“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
Rudyard Kipling’s words bring the subject of September the 11th 2001 into the clearest of focus possible and necessary.
Lest we forget… The Ironworkers of New York’s Local 40, members ran to the site when the towers fell. They pitched in on rescue, then stayed for eight months to deconstruct a skyscraper some of them had helped build 35 years before.
An ironworker named Jim Gaffney said, “My partner kept telling me the buildings are coming down and I’m saying ‘no way.’ Then we heard that noise that I will never forget. It was like a creaking and then the next thing you felt the ground rumbling.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani said it was like an earthquake.
Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan’s son, then a teenager in a high school across the river from the towers, heard the first plane go in at 8:45 a.m. It sounded, he said, like a heavy truck going hard over a big street grate. Lest we forget… The sounds that came from within the buildings and within the planes—the phone calls and messages left on answering machines, all the last things said to whoever was home and picked up the phone… Something terrible had happened. Life was reduced to its essentials.
Thirty-one-year-old Melissa Harrington, a California-based trade consultant at a meeting in the towers, called her father to say she loved him. Minutes later she left a message on the answering machine as her new husband slept in their San Francisco home.
“Sean, it’s me, she said. “I just wanted to let you know I love you.” Capt. Walter Hynes of the New York Fire Department’s Ladder 13 dialed home that morning as his rig left the firehouse at 85th Street and Lexington Avenue. He was on his way downtown, he said in his message, things are bad. “I don’t know if we’ll make it out. I want to tell you that I love you and I love the kids.”
Lest we forget… Firemen don’t become firemen because they’re pessimists. Imagine being a guy who feels in his gut he’s going to his death, and he calls on the way to say goodbye and make things clear. His widow later told the Associated Press she’d played his message hundreds of times and made copies for their kids. “He was thinking about us in those final moments.”
Elizabeth Rivas saw it that way too. When her husband left for the World Trade Center that morning, she went to a Laundromat, where she heard the news. She couldn’t reach him by cell and rushed home. He’d called at 9:02 and reached her daughter. The child reported, “He say, mommy, he say he love you no matter what happens, he loves you.
Lest we forget… That moment when Todd Beamer of United 93 wound up praying on the phone with a woman he’d never met before, a Verizon Airborne supervisor named Lisa Jefferson. She said later that his tone was calm. It seemed as if they were “old friends,” she later wrote. They said the Lord’s Prayer together. Then he said, “Let’s roll.”
I love Peggy Noonan’s words here… People are often stronger than they know, bigger, more heroic than they’d guess. Men and women, who began their day at a desk or in an airport, busy with life. Passengers who defied their murderers, and prevented the murder of others on the ground. Men and women who wore the uniform of the United States, and died at their posts. Rescuers, the ones whom death found running up the stairs and into the fires to help others. We have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country.
Though these words were written in the context of a Civil War Battlefield by a President who wanted to bring healing and perspective to the occasion of dedicating a National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln in 1863 reminded Americans then and today of the importance of holding carefully and communicating clearly our history… listen to his words, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
For the sake of our children and grandchildren, for the sake of all who follow in our footsteps, for the sake of what our nation can be…We simply cannot afford to forget!