9-11: I’ll Never Forget

9-11 Collage

For several years now, on 9-11, I’ve used a variation of this picture as my profile pic on Facebook.

Almost 3,000 tiny dots all jammed into a space, a mosaic of black, white and brown.

It takes a moment to realize that each white line frames a face.

And that every speck of color is a person.

I use this photo because it offers a haunting perspective of how many innocent people were murdered on that bright September morning.

When the picture is thumbnail-sized, it doesn’t look like anything but a solid gray smudge. And when you consider how most of these victims died, that’s rather appropriate, in a terribly morbid way. So much of New York City was covered in ashen gray for such a dreadfully long time.

I share these two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-seven tiny, tiny squares, because I worry that we’re beginning to forget that each one holds someone’s child, spouse, parent, sibling, lover, friend. The evil that gleefully slayed them grows with every passing year and they have never stopped lusting for more of our blood.

I fear that my government is far too eager to appease those who would love nothing more than to wreak an even greater havoc on my beloved nation. On me. On you. On our babies.

So, I don’t forget what we’re up against. I won’t. I can’t. I pray that you never will, either.

I want to share one of my favorite pieces ever written about 9-11. It’s from what I refer to as “my” book, because it includes a piece that I wrote. Operation Homecoming is one powerful collection of true stories that I believe belongs in every American’s personal library. It will make you weep, probably infuriate you and will definitely crack you up. And since Kindles weren’t around when it was published, I think you should click that link and order the Kindle version for yourself. There’s no better day than today to begin reading it.

Because this is how it begins…

I remember the golden globe in the vast courtyard between the two buildings and a spattering fountain next to cold stone benches. Inside, I would look up in awe at the cathedral-like glass, the suspended walkways, and the grand, vaulted ceilings rising ten stories, crowned with a diadem of crystal chandeliers. I remember the large fabric hanging artwork. I can still smell the concourse level’s red carpets when they were new. I was eleven. I remember sitting on those red carpets with my schoolbooks, imagining I was in the city’s most elegant reading room.

Now, up there on floors so high no hook and ladder could ever reach, a man in a tattered and burned white business shirt stands in a broken window with flames licking at him and smoke billowing around him. I see someone let go, briefly flying. I read later hundreds did the same. Hundreds.

I remember spending many summer afternoons and twilights as a teenager sitting on top of the South Tower, sometimes reading poetry or a book, the raucous sound of the city muted and far below. I was listening only to the air passing by me, my mind wandering.

A second plane slams into the South Tower. The explosion sounds like thunder.

I remember closing my eyes outside in the open air up there and feeling the sun’s warmth on my face. No matter how hot it was on those city streets below, there were always cool breezes at more than a thousand feet up. The Tower would gently sway from the wind. It was unnerving at first, but after a while, I remember feeling comforted like a child being rocked back and forth. I wasn’t worried she’d tip over. Ever.

The president addresses the nation and the world. He says to us, the armed forces, “Be ready.”

I am.

-Petty Officer First Class Gregory S. Cleghorne