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TIM BURKE: Have we forgotten how to unite for common enemy

I can vividly recall the details of where I was at and what I was doing when I heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.

It was Tuesday, and my typical weekday routine was to get up, start the coffee and to make sure the kids were up and getting ready for school. I would turn on “The Today Show” and listen to the channel in the background as I got ready for work.

Immediately, I knew that something terrible was happening. The announcers on TV were agitated, and the studio appeared somewhat chaotic. The first plane had hit the North Tower, and everyone was trying to determine if it was a tragic accident or if something else had taken place.

That question was answered, when 16 minutes later, the second plane crashed into the South Tower.

We knew then for sure that we were under some attack, but we had no idea who was attacking us or why? For the next 35 minutes, the newscast was devoted to showing what was taking place at the World Trade Center. Rescue personnel and vehicles were making their way to the towers to try and save people. Those who were in the towers were trying to climb down the stairwells to safety, but there was no way down for the victims trapped in the floors above the crash zones. Then the third plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Eight minutes later, the United States air space shut down. All planes over the United States were told to land at the nearest airport immediately. At 6:59 a.m. Pacific time, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, 56 minutes after the impact of Flight 175. Twenty-nine minutes later, the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, 1 hour and 42 minutes after the crash of Flight 11. The Marriott Hotel, located at the base of the two towers, was also destroyed. At 7:50 a.m., five stories of part of the Pentagon collapsed due to fire.

I was as stunned as were the announcers on TV by what had just happened, and I didn’t know what I should do.

Knowing that I had a business to manage but with no idea if this attack was going to strike in other areas, I got in my car and headed to my office. Myself and the other manager elected to close the business for the day. We locked the doors and turned the phones over to the answering service.

Then several of us gathered around a TV in the conference room and watched as events continued to unfold. We learned that a fourth airplane, Flight 93, had crashed without reaching any buildings. We learned of the thousands of lives lost when the towers crashed to the ground. While watching the towers burn before they collapsed, you could see bodies falling out of the towers hundreds of feet from the ground. You knew you were watching someone plummet to their death. Soon we left the office, heading home to be with our families. The entire country was in shock.

It took a while for details to come out that this was a suicide attack on the United States by the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda. The attacks resulted in 2,977 fatalities, over 25,000 injuries, and substantial long-term health consequences, in addition to at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. 9/11 is the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed, respectively.

The next morning, when I went outside of my house, I was struck by how quiet it was. The background noise of planes flying overhead, cars on the roads, and other human-made sounds that we learn to tune out was absent.

Business ground to a halt and grounded airline passengers had to find alternative ways to get home. Rental cars sold out immediately. Travelers in Europe could not come back for several days. The stock market remained closed until September 17th. The economy took a significant hit that took several months to recover.

The effects of 9/11 are far-reaching. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security was created by the Homeland Security Act to coordinate domestic anti-terrorism efforts.

The USA Patriot Act gave the federal government greater powers, including the authority to detain foreign terror suspects for a week without charge, to monitor telephone communications, email, and Internet use by terror suspects, and to prosecute suspected terrorists without time restrictions.

The FAA ordered that airplane cockpits be reinforced to prevent terrorists from gaining control of planes, and assigned sky marshals to flights. Further, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act made the federal government, rather than airports, responsible for airport security. The law created the Transportation Security Administration to inspect passengers and luggage, causing long delays and concern over passenger privacy.

As a nation, we respond in unison when attacked from the outside. We work together to defeat a foreign enemy and keep our county free.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of 9/11 seems to have been forgotten. Instead, we have turned to fight amongst ourselves as each group clamors for attention with the belief that only their cause is essential, and everyone else is wrong. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another 9/11 type of event to bring us back together.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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