Sacrifice, honor should not be forgotten

Rescue 5 headings to the World Trade Center on 9/11. (Photo/courtesy Remembrance Rescue Project)

Like many Americans, the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 is instilled in my mind, an event that remains, all of these years later, one of the worst things I witnessed in my life.

It was, for our generation, a loss of innocence of sorts. In speaking to my parents afterward, I realized that what we experienced that day was much like a similar event that occurred many years earlier, on Dec. 7, 1941.

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Although the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was concentrated on the U.S. military, many Americans were shocked at the depth of death and destruction on our own soil. It didn’t feel like military action or the declaration of war it would become. The soldiers and sailors who died that day were thought of in much the same way as those lost in the twin towers, the Pentagon or on Flight 93. They were Americans, going about their everyday lives. They were alive and then they were lost – and in that moment our country changed.

As in every tragedy items remain which remind us of that moment in time. In Hawaii, visitors can see the USS Arizona, its sunken form serving as a memorial of the men lost so long ago. Although relatively few of their comrades remain and most of us now living were born long after Dec. 7, 1941, the Arizona allows us to keep the memory of those lost alive.

The same is true for 9/11. We can travel to New York, to Washington, to visit memorials and remember the loss of that day and the resolve that came after. But for those of us in Mustang, we were given a gift earlier this week as an important witness to that day literally rolled into our town.

Rescue 5 and its 12-member squad were stationed in Staten Island. As calls came in about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, 11 of the squad’s 12 members loaded into the rescue vehicle and sped to the site. Those 11 men would never come home. Their vehicle was heavily damaged but was eventually restored, as a memorial to its company and to the other firefighters, police, rescue workers and civilians who died that day.

On Monday, Mustang students from several schools heard the story of Rescue 5 and were able to see and touch a piece of history from that day. For those students, the events of that day are to them what Pearl Harbor is to most adults alive today – an important part of our history, but something we only know about through the tales of those who were there.

It seems many times we let important things slip away. A horrible thing happens, we call it a tragedy, it is a big news item and then, as time goes on, it fades away – and we oftentimes forget happenings we should remember. Only through remembrance, even when it’s painful, can we learn from past mistakes, grow and honor those who were lost.

Rescue 5’s short time in Mustang served as a reminder of what we lost on 9/11, the honor and sacrifice of those who gave their lives to help others. It’s an important lesson and something we should not forget – and it’s our obligation to remind the generations coming after us of the seminal events that make us Americans and the people who make us proud to be a part of this country.