The following is the text of the keynote speech that NJSPBA President Pat Colligan made at the Israeli 9/11 remembrance at the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza in Jerusalem on Sept. 11, 2023.
Regrettably, the memories and recollections of many of our world’s major historical events get diminished and, sometimes, even lost to time. But some events remain etched in our minds forever.
Sept. 11, 2001, for those that were old enough to remember it, is as sharp in our minds today as it was that day 22 years ago. All of us have our own indelible images etched in our minds, that image that crawls back when you hear, “9/11.”
For me, it was turning on the television after my first call about the attack. I know now that it was a live shot of the second tower literally one second after it was struck at 9:03 that morning by United Airlines Flight 175. The news anchors were strangely silent that very moment, perhaps not comprehending what they had just witnessed before their very own eyes.
For me, that is 9/11. Ironically, I would learn later that Flight 175 flew directly over my home just a minute before it struck that tower.
As a first responder, I have no doubt, whatsoever, that those first responders who raced to Ground Zero that morning knew that they were facing a death sentence: 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and eight EMS members. And yet they continued pouring into the scene.
We all know the story of Stephen Siller. Off duty and heading home to play golf on that gorgeous September morning, he heard about the attack and called his wife to tell his brothers he’d catch up with them later. A wife and five beautiful children. Stephen didn’t have to go, but he did. And his story, and now his legacy will live on forever.
Author and family friend Jay Price wrote:
“Every momentous event, even a tragedy, has its symbolic figures. September 11th was no different; it just had a few more of them.”
It was one of the largest rescues in history. Four-hundred, twenty-two of those rescuers knew they weren’t going home that night. We don’t know all of their stories, and their names may not be instantly familiar to us. But they are no less heroes than Stephen Stiller.
On the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, President George Bush addressed our nation. Our wounds were still fresh. They were open and raw. We had difficulty even comprehending the extent and scale of the attack, much like our country did back on Dec. 7, 1941. We couldn’t have imagined as our president was calming and reassuring us on the evening of Sept. 11, that the fires at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan would still be burning 99 days later.
President Bush said that night:
“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
All that is good and just in our world. We are what is good and just in our world!
Israel and the U.S. share many common bonds. But one of our strongest bonds is the freedoms and the democracy that our countries enjoy. It is the very reason our countries are hated and attacked.
There are 11 international memorials to 9/11 throughout the world. Yours here in Jerusalem is the only one to list each and every victim by their names. Those names, nearly 3,000 of them, represent victims from 102 different countries. That attack was not only
against the U.S. and the freedoms we enjoy, but it was also an attack on citizens from over two thirds of the countries that exist on this entire planet!
And there can be little doubt that those citizens represented every single religion known to man. It was an attack not just on the U.S., but an attack on all of us.
We awoke on Sept 12 wounded, but resilient. Like a wound, even with time, scars that deep will never really go away. We said we will
never forget. So far, thankfully we have kept that promise.
As we know, especially in our two countries, those that hate us, those that want to bring us harm have patience. We can’t forget! There are more than 1,000 9-11 memorials throughout the U.S., many made of the steel from the towers themselves. When the steel beams have rusted, the oak trees mature, the shiny granite has darkened and more years have passed, future generations need to be reminded of the hatred we saw that day. We can NEVER forget!
Both of our countries are based on strong principles and ideals. Regretfully, and admittedly, we don’t always live up to those ideals. Our countries are certainly far from perfect.
The U.S. and Israel today are experiencing very deep internal divisions. Partisan disagreements run deeper now than ever measured. The anniversary of 9/11 should remind us that democracy was under attack that day. We shouldn’t be standing up for democracy and freedom just one day a year.
On the anniversary of 9/11 last year, our president said:
“We have an obligation, a duty, a responsibility to defend, preserve and protect our democracy, the very democracy that guarantees the rights and freedom that those terrorists on 9/11 sought to bury in the burning fire and smoke and ash.”
Remember please, as George Bush said on that evening over 20 years ago, WE are “all that is good and just in our world.”