22 years

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Most students graduating from college this year have no memory of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s startling to realize that most students weren’t even born yet when that mid-September morning dawned so radiantly 22 years ago. 

That day was indelible for those who lived through it, particularly in New York City or the D.C. metro area. We could feel the vibrations and hear the boom in Alexandria when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. 

Everyone who lived through that day in this city is forever marked by it. 

We remember the neighbor whose son spent the night of September 10 installing Lucent phones in Tower 1, finished at 6:30 a.m. and was spared. We know the teacher whose beloved brother perished in the inferno. We admire the general whose heroic assistant pulled him from the rubble in the Pentagon. 

We remember all of that, and yet our youngest generation knows none of it. Which is why it’s vital that we continue to commemorate that date – as we do in Alexandria each year on September 11 with a ceremony at City Hall. Remembering helps us heal and honor the departed, yes, but it also educates the young. 

Our youngest residents need to know that Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as his base for Al Qaeda to launch the terrorist attacks on the United States that day, killing almost 3,000 civilians on American soil. They need to know that bin Laden’s actions were evil, and that the possibility for great evil is always present. 

They need to be taught that we must always be vigilant and courageous in combating evil. Yet, even more important than vigilance and courage is, perhaps surprisingly, love. 

They need to know about the heroism of Welles Crowther, about whom Peggy Noonan wrote so movingly in her Wall Street Journal column on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Crowther saved at least five people in Tower 2 by wrapping a red bandanna, which he always carried, around his nose and mouth and leading people down the one stairwell still passable. 

“The way I see it, courage comes from love. There’s a big unseen current of love that hums through the world, and some plug into it more than others, more deeply and surely, and they get more power from it. And it fills them with courage. It makes everything possible,” Noonan wrote in “Remembering a hero, 15 years after 9/11.” 

“People see the fallen, beat-up world around them and ask: What can I do? Maybe: Be like Welles Crowther. Take your bandanna, change the world,” Noonan wrote. 

“The sky was falling and streaked with blood 

I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust 

Up the stairs, into the fire 

Up the stairs, into the fire 

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher 

Somewhere up the stairs, 

Into the fire” 

-Bruce Springsteen, “Into the Fire” 

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