(David Bernhardt is Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior)
I will never forget the moment I realized our nation was at war on Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after the World Trade Center towers were hit, I was in former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton’s office with her other senior staff watching the news about the towers, when we suddenly saw smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. The secretary’s security detail sprang into action and launched into the room in preparation to evacuate. I knew by the way they moved that America was under attack. I immediately tried to call my wife, who was working at the U.S. Capitol, but I could not get through to her.
For many years, each and every American had a memory of virtually the same moment to recall on Sept. 11. Each of us knew the minute when we realized our country, and everything we believed in, came under assault. We each could recall how our great nation came together and moved forward. Today, many young Americans who were born after the attacks have no direct memory of what transpired, and it is for that reason, among many others, that the Flight 93 Memorial has become even more critical to transmitting the story of American heroism, perseverance and sacrifice to the next generation.
President Donald Trump was in midtown Manhattan when the second plane hit. He understands that our way of life cannot be taken for granted. Our sacred freedoms and liberties must be protected. Our heroes must be honored, and the American Dream must be preserved.
Today, Mr. Trump will visit the Flight 93 Memorial outside of Shanksville, Pa., where 40 brave passengers and crew sacrificed their lives to stop the plane, presumably en route to the U.S. Capitol. Four planes were hijacked that day, but because of the heroism of those 40 men and women, Flight 93 did not make it to its targeted destination.
Last year, at the 18th anniversary observance, I had the humbling honor of visiting with the family members of these heroes. The observance ceremony, which included a reading of the names of those lost by the family members, was the most moving moment of my entire professional career. The memorial itself is stunning, and as one reviews the wall of names, they also walk the flight path of the plane right before impact. The Department of the Interior through the National Park Service has been charged with maintaining this sacred memorial and telling the story of these heroes for time immemorial.
Among those heroes of Flight 93 was U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Richard J. Guadagno. Recovery efforts at the site were difficult, but a month after the crash, investigators found Mr. Guadagno’s service badge — fully intact and resting in a nearby tree. For us at the Department of the Interior, that badge, on display at the memorial’s visitor center, serves as a moving reminder of our fallen colleagues who have gone beyond the call of duty to keep our fellow citizens, our communities and our public lands safe. And, for all Americans, that badge is a tangible symbol of the loss our nation suffered nearly two decades ago.
This Patriot Day, I encourage all Americans to honor the memories of the nearly 3,000 precious lives we lost on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as every hero who has given his or her life since that day to protect our safety and our freedom. As a nation, we must remain forever grateful to the heroic men and women who serve as our first responders and charged into a raging inferno in New York or at the Pentagon. We must recognize and appreciate the great members of our armed forces who fought in defense of our country in the aftermath of the largest terrorist attack on American soil.
In addition, we should pause for a moment and recognize the reality that our great nation’s history is filled with ordinary individuals who have chosen to do extraordinary things — whether on the homefront or the front-lines — in our country’s moment of need. For unequivocal support of this fact, you need look no further than an ordinary field, which now stands on the hallowed grounds in Pennsylvania where so many good men and women gave their hearts, strength and lives