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Remember the first responders, not the politicians

by Mike McFeely

Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001, when planes flown by terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and, because of the heroic actions of hijacked passengers, a field in Pennsylvania? That is the question of the day on the 12th anniversary of that pivotal day in U.S. history.

My story, admittedly, is neither dramatic nor poignant nor all that interesting. With a 7-month-old daughter who was not yet sleeping through the night, I was sleeping the morning of Sept. 11. I didn't find out what was going on until mid-morning when I had awaken and was groggily taking Emma to day-care.

Much of the early information I received came from KFGO. Ed Schultz, then the morning host of "News and Views," was broadcasting from the Capitol office building in Washington, D.C., that day and provided some truly dramatic broadcasting. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, sure, but I distinctly recall Ed painting a picture of the drama, uncertainty and grim nature of that day in the nation's capital.

I always feel like I need to mark anniversaries of big days in U.S. history by doing something. Hey, I even took time on my radio show once to mark the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the greatest speech in American history. 

On this anniversary, Sept. 11, I always make sure to point out that the heroes were not the politicians or pundits or speechmakers. The heroes were those who died and their families, particularly the first responders who were running toward danger when everybody else was running away.

Anyway, here is a video tribute of 9/11 that includes both video and still photos (many are graphic). And below the video is a column by Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaperman Leonard Pitts, then of the Miami Herald, which I've always believed summed up the feelings of the nation in the wake of the attacks. The column was written Sept. 11 and ran in the print edition of the Herald on Sept. 12.

We'll go forward from this moment  

It's my job to have something to say.
They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing 
I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you 
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, 
capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae - a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the 
ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though - 
peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people - you, perhaps - think that any or all of this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that 
this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable 
final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world. You've bloodied us as 
we have never been bloodied before.
But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last 
time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any 
suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening 
again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably 
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this day, the family's bickering is put 
on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. 
And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.

 (Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)