By Lisa Whaley

It’s hard to imagine that most of the children sitting in school today were not even alive on Sept. 11, 2001.

My youngest daughter, a little more than a year old, was at her grandmother’s while I worked. My oldest was a kindergartener in school at Lamar.

Neither remember much, if anything, of that day.

But I do. And I’m sure you do, as well.

On that morning of Sept. 11, 16 years ago next week, we as a nation stood transfixed as first one plane, and then another flew into the World Trade Center.

We watched the news in horror as more reports surfaced. The attack on the Pentagon. Another plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. Possible ties to terrorists.. And we finally recognized that we as a people were no longer immune to the world’s dangers.

But we also discovered something about ourselves. In the rubble of 9/11, we discovered what it meant to be Americans.

Of the 3,000 people killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., more than 400 were police officers and firefighters, running fearlessly into danger to save others, not away from danger to save themselves.

They included   343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors.

Sept. 11 is still listed as the deadliest day in history for New York City firefighters.

They were our heroes.

But there was more. 

On Flight 93, a California-bound United Airlines plane hijacked less than an hour after leaving its New Jersey Airport, a group of brave passengers began to recognize some grave truths about their situation. They learned of the other attacks. And they chose to run to the danger.

According to news reports, one of the passengers, Thomas Burnett Jr., told his wife via cell phone that they knew they were going to die, but they had decided to do something about it.

“I love you, hon,” he said. Then another passenger, Todd Beamer, was heard to say, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

Minutes later, the plane crashed into a  Pennsylvania field, killing all on board but injuring no one on the ground.

Some reports indicate the plane was heading for the White House.

These are the stories that need to be repeated. These are the reports that should never be forgotten.

This Monday, at 7 p.m., at Unicoi County High School, area churches will host a special Patriot Day service to say thank you to our first responders.

It is well deserved and long overdue. But hopefully, it will also remind us of who we are as Americans.

We need more of this – not only the appreciation for those who put themselves in danger for our safety, but also the pride in who we are and who we can be.

Those are the real lessons of 9/11. May we never forget them.