The 20 Year Tragedy

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11, 2001)--Coast Guard crew members patrol the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

U.S. COAST GUARD DIGITAL

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11, 2001)–Coast Guard crew members patrol the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Gabriella Raspa, Staff Writer

I remember where I was on that tragic day 20 years ago.

Like any other weekday, I was on the school bus. Still considered the new kid in town, having recently moved from North Jersey, I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a few of my classmates. I heard one of them say, “It’s terrorists.” Being somewhat sheltered and very naive, I had no idea what the word terrorists meant. Of course, I was about to learn about a world where terrorists exist.

Many lives were altered after Sept. 11, 2001. My cousin John’s life was changed forever.

John worked for an accounting firm in the North Tower. Up until that day, he was lucky enough to work with his two best friends. They had been best friends since preschool. An airplane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. between floors 93-99 on Sept. 11, 2001. My cousin and his friends worked on a very high floor, not far below where the plane hit.

They began evacuating, running down the stairwell. In a moment, burned into John’s brain forever, his friends made the decision to return to the office. For what reason, we’ll never know, they thought it was safe to go back upstairs. These men were two of the 2,977 people that perished that day.

My cousin John chose not to return to the office with them. He continued to evacuate. When he arrived at the 46th floor, he ran into a woman who was 8 months pregnant. As she attempted to evacuate, she struggled to get down the stairs. In a moment of adrenaline and heroism, John picked her up and carried her down 46 flights of stairs and safely outside. I don’t know this woman and she doesn’t know John, but she went on the news to thank him. She said, “I don’t know who you are but thank you for saving my life.” She wanted to name her child after him but John never revealed his identity to her.

This is one story and there are thousands more like this. John refuses to talk about the events of that day and the days following. He left New York and moved out west to California. Some memories are just too painful to replay or have reminders of on a daily basis.

It’s been 20 years since terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers. I recently flew out east to see some friends and saw where One World Trade Center is now.

Two weeks after I went there, the Taliban took control of the capital city of Kabul. The United States began pulling the final troops from Afghanistan with a deadline of Aug. 31, 2021. While I agree it was time to end a 20 year war, I don’t agree with the methods we used to retreat. We left the lives of troops, diplomats, US civilians, and Afghan civilians in a perilous situation. I do not believe the Taliban is looking to peacefully take over the country when all evidence has pointed to the contrary. They have gone door to door looking for journalists and those that worked to help the United States military. Contradicting their claims to not seek revenge, they have chosen to murder those that are not in line with their beliefs.

In my opinion, there should have never been direct talks with the Taliban. We didn’t have enough of a contingency plan. Locations of safehouses were exposed and there was an attack at the airport in Kabul. There should have been some forethought that if we can’t evacuate everyone from the Kabul airport. How will we get them out? What is our plan to get everyone out safely if something happens there? How can we make sure that everyone who needs papers to leave has those papers?  We should have seen signs of trouble as soon as former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani fled, and maybe we did, but it was too late.

In places such as South Korea, those lucky enough to be evacuated and become refugees in a foreign land have been met with welcome banners and toys for children. Pakistan, Iran, Germany, Belgium and the United States are just some of the countries taking in refugees.

My hope is that we can evacuate everyone that needs to be evacuated and we do not go back to a time where women were required to be escorted by male family members, needed to be covered in cloth from head to toe, and where it was illegal for them to receive an education. My hope is that Afghanistan will one day see freedom from terror.

Let’s take some time to reflect and honor the victims of 9/11, their families and friends. Let us honor those killed or injured in combat. Let us honor the soldiers who lost their lives as a result of their time at war. Finally, let us honor the lives of the living and deceased during our final withdrawal from the 20-year-old war.