Sept. 11 quickly turning into a page in a history textbook

Fourteen years ago today an incomprehensible tragedy struck the United States—a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, those who were watching the news on television assumed it was a horrible aviation accident. But when a second plane struck the South Tower, the unimaginable became real.

In 102 minutes, both skyscrapers had collapsed as did the idea that America was immune to foreign terrorism.

Like many, I went to work the morning of Sept. 11 in a daze not quite knowing how to begin my first class. Obviously, I would have to acknowledge what transpired.   And I knew that I wanted students to have a way to express what was going in their minds.

So I did what any English teacher would do, had them write down what they were feeling.   Then I offered my lectern to any student who wished to share with the class. We spent the whole period talking about it.

As the day wore on, I spent less time discussing it with students for when Period 6 came, the kids had pretty much their fill of the disaster.

For those of us who lived through that time, it may be incredible to realize that more and more young people have no first-hand recollections of it.

The 15-year-olds currently in my classes, while alive in 2001, only learned about the tragedy in the fifth or sixth grade when a moment of silence took place at school on the anniversary date. To them, 9/11 might as well be the assassination of President Kennedy.

How quickly a flash point for some yellows into a page in a history textbook for others.

That is a key role museums play in bringing to life a historical event so it remains relevant.

My wife and I visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York over the Labor Day weekend. We were fortunate to have Mark as our tour guide because he was a young teen when 9/11 happened and now as a man in his 20s shared personal experiences.

He talked about how New Yorkers were friendlier to one another immediately following the event, recalling how neighbors who were strangers joined in a spontaneous candlelight walk.

Equally emotional are the museum exhibits including the curled up front of a fire engine that had melted from the heat, and the chapel-like room which projects a victim’s photo on a wall with the voice of a loved one remembering that individual.

Then there are the walls with all of the faces of the nearly 3,000 people lost, most of whom were in the prime of their lives and, if still living today, would still be middle-aged.

And then there is another wall to a room that contains the unidentified remains of over 1,100 people.

According to the museum’s website, about “40% of the WTC victims” have not been identified, with the most recent person being identified as recently as this March.

Walking through the museum and viewing videos of a time that I actually lived through makes for an eerie sensation, a reminder that those of us with first-hand experiences will one day pass away, with only this museum to serve as an eyewitness.

I wonder if future generations will fully grasp how unsettled we all felt during 9/11 as it unfolded.

The Sept. 11 Memorial comes close to bottling those terrifying moments.

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