The youngest among us cannot understand and do not know what Tuesday, September 11, 2001, felt like.
A beautiful, early fall morning was marked with unthinkable acts of terrorism that left thousands dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our great nation reeled in disbelief as television cameras caught some of this in real-time.
Those of a certain age have only lived in a world that was shaped by that terrible day. Remnants of 9/11 still exist in many places in our society. Those who are 20 and younger have never known our nation without war. Our airports are still places of intense physical scrutiny. Many of our laws and the way we think about security were forever changed.
Those who witnessed and lived through that day were also forever changed. The world, it seems, became somewhat more perilous after that day.
Saturday is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. While we commonly remember the great, tragic event that it was, it’s also a day to recall the acts of heroism that marked that day.
In New York, some 400 firefighters, police officers and emergency workers perished at the World Trade Center as they ran into the buildings to rescue others. At the Pentagon, individuals who survived the attack ran toward the crash site to help rescue the wounded. Some believe that the hijackers on Flight 93 over Shanksville were going to crash the plane into the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Several passengers learned of the other attacks and decided to try to retake control of the plane, an act that likely led to their demise.
In addition, legions of American men and women went abroad at the beckoning of our country to help stop those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. Thousands sacrificed their lives in that effort.
The stories of some individuals have become legendary. Todd Beamer, a young father from New Jersey, is known to have led the charge aboard Flight 93. Beamer’s mantra, “let’s roll,” could be heard over an open phone line as the passengers began their assault on the hijackers. There’s no telling how many lives they saved through their actions.
In New York, a young trader named Welles Crowther, the so-called “Man in the Red Bandana,” made multiple trips into the World Trade Center to lead others to safety before meeting his fate when the towers collapsed. One eyewitness to Crowther’s heroism is quoted as saying, “he went back up, so others could come down.”
Empower will honor Welles Crowther’s heroism on November 5, 2021, at the annual Boston College Red Bandana Game, a special annual tribute held in his honor. The company will serve as the title sponsor of the game and make a financial donation to a foundation created in his honor to support the charities he cared about.
This week Empower is highlighting the work of police and firefighters with a new paper that examines their retirement needs, while including some discussion of the special challenges these heroes endure as they serve the rest of us.
Maybe the great lesson of 9/11 is that tragedies offer opportunities for heroes to lead by their example. Maybe it doesn’t take a tragedy at all, but instead every day offers an opportunity to be a hero to someone in your life.