COPE: Reflections From an American Born on 9/11

A YAF "9/11: Never Forget Project" display at Clemson University, September 2010. Photo Credit: Tiger Town Observer

Originally appeared on Lone Conservative on September 11, 2021. 

Opinions expressed within are the property of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any other member or the Tiger Town Observer itself. 

I am one of 13,238 Americans born on September 11, 2001. Today, on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I celebrate my twentieth birthday.

I didn’t live through the terror attacks of 9/11 or watch them unfold on live news, but my life has been shaped by Americans sharing their own experiences of that day with me. As a child, whenever an adult asked when my birthday was, I waited only moments after responding “September 11th” to see the shock register across their faces. Sometimes they’d shake their heads and say something along the lines of “September 11, 2001? That was a crazy day…” Sometimes, more often than not, they would respond with “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

But many times, when Americans hear that my birthday is September 11, they volunteer a story of exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment the news of the terror attacks reached them. Even now, at twenty years old, they still do. Nearly every American, whether they were seven years old or forty on 9/11, can tell me where they were on a Tuesday morning in September twenty years ago, the day I was born. I don’t remember the first time I learned about the terror attacks of 9/11 because it has always been a part of the story of my birthday.

All totaled, America lost 2,974 civilian lives that day. And according to the 20th Anniversary Special Report from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, “more people are now believed to have died of 9/11-related illnesses than were lost on September 11, 2001.”

For twenty years, 9/11 has been a historical date spoken of with sadness, regret, anguish, scorn, realism, commemoration, and patriotism. I have witnessed the entire spectrum of human emotion when this date becomes a topic of discussion. 9/11 means many things to many Americans as they personally watched these events unfold somewhere in the world.

YAF’s “9/11: Never Forget Project” at Clemson, Sept. 2011. Photo Credit: Tiger Town Observer

Just as the Greatest Generation never forgot where they were on Pearl Harbor Day, the generations who came before me will never forget the moment 9/11 forever changed them.

I sometimes feel the need to come to my birthday’s defense when people express sympathy at sharing a joyful occasion with a somber day in American history. After all, I always thought, though we never forget the horror of that day, we also never forget our compatriots. By never forgetting 9/11, we venerate our heroes, commemorate the loved ones they left behind, and show allegiance to this shining city on a hill. All of that is still true.

Growing up, as I learned more about the meaning of my birthday, my parents told me I was a bright light on a dark day. They instilled in me that Americans have the strength to look terrorism in the eye with optimism and new life.

Yet in the past twenty years, Americans have lost a hopefulness – maybe even a naivete – that shaped the days and weeks and months following September 11th.

I own a September 2002 special edition periodical from Life Magazine titled “The American Spirit: Meeting the Challenge of September 11.” In a feature about Afghanistan, one headline reads: “America and its allies root out a terrorist enemy, and along the way free an oppressed people.” I’m no geopolitical expert, but nineteen years later, I know this to be untrue.

In recent weeks, one devastating loss after another brought a precipitous end to what some are describing as “America’s longest war.” Of the 13 U.S. service members killed at the Kabul Airport attack on August 26, 2021, five were my age – just twenty years old. A war that began in 2001, the year they came into this world, cost them their lives twenty years later.  I’m told that a war that spanned my entire life just came to an end, and I can’t help but lament that there are no Times Square celebrations marking the end of a war for these heroes.

My birthday exists as a turning point for most Americans. Americans are still at a loss for how to face those awful moments in our history. It is a moment, a day, that has followed us for twenty years.

Americans like to say we will “Never Forget” September 11th, 2001. If I remember anything on my birthday, I hope to remember that my heroes do not reside in the White House. My heroes are the first responders on 9/11, the ones who raised the flag at Ground Zero, and the ones who gave their lives. They are the civilians who gained control of Flight 93 and said “let’s roll.” They are the service members, over 7,000 of them, who paid the ultimate price in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, as I celebrate twenty years of life, I will also remember I am blessed to be American. That is something I will never take for granted about my birthday. That is something I hope to never forget.


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