Firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts, of the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press file photo)

Firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts, of the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press file photo)

Editorial: Unforgettable stories ensure we will ‘Never Forget’

On 9/11’s 20th anniversary, we can set aside our debates to honor the day’s heroes and those who died.

By The Herald Editorial Board

It will have escaped no one that tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a field in Somerset County, Pa.

Human memory has a way of making a day such as that seem — in alternating moments — as something that happened decades ago and “just yesterday.” While those events unfolded a continent away, many in Snohomish County, will still recall the day with clarity.

The pledge to “Never Forget” is easily kept; because we can’t forget.

In part, what has kept that day fresh in our memories are the images from that day and the following weeks and months, looped repeatedly on television screens in our homes, offices and even classrooms, merged with feelings of loss, confusion, anger, uncertainty and — most starkly — fear of what might come next.

What has also kept that day’s horror near front of mind was its direct links to many of the events that would follow over the next 20 years — decisions, triumphs and further tragedies — around the world and in our own communities.

Even before the 20th anniversary, that day returned to mind last month, courtesy of more loops of video of the chaotic evacuation from the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies who had worked with the departing U.S. military during the United States’ war in Afghanistan, launched against the terrorist group that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 and the ruling leaders who provided them safe haven there.

Americans should not shy away from honest examination of the decisions before and after 9/11, those we made and those made on our behalf. We have 20 years’ worth of decisions to consider regarding our and our nation’s response to 9/11 at home and abroad.

We also would do well to recall the unity and compassion we felt — if only briefly — for our fellow Americans.

But those discussions and debates — necessary to our democracy and its responsibilities — shouldn’t distract us from the other duty inherent in our promise to “Never Forget.” Twenty years on — tomorrow — we should re-read, re-listen and remember the stories of those who died on that day, of those who lost loved ones and those of its heroes.

Among them:

Two sisters — Kathy Dillaber and Patty Mickley — who worked in separate offices a floor apart in the Pentagon. The pair met up in the building’s center court, as they often had, after news broke about the attacks in New York. Both returned to their desks, Dillaber telling her sister to keep her purse handy in case they had to evacuate. When the hijacked Flight 77 crashed into the building, Dillaber went to find her sister but was directed out of the building. Days later Mickley’s body was identified.

Six New York City firefighters from Chinatown’s Ladder Co. 6, who ran into the world Trade Center’s north tower to help workers down from upper floors and met up near the 14th or 15 floor with Josephine Harris. She had picked her way down from the 73rd floor, standing but exhausted. As the firefighters coaxed and carried Harris down the remaining flights, the building collapsed around them, leaving only a few floors of stairwell standing, surrounded by rubble but protecting Harris and her rescuers.

The seven crew members and 37 passengers of Flight 93, who during their hijacking, learned of the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, and correctly anticipated their hijackers’ plans. Passengers and flight attendants confronted the hijackers, attempting to regain control of the plane. During the struggle, the terrorists nosed the jet toward the ground, crashing it in the Pennsylvania field. While passengers and the crew were unaware of the intended target, it’s believed their sacrifice saved lives either at the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

There are stories and memories for each of the 2,977 lost on 9/11 and more for those who ran to their rescue.

Each story, whether remembered among the public or just among family, is unforgettable.

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