September 11, 2001: Our First Duty Is To Remember

Remembering September 11Across the world this week people have been remembering the cataclysmic events that occurred on September 11, 2001; the day terrorists used commercial aircraft as bombs, killing thousands.

Yet in spite of the horrific nature of the bombings and the earth-shattering consequences brought about by these extremist criminals, I have to wonder if the distracted and desensitized American public has truly internalized the magnitude of these crimes.

As I think back 12 years to that day and the weeks that followed, I remember there was a ground swell of patriotism and a “one-for-all” attitude that I have personally never seen before or after that event.

I’ll never forget the number of American flags flying in the weeks after the bombings. Whole streets were lined with them in a unifying expression of common loss. For a time we weren’t “hyphenated-Americans,” we were all simply Americans.

But then, after a relatively short period of time, we settled back into our lives, into our comfort zones, into the old habits. After seeing those aircraft crashing into the twin towers over and over and over again on TV, it all seemed like a scene from an upcoming action movie; it was less and less stomach-turning.

We all started going back to our regularly scheduled programs.

Now, 12 years later, as I listen to politicians and pundits waxing eloquently on the subject and how we should all feel about it, I wonder: how do the majority of Americans really feel about it?

Is it a perfunctory, obligatory acknowledgement that it happened?

Or is it the gut-wrenching, knee-buckling agony we all felt when we saw those towers fall; when we saw the smoke and dust rolling out, covering everybody and everything; when we witnessed those fellow Americans plunging to their death from the towers; when we saw the Pentagon collapsed; when we saw the wreckage of that jet liner in Pennsylvania?

I have seen this type of conditioned apathy before.

In October 1983 I was involved in the Beirut Bombing where Islamic extremists bombed a Marine headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 service men; the French headquarters was hit at the same time by the same terrorists, killing 58 troops.

I saw the death and destruction up close and personal; I witnessed the momentary outrage of the American public, then the fading of the event back into the obscure pages of history where its lessons lay hidden still today.

Forgotten is the fact that the same terrorist groups, indeed, some of the very same terrorists involved in the 1983 bombings were involved in the 2001 terrorism and continue to wreak havoc today.

Had we learned the lesson in 1983 – had we stood our ground against terrorism in Beirut – would the events of September 11, 2001 have happened? Some of us think not.

Since 1983 and since 2001 the world has witnessed innumerable acts of terrorism around the world. Each one of these should be remembered, not just one day of the year and not just by a few politicians getting press time, but each and every day by each and every one of us. It is a lot to ask of people, but the alternative of continually allowing these events to fade into history is unacceptable.

Each and every one of us lived September 11, 2001; we saw it, we endured it, we survived it and we moved on.

But in my humble opinion, we cannot simply move on; our adversaries won’t allow it and in fact will take advantage of us if we do. Apathy and ignorance will not neutralize the threat.

So this week, and every week, my personal call to action is to thank as many soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard personnel as I can; to congratulate each first responder I see; to appreciate each day that I can walk freely knowing there are countless unseen people doing their jobs in order that I can do so.

Each day I will try to stop at some point in my day and remember the people who have died in this effort, including those 3,000 whose lives were lost on September 11, 2001 so that the evil face of terrorism could be shown to the world for what it really is; so that the on-going Global War on Terrorism could be fought.

I will do this because I believe that, at the very least, the first duty of every American is to remember.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email