Pine Needles Lodge in Pinehurst, North Carolina. That’s my “where”. I was attending a business meeting in a small conference room directly across the hallway from the clubhouse pro shop. At the time, I thought the agony of having to watch golfers head out to the course on a beautiful September morning while trying to pay attention to early edition PowerPoint presentations was as bad as it could get that day. Then I noticed golfers weren’t going out on the course at all. They were accumulating inside and gathering around a small television. We broke, and curious, I joined the gathering just a minute or two before the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Enough time for the initial narrative of a single, small private aircraft accident to fade into hollow feelings of fear, confusion, helplessness, horror, and ultimately anger, that this was no accident at all.
In a matter of minutes, nineteen deranged men gravely wounded the soul of a nation. They took the lives of 2977 innocent people. They took them in the most horrific way imaginable so that hundreds of millions of others were forever wounded and scarred. But in that moment, in classic American style, our people were galvanized. We came together as one. No ethnicities, no sexes, no races, no classes, no politics, no divisions at all, just Americans. We responded with empathy and strength. We gave our collective time, talents, and treasures in response to the needs of the nation and people we would never know. We mobilized and deployed a lethal response force. And we vowed to Never Forget.
Everyone old enough to remember the attacks, remembers their “where”. The exact place they stood on the morning of September 11, 2001. Their own personal Pine Needles Lodge. They remember what they were doing, the mood, the smells, the sounds. They can describe that moment in vivid detail as though it happened yesterday. But can you pinpoint the moment you began to forget? The point the momentousness of being part of America began to fade. The moment when willingness to sacrifice was replaced with selfishness. The point where trust in institutions were lost. The moment that honest disagreement with your neighbor turned to contempt. When your tribe within America became more important than America herself. When leadership was replaced with marketing. That moment when we lessened the memory of those through the centuries who gave the last full measure of devotion so that we may thrive. In so many ways we have forgotten.
Today, twenty years later, my prayer is that we truly remember the victims and the heroes that emerged from the rubble. We remember the families that still hurt a little differently than the rest of us. We honor their sacrifices and the sacrifices of those that rose to the challenge and became the enduring wall between our peaceful society and evil. I pray that we soon realize that while we have taken her for granted and sullied her reputation, America is resilient, forgiving, and remains that shining city on the hill. She is the beacon of liberty and freedom in the world that so many look to for inspiration and hope. And while we disappoint her at times, her people remain her greatest strength. I pray that we find a way to revive the powerful spirit of unity bestowed upon us following the attacks of 9/11, and that we hold true to our promise and Never Forget.
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
- Ronald Reagan