Along Valley Boulevard, in front of the Rosemead City Hall, there is an interesting sculpture. Two shining silver hands rise up from the concrete. They hold up in contrast a piece of rusted, mangled metal. A steel beam once part of a building that stood tall twenty years and one day ago. A piece of the World Trade Center.
I don’t think I could ever forget the day the towers fell. It was an event that changed the course of my generation and those to follow. I had just turned 19 in the summer of 2001, and I and my peers were only just entering the world of adulthood. I still remember being up dark and early that Tuesday morning and already at work at a department store that now no longer exists. Our store was undergoing an audit, and the morning shift was well underway before 5 am to prepare for it. KIIS-FM was blaring on the speakers throughout the store, alternating gossipy talk and turn-of-the-millennium pop music hits. I was working on the luggage section adjacent to my actual section in the children’s department when I realized that the upbeat music had stopped. There was a mention of the World Trade Center and I had mistakenly wondered why Rick Dees was talking about the bombing back in 1993 that sadly killed 6 people and injured many more. It was only a few minutes into his coverage that I realized that there had been what I and my coworkers thought was a terrible accident- a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers. Many of us took our fifteens early and made our way to the break room where the news played on every channel. Smoke from the North Tower billowed from the sky as even the reporters wondered what happened on air. And as we wondered aloud to each other how someone could have flown a plane into a 110-story building, we all watched in horror as United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower. There was no mistaking intent. This was no terrible accident, but an unspeakable act of terrorism. And as the events of the day unfolded- the news of the hijackings, the attack on the Pentagon, the heroic efforts of the passengers of Flight 93- one thing became clear: America was under attack.
From that moment, we were at war. It was a war unlike others that had preceded it, and we know now that there would be no easy victories, even as other countries joined in the fight throughout the war throughout the years. But the one bright spot in the wake of the disaster that I remember in the days that followed the attacks was how our nation came together, for a brief moment, in solidarity to grieve our losses and voice our fears. And in the midst of our national grief, other countries came alongside America, with National Days of Mourning, declarations of solidarity, and in a beautiful show of support, the U.S. National Anthem was played during the Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace on September 13. As short-lived as it was, following the worst attack on American soil, we turned to each other for comfort and the world held our hands.
I only knew a couple people who were at the World Trade Center on the day the towers fell. But after twenty years following the attacks, I don’t know many who were not affected by September 11 or by the conflict that followed. I have friends who joined the military and went and fought in Afghanistan. My kids were all born after 9/11 and their generation will not know a world that wasn’t impacted by it even as the New York skyline was forever altered. The way we look at security has changed, and while we may have become comfortable again after 20 years, in the dark spaces of our minds, we also know that safety is not guaranteed and freedom is not something to be taken for granted.
The space in front of City Hall is a peaceful place. While it faces the busy thoroughfare that cuts east to west across the San Gabriel Valley, the memorial brings with it a solemnity and calm as it stands in tribute to the nearly 3000 people- innocent civilians and heroic first responders- who died in the devastating act of terrorism that forever changed our nation and the families of those who still mourn people they loved. Even as the years continue to pass, may we remember those who were lost and who gave their lives. May we never forget.