Like the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor or the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, anyone old enough remembers where they were the morning of September 11, 2001. The memories, 15 years later, are still as vivid and the feelings of horror and grief lurk just below the surface. For all time, 9/11 will be shrouded in such profound sadness and sense of loss.
At 8:46 am (EST), the Today Show broke the news: “We have a breaking news story to tell you about. Apparently, a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York City. It happened just a few minutes ago. We have very little information at this point in time.” In a matter of hours, thousands of Americans lost their lives to coordinated acts of terrorism, forever changing the fabric of their families, a nation, and the world.
In honor of the victims and heroes of 9/11 on the 15th anniversary, Bookshelf presents the most powerful quotes, many from Sara Lukinson’s poignant September Morning: Ten Years of Poems and Readings from the 9/11 Ceremonies New York City, about the tragedy’s impact on people and their response to that tragedy. May we never forget.
“It is a great honor, once again, to be with you on this day, a day that I know is still difficult, but which reveals the love and faithfulness in your hearts and in the heart of our nation. We remember and we will never forget the nearly 3,000 beautiful lives taken from us so cruelly, including 184 men, women and children here — the youngest, just 3 years old. We honor the courage of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save people they never knew. We come together in prayer and in gratitude for the strength that has fortified us across these 15 years. And we renew the love and the faith that binds us together as one American family. Fifteen years may seem like a long time, but for the families who lost a piece of their heart that day, I imagine it can seem like just yesterday. Perhaps it’s the memory of the last kiss given to a spouse, or the last goodbye to a mother or father, a sister or brother. We wonder how their lives might’ve unfolded, how their dreams might’ve taken shape. And I’m mindful that no words we offer or deeds we do can ever truly erase the pain of their absence. And yet you, the survivors and families of 9/11, your steadfast love and faithfulness has been an inspiration to me and our entire country. There is nothing, as Americans, that we cannot overcome. The question before us, as always, is how do we preserve the legacy of those we lost? How do we live up to their example? And how do we keep their spirit alive in our own hearts? We’ve seen the answer in a generation of Americans. Our men and women in uniform, diplomats, intelligence, Homeland Security and law enforcement professionals, all who have stepped forward to serve and who have risked and given their lives to keep us safe.” (President Barack Obama)
“In the aftermath of this unimaginable tragedy, New Yorkers, and all Americans, have united as never before. Inspired by countless examples of courage and generosity, we have met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.” (Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City at the time)
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” (Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl)
“My older brother John lived [his life] in Technicolor… When he walked in the door, the whole house lit up. And I’m sure heaven lit up when he got there too.” (Anthoula Katsimatides)
“Five years from the date of the attack that changed our world, we’ve come back to remember the valor of those we lost—those who innocently went to work that day and the brave souls who went in after them. We have also come to be ever mindful of the courage of those who grieve for them, and the light that still lives in their hearts.” (Rudolph Giuliani, mayor of New York City)
“One of the worst days in America’s history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.” (President George W. Bush)
“With almost no time to decide, [your loved ones] gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the Capitol from attack. They saved God knows how many lives. They saved the terrorists from claiming the symbolic victory of smashing the center of American government… They allowed us to survive as a country that could fight terror and still maintain liberty and still welcome people from all over the world from every religion and race and culture as long as they shared our values, because ordinary people given no time at all to decide did the right thing.” (President Bill Clinton)
“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” (President Barack Obama)
For further reading: September Morning: Ten Years of Poems and Readings from the 9/11 Ceremonies New York City by Sara Lukinson and Michael Bloomberg (2012)
A Place of Remembrance: Official Book of the National September 11 Memorial by Allison Blais (2015)