According to the “experts,” anyone older than 10 will remember traumatic events for the rest of their lives. That’s certainly true of the thousands of World War II veterans and family members I have met doing interviews for our “War Stories” series on Fox News Channel. All of them can recall where they were when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, whom they were with and what was said. It should be the same for the terror attack nine years ago on Sept. 11.
My friend Tom Kilgannon, president of Freedom Alliance, and I clearly remember all those things and more about that terrible day. At 8:30 a.m., we boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 238 in Detroit, headed for Reagan National Airport. Fifteen minutes later, the aircraft lifted off on time, and we headed south toward our nation’s capital in a cloudless blue sky. We never arrived at our intended destination.
Shortly before we were due to land at Reagan Airport, the captain announced over the public address system that the aircraft was being diverted to land at nearby Dulles International Airport — but offered no explanation as to why. Tom, who was sitting across the aisle from me, soon gave us the answer.
“As we began our descent into Dulles International Airport, I checked my pager,” he recalled. “Young people today forget this was before BlackBerrys and iPhones were available. The screen on my pager was full of breaking news alerts:
“‘Plane Crashes into World Trade Center.’
“‘Second Plane Crashes into World Trade Center.’
“‘Fireball Reported at Pentagon.’
“‘Car Bombs Reported at State Department and Capitol Hill.’
“These and other headlines flashed across my pager. We now know that in the haste to report the horrible events of that morning, some of those initial accounts turned out to be inaccurate, but when I showed you my pager, I said, ‘Oh, dear God, I think America is under attack.’ Other passengers — having recognized you at the boarding gate and aboard the flight — inquired what was going on. That’s how we — and most of them — learned what had happened.”
Shortly after Tom showed me the electronic messages, the captain addressed the passengers from the cockpit. He informed us that multiple terror attacks had taken place while we were en route to Washington and that when we landed at Dulles, we were to immediately exit the aircraft and be escorted out of the closed airport terminal.
Outside, there was a palpable sense of anxious calm and cooperation among thousands of stranded passengers. Americans who barely knew one another shared cabs. Locals offered overnight accommodations to those marooned in an unfamiliar city. Cell phones — less ubiquitous then than they are today — were shared easily. Like millions of our fellow countrymen, we had to dial dozens of times to let family members and other loved ones know we were safe.
Tom and I got separated in the crowd. He walked two miles to the Freedom Alliance offices. I grabbed a cab and — after offering a significant tip — persuaded the driver to try to take me to the Fox News bureau on Capitol Hill, even though Washington was being evacuated. With the help of the Virginia State Police and a Metropolitan Police Department officer, I got there and confirmed what most of the world already knew: American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, both hijacked from Boston’s Logan Airport, had been turned into flaming kamikazes, slamming into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. American Flight 77, outbound from Dulles to Los Angeles, had struck the west side of the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 — from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco — had crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pa.
We soon learned this horrific carnage was perpetrated by 19 radical Islamists dispatched by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. We know that despite extraordinary courage and compassion displayed by first responders, 3,023 innocent men, women and children were killed or died of injuries. Most Americans never will forget what happened that terrible day.
But not all. This week, the flight I took from California was full of young people headed for college in Washington, D.C. I asked several how much they remembered of the events of 9/11. They all recalled seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television. Some recollected Todd Beamer’s leading the rebellion on Flight 93. Only one of them knew we went to war in Afghanistan less than a month later. All the rest thought we went to war in Iraq first.
Apparently, a good number of our elected and appointed leaders think we have forgotten what really happened on Sept. 11, 2001 — and the radical Islamists who started this war. That’s why they feel free to endorse the erection of a mosque just a few hundred feet from ground zero in Manhattan. And that’s why they ignored this week’s indictment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that “international sanctions” have failed to prevent the radical Islamist regime in Iran from building nuclear weapons.
Those who think we have forgotten 9/11 are wrong. And on Nov. 2, just 52 days after this year’s anniversary of that awful event, they will see just how well many of us remember.