Like everyone, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it’s been ten years. Not when so much of what we all felt still feels fresh; so many of the memories vivid. It’s the people that I remember most.
In Long Beach and all of our neighboring towns, September 11 was never about an event. It was about the people. Friends and neighbors, lives lost and lives changed. That’s what’s stuck with me.
There was the wife I met who wasn’t ready to acknowledge that she might be a widow while eight-months pregnant and hopeful that, three days after 9/11, her husband was still going to come walking through the front door. There was the mother who paused during an interview to offer a gentle reminder that her son was merely “missing.” The fiancée who seemed to greet everyone she met with a reassuring smile. And the brother missing his best friend.
In later weeks and months, it was the Wall Street employee who didn’t like being “kicked out” of his neighborhood. And the one who would go on to start a new life an ocean away. The EMT overcome by guilt. And the firefighter who responded on his day off, only to be stricken by lung disease years later.
There were also the recovery workers whose story we told on the one-year anniversary, like the crane operator who spent his 12-hour shifts lifting tons of twisted steel, an occasional body part, and sometimes an odd memento. Mementoes like the key chain that came all the way down from the gift shop on the World Trade Center’s observation deck. It fell 110 stories among fire and steel, but months later was found lying in the debris without a single scratch on it. A few weeks before I left for basic training in the military, he gave me that key chain, which I’ve carried with me every mile I’ve traveled since, home and abroad.
I looked out at my soldiers today, just before sending them all home for the weekend. It was hard to grasp the fact that so many of them have only childhood memories of September 11. They’ve literally grown up in a time of war, and then volunteered to do their part in a fight that began before most of them were even in high school.
And then I looked at the sergeants, veterans of multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom have been a part of this fight for all of the past ten years. They have every right to be tired, worn out, ready to go do something else away from the Army. And yet there they are, still going after it, training their soldiers to go out and do the job they, themselves, were doing just a few tours ago. I’ve never been as proud as I am when I stand among these men, and thank God our country has them.
I feel like this year has finally brought some semblance of closure. The new World Trade Center is going up, and the bastard who brought the last ones down is swimming with the fish. But we have no doubt that there’s still a long fight ahead of us. The soldiers I looked at today know it, but also know exactly what they’re fighting for, even if they didn’t understand it ten years ago. We haven’t won yet, but we know we will.
This weekend I’ll remember the ones we lost on the Sept. 11, 2001, as well as those who gave all in the fight since. But rather than mourn them — to paraphrase an old general — I’ll thank God that such men lived. And pray that through their efforts America will never have another day like the one we remember now.
* Keith Grant was the editor of the Long Beach Herald at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He has served in the U.S. Army since 2003, and is currently an Infantry captain with the 101st Airborne Division at FT Campbell, KY.