How We Should Remember September 11

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A New York Firefighter mourns during a funeral service.

The date Sept. 11 will forever evoke in the hearts and minds of all Americans' recollections of unimaginable tragedy, of lives callously and brutally cut short, of unspeakable horror and sorrow. And that is as it should be — we must never forget the depths of inhumanity to which terrorist fanatics are willing to sink in the name of their depraved cause, and we must never lose sight of why we were attacked.

It had nothing to do, as some would have us believe, with what America had done wrong. It had everything to do with what America does right; living by and insisting on the principles of freedom and democracy on which this great nation was founded, guaranteeing every citizen freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

How 9/11 Changed My Life

In their own words

The Survivor

• The Burden of The Living
An executive made it to safety, but is wracked with guilt knowing his firefighter brother-in-law did not

The Widow

• Death in the Public Eye
An actress accustomed to exposure is stunned by the very public death of her husband

The Firefighter

• It Was All Part of the Job
A lieutenant with the FDNY survives that day, only to be forced into retirement due to crippling lung problems

The City Councilor

• The War Zone
The politican responsible for the World Trade Center's district went from worrying about potholes to worrying about poisonous air

The Cop

•The Darkest Moment
After spending months raking debris for remains, an NYPD officer finds solace in therapy

The Complete Coverage

The 5th Anniversary of September 11


•Photo Essay: 9/11 First Responders
September 11th has left its mark on these heroes

•Photo Essay: 9/11 The Turning Point
How Americans have tried to commemorate the tragedy across the nation

•Video: Memories In The Landscape
Historian Niall Ferguson looks at the effects of 9/11 from the year 2031

To religious fanatics bent on killing those who worship differently, to fundamentalist zealots committed so fervently to hatred, oppression and tyranny, our freedom represents the ultimate threat. That is why we were attacked, and that is why each Sept. 11, we Americans should, even as we remember the devastation and heartbreak, take pause to appreciate and recommit ourselves to the freedom that is at the heart of our American nation.

And as we do so, let us also recall the incredible unity, selflessness and heroism that was evident all across America and in Lower Manhattan that day, and in the days and weeks that followed.

The courage and valor of the thousands of emergency responders, for example — not just from New York and New Jersey, but across our entire nation — set a new standard for heroism the world over. Those heroes — men and women who willingly thrust themselves into dangers path on the chance they could save a single life — shall forever be worthy of Americas deepest respect, admiration and gratitude. Those who were lost in that noble effort, and all those police officers, EMTs and firefighters who continue to protect, defend and support Americans today, are our truest exemplars of courage, duty and selflessness, and what better time than Sept.11 to remember that.

But it wasnt just the brave men and women in uniform who helped New York and America transcend the evil wrought by the enemies of freedom that day. It was also the thousands of ordinary Americans who did the extraordinary — on the streets of Lower Manhattan, in the nations capital and in skies over Pennsylvania.

In New York, it was the people I saw standing 500 deep to give blood to those who might need it. It was the off-duty doctors and nurses tending to the injured in cars, vans and alleyways. It was the strangers carrying the disabled, elderly, young and injured to safety. It was the legions of concerned Americans rushing not away from Ground Zero, but to Ground Zero, eager to help their neighbors any way they could.

That is the spirit of unity, courage and compassion that defines the American people. Let us always observe Sept. 11 as a day to remember the innocent victims, to recall the tragically shortened lives that enriched so many and to pay homage to the heroes who responded.

But at the same time, let us always recall Sept. 11, 2001, as the day America showed what makes us a great people and a great nation; the day that the true character of a great people triumphed over unspeakable evil; the day that freedom and democracy prevailed yet again over oppression and tyranny.

Next: Five Survivors: In Their Own Words >>