedly a day when the whole nation should pause. It is easy to forget the consequences of that day in everyday life. It’s easy to block out the images of billowing black smoke rising from the World Trade Center towers and of people flinging themselves out of windows, to mentally erase the countless stories of people whose lives had been saved by common inconveniences like a flat tire or a malfunctioning alarm clock. It’s easy to forget how many police officers, firefighters, emergency personnel and ordinary citizens perished trying to save those trapped in the fiery, crumbling towers in Manhattan.

There is a social expectation that the anniversary of Sept. 11 is the only day when we reflect on the events and consequences of that day 14 years ago. Once a year, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media blow up with mentions of 9/11 and #NeverForget.

But once a year is not enough. Once a year isn’t enough for the nearly 3,000 individuals who lost their lives and the tens of thousands who lost family, friends or coworkers. Once a year isn’t enough for the almost 350 firefighters and paramedics who died, for the more than 50 police officers. Once a year cannot be enough for the more than 1,700 families who never found remains of their loved ones.

Admittedly, being in Buffalo, I was not as directly affected as those in New York City. But even if you didn’t lose someone in the attacks, as Americans we were all affected and shaped by the day’s events.

One day per year isn’t enough for those across the United States who risk their lives saving people every day, on days that start out completely routine. These responders are heroes and they deserve more.

Today, thinking about the four planes, the lives lost, the way Americans banded together – it gives me goosebumps. News coverage of the plane-to-tower impact is heart wrenching. Sept. 11 is a defining moment in our lives and in the history of our nation. It cannot be reduced to one day per year.

A plaque hangs in my hallway at home, dedicated to the victims and rescue personnel who lost their lives on Sept. 11. It features the iconic photo of firefighters George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Billy Eisengrein raising the American flag over the rubble at Ground Zero. Every time I walk by it, I am reminded of the importance of how the American people responded that day and of how proud I am to include my dad in the group of heroes willing to risk their lives for others.

It reads, “September 11, 2001: A new day of infamy.”

Alyssa McClure is the managing editor and can be reached at alyssa.mcclure@ubspectrum.com.