The day began normally enough. A few minutes before 9am, I rushed to my classroom at the diplomatic training facility in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, eager to finish my last course before departing for my first diplomatic posting overseas.
When I arrived, everyone was gathered around a television screen watching breaking news out of New York City, where a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Then, as we watched the live news coverage, another aircraft appeared on screen, flying directly into the South Tower.
In the confusion that followed, a few of us glanced out the nearby floor-to-ceiling glass windows, hearing the rumble of a low-flying jet pass nearby, a flash of silver glinting in the sky as the sun reflected off its highly polished fuselage. A moment later, those giant glass windows shattered and bowed inwards with what we now know was the impact of American Airlines flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon, just two miles away.
Having only recently left the employ of United Airlines to join the diplomatic corps, I knew there was a high likelihood I would know some of the crew members killed that day and I did know many of them. A dear friend, a former colleague and roommate, Kathryn LaBorie, was the chief flight attendant aboard United Airlines flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Centre.
Outside the cockpit door, we suspect the hijackers fought and stabbed Kathryn to gain access and take control of the aircraft. It was the footage of her aircraft slamming into the second tower that captured the globe, becoming the image most associated with that day’s attacks. With Kathryn’s death, the tragedy and impact of that day became personal and I felt myself change, shaped by these attacks. I vowed to never forget and to commit myself to the memory of all those who died that day, especially Kathryn.
We will never forget the nations, including Malta, that stood by us in our time of need– Gwendolyn ‘Wendy’ Green
After the attacks of September 11, Americans united with neighbours, friends, and allies, at home and abroad, to grieve and mourn our collective sense of loss. So many families lost loved ones, including a young man of Maltese heritage. Perfect strangers transformed into brothers and sisters under the weight of this attack on our nation. We would see this sense of togetherness blossom in the coming weeks and months as Americans coalesced around a shared sense of patriotism and perseverance.
A united voice collectively declared we would not let the terrorists win and we would never forget. We will never forget the nations, including Malta, that stood by us in our time of need, that mourned with us and that pledged to eradicate the violent extremism that foments such hateful attacks.
In the United States, September 11 is designated as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. In the years following the attacks, I dedicated myself to the service of my nation, assisting US citizens in their times of deepest need, protecting the United States from those who would do us harm and working to build and reinforce alliances committed to making the world a safer place for all.
I have met many others along my journey who have similar stories of loved ones lost that day, who have similarly channelled that loss into service and remembrance. The details of their stories may be different but the theme is always the same: never forget. We cannot forget the humanity of those who lost their lives, remembering and honouring them as individuals, even as we view the significance of that day on a global scale.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I ask that you join me in remembering the lives of those lost that day, including the first responders who rushed to help, many of them sacrificing their own lives as a result. Commit to doing something of service in remembrance of those killed.
And, as you see that most prolific media footage of that day – Kathryn’s aircraft impacting the World Trade Centre – I ask that you think of her, as I do each and every time I see that footage.
May we never forget.
Gwendolyn ‘Wendy’ Green is Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Malta.
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