It hardly seems possible, but it has been 20 years since terrorists skyjacked four airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
The one that crashed in Pennsylvania was probably headed for the White House but was diverted by the courageous efforts of its flight crew and passengers who attacked the terrorists. Those 19 terrorists killed 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000 others -- 265 on the planes (including the terrorists), 2,753 in the World Trade Center and surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon. These attacks remain the deadliest terrorist act in world history. (The variance in numbers resides in the many sources chronicling these events.)
According to at least one source, the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations, with al Qaeda financing the attack. The terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and selected airplanes that were full of jet fuel. Although the World Trade towers were designed to withstand 200 mph winds, they were not designed to withstand the tremendous heat from the exploding jet fuel.
Of those who perished during the initial attacks, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 officers with the Port Authority. At the Pentagon, 189 people were killed, including those in the airplane; the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania killed 44 passengers and crew members.
It has been estimated that it cost around half a million dollars to plan and execute this terrorist plan. However, the estimated loss during the first 2-4 weeks after the World Trade towers collapsed plus the decline in airline travel for the next few years was $123 billion. Around $60 billion worth of damage was done to the WTC site. The total cost of the cleanup was around $750 million.
Some 403 firefighters and law enforcement personnel were killed during this attack, plus another 125 military personnel at the Pentagon. Many of these heroes died because they were attempting to help others escape and get to safety without knowing that another disaster was on the way. History is replete with examples of other people who also died trying to help others. That is the American spirit.
History also records that a significant number of religious leaders also got caught in the terrorists' attack. They gave their lives trying to help people, not necessarily because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Interestingly, 9/11 also produced numerous changes to a number of our institutions. The Department of Homeland Security was created in response to 9/11. It merged 22 government agencies into one, including the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At the same time, the Red Cross, which oversaw much of the assistance to 9/11 victims had to make some significant changes in how it managed assistance.
The outpouring from caring groups from all over America flooded Washington with volunteers wanting to help but, unfortunately, there was no housing for them, no sanitation facilities, and not enough food and water. As a result, many volunteer groups were turned away. Although chaplains had been granted access during most disasters, it was discovered that many of them did not have the appropriate training to be useful. As a result, it was decided that only fully trained members of the International Conference of Police Chaplains would be welcome in the future. Shortly after 9/11, it also was determined that law enforcement chaplains who die in the line of duty would be covered by the same benefits as commissioned officers.
Time has a way of healing wounds, but we must not ever forget the tragedies that happened on September 11, 2011. These terrorist attacks occurred in our homeland and, but for the grace of God, could have included any one of us. We may live in a divided country these days, but it is imperative for us to remember all of us are Americans and have an obligation to one another that overshadows all of our differences: We are one in the American spirit, and like the brave people on Flight 93 who fought the terrorists as the plane crashed into Pennsylvania, we must unite to make sure that nothing like this ever occurs in our homeland again.
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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 27 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.