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The heroes who died just doin' what they do…

Published in Blog on September 11, 2023 by Jakob Fay

Did you burst out with pride for the red, white, and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do? 

These lines from Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” have haunted and inspired me for as long as I can remember.

I wasn’t alive on September 11, 2001. I would be born less than a year later. The events of that day made my parents question the world they were bringing their children into—a world filled with uncertainty, where the future seemed bleak.

Accordingly, I remember learning about 9/11 at a young age. My parents did not want me to ever forget what happened to us as a nation that day. Now, it saddens me to see how many of my peers have more than just forgotten—they are almost apathetic. 

SEE ALSO: The real reason we must never forget

The Bible imparts valuable wisdom about remembering the past. In his letter to Corinth, Paul recounts Jewish history, reasoning it was recorded to be an example to modern readers.

"Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,”
he wrote.

Basically, man is prone to think he stands on his own two feet, Paul argued. In reality, we are all only byproducts of those who came before us. Thus, he admonished us to remember where we have come from lest we forget that the past is the grounds on which the present is built and lose sight of where we are going.

For this reason, many historians have soundly rejected the idea of the “self-made man or woman. We love that expression, we Americans,” opined David McCullough. "But everyone who’s ever lived has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, hindered by other people.”

My parents knew this. Therefore, for them, not remembering 9/11 wasn’t an option.

SEE ALSO: WATCH: It's time to reunite the United States

Last week, I emphasized the importance of recalling the unity, faith, and patriotism that carried us through that dark period. However, it's equally crucial to remember the individual heroes—their names, their stories, and their sacrifices. These heroes had a profound impact on our lives, and we owe it to them to remember.

Imagine a different scenario in which fear and cowardice defined the response to the 9/11 attacks. The story of that day would be drastically different. Yet, that's not what happened; it's not the American way.

Rather, everyday men and women, working everyday jobs, became extraordinary heroes “just doin’ what they do.” They did not set out to save the world. They simply set out to do their jobs—and that is exactly what they did.

Kissing their wives goodbye and hugging their children that morning—just as they would any other day—those men never could have imagined how much their heroism would cost them. In a moment’s time, they were presented with a choice: a choice between cowardice and courage. Self-preservation and self-sacrifice.

They had no time to weigh the options. No time to count the cost. They simply had to choose. And somehow, remarkably, they chose the latter: they chose courage and self-sacrifice.

SEE ALSO: I set out to learn what holds the COS grassroots together. Here's what I discovered.

One such hero was Firefighter Stephen Gerard Siller, “off duty and on his way to play golf with his [brothers] when he heard the news of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center…. Immediately abandoning his plans, Stephen drove to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was closed for security purposes and as a result strapped 60lbs of equipment on his back and ran on foot to the Twin Towers to assist his emergency services colleagues.” Calling his wife, Stephen asked her to inform his brothers he might run late to their game.

He was never seen again.

Stephen Gerard Siller did not have to die. He did not have to make that choice; no one expected him to. He was under no obligation—only his courage compelled him to act.

“Uncommon valor was a common virtue," said Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of those who fought at Iwo Jima. If I may, I would apply that fitting portrait to the heroes of September 11th, 2001, too. What men like Stephen did that day was unnatural. It defies all human logic. It deserves to be remembered, celebrated, and honored. Of all the words to describe 9/11, "cowardice" is not among them, thanks to these remarkable individuals.

And if that does not make you burst out in pride for the red, white, and blue, I don’t know what will.

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