From the Editor’s Desk: Remembering September 11, 2001Posted on September 10,2021
Recently, when the Leatherneck staff was discussing the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my mind immediately went back to that day. I remember it vividly— the fear, the confusion, the horror, the unknown, and most of all in my case, the luck. My husband was a lieutenant colonel assigned as a watch officer in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the Pentagon. One of my brothers worked for a company headquartered in the World Trade Center. Unlike the thousands of Americans who we lost that dreadful day, my loved ones were not harmed. My husband had been on the night shift at the NMCC so he was home at the time of the attack; my brother had moved to a different office building the month before. Among the many prayers I said that night, there were several of thanks; I knew how lucky my family was.
That doesn’t mean I was unaffected. As a 15-year Marine stationed in the National Capital Region, I knew dozens of people who worked in the Pentagon and had prayed throughout the day as one by one, I learned that my fellow Marines were all safe. Others were not so blessed; the Navy Command Center lost more than 30 people, active-duty, civil servants and contractors, when their office spaces took a direct hit during the Pentagon attack.
But there was good that came out of that horrible day; the country was more united that it had been since the days of World War II. Patriotism was evident everywhere as was kindness and empathy. Even those not directly impacted felt a kinship with their fellow Americans. Donations to the families of those killed in New York, Virginia, and on the hijacked aircraft that crashed in Shanksville, Pa., were well into the tens of millions. For a few days at least, there was no partisanship—we were all Americans first and foremost. In many ways, we embodied all that is the best of this experiment in democracy.
The impact of that fateful day still resonates 20 years later. The military’s defining engagements of the last two decades in Afghanistan and Iraq are a direct result of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the number of Americans lost fighting in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom number well into the thousands—more than double those lost in the attacks themselves. How many others took a different path in life as the result of seeing those planes hit the towers and Pentagon? I know of at least one. The brother I mentioned who had switched offices before the attack lost many friends when the towers fell, and subsequently enlisted in the Navy Reserve as an intel analyst at the ripe old age of 35 to honor his friends.
Leatherneck is commemorating that fateful day with the reprinting of “Instincts Told Them to Flee—Regardless, Marines Went Forward Into a ‘Hellish Place’ ” on page 36, an account of what some of the Marines stationed at the Pentagon went through in their valiant attempts to help those who had been injured. The article is heartwarming, awful, tearjerking, and motivating all at the same time— kind of like that day itself. Sept. 11, 2001, was one of the worst days in the history of the United States but it also brought out the best in so many. And while reminding us that evil still exists in the world, it also reminded us that the men and women of the United States of America, her servicemembers in particular, and, of course, her Marines are ready to defend this country and take the fight to the far reaches of the earth in defense of our Nation, our Constitution and democracy itself.
Sept. 11, 2001, was one of the worst days in the history of the United States but it also brought out the best in so many. And while reminding us that evil still exists in the world, it also reminded us that the men and women of the United States of America, her servicemembers in particular, and, of course, her Marines are ready to defend this country and take the fight to the far reaches of the earth in defense of our Nation, our Constitution and democracy itself.
Mary H. Reinwald
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)