On this anniversary, we cannot help but relive the pain we experienced as a nation when nearly 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered in cold blood.
It isn’t pleasant remembering that day, but we would be remiss if we did not honor them.
We owe it to the dead to never forget because they died for us. As Abraham Lincoln said of those who fought and died at Gettysburg, it is “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” We owe it to the living because there is (strange as it may sound) a silver lining in the dark cloud that cast its dreadful shadow that day.
I’m talking about the shining light of incredible courage that was demonstrated by hundreds of ordinary Americans. On that day we discovered unknown heroes hidden in our midst.
Who could forget Todd Beamer, a businessman on United Airlines Flight 93, who shouted “Let’s roll!” as he and his fellow passengers rushed the cockpit to subdue a group of hijackers. Their jet crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., saving an indeterminable number of Americans.
Hundreds of miles away at the site of the burning World Trade Center, more heroes emerged. There was Father Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest who, upon hearing the news of the attack, hurried to the burning towers to administer the last rites of his faith to the dying. Tragically, he soon found himself among them.
|Heroes carry the fallen Father Mychal Judge on 9/11.
When I remember the heroic Americans of 9/11, I see them not as civilians but as citizen soldiers who were thrust unexpectedly into a war they never saw coming. They remind me of the brave soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day in World War II.
The opening of the film "Saving Private Ryan" depicts these intrepid men — their average age was just 19 — being cut to pieces by enemy gunfire as Eisenhower’s “Great Crusade” began the liberation of Europe.
Standing next to these remarkably brave D-Day soldiers are the equally sturdy, unwavering New York City firefighters of 9/11, who likewise stared into the face of death and deliberately put themselves in harm’s way.
Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as “grace under pressure,” and those words certainly apply to the 343 firefighters and paramedics who made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me that day. From my perspective, we have never sufficiently honored these fallen firefighters — and rescue workers, police officers and the many other first responders of 9/11 — who voluntarily gave their lives to save others.
I believe such deserving heroes should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor so that we might officially recognize their unsurpassed courage.
While we are paying tribute, we must not forget those who followed them — the over 6,100 soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect us, not to mention the thousands more who have been seriously wounded.
We can never forget the immense cost that others have paid so that we might go about our lives in peace and prosperity.
Like the Americans who fought and died at Valley Forge, Antietam, and Iwo Jima and hundreds of other bloody battlefields since the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired at Lexington in 1775, the heroes of 9/11 should never be forgotten.
They represent what is best about our country — the willingness among our people to make immense sacrifices to defend our national ideals of liberty and justice.
Beyond this, the heroes of 9/11 are exemplars of an even greater ideal, one which even if we fail to reach, all of us should at least strive to attain.
It is an ideal succinctly stated by Jesus in the Gospel of St. John: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends” — a fitting epitaph for Todd Beamer, Father Judge, the New York City firefighters, and all the rest who fell that day to save their distant neighbors, many people they did not know but loved nonetheless.
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Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc.
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