Moments of triumph and tragedy are etched on our national memory. Those who are old enough to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy can often recall precisely where they were when they heard the news. Others readily remember what they were doing when they heard that U.S. astronauts had landed safely on the moon.
But in recent years, no event has stirred more painfully vivid memories for the American people than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- 10 years ago today.
Many people will mark this day with moments of solemn remembrance for the thousands of Americans who died when four airliners were hijacked by radical Muslims connected to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network:
n Two planes struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, bringing them down in a dreadful spectacle of destruction as millions around the world watched on television. Many in the towers managed to escape. Many others -- especially those on the higher floors of the tall buildings -- did not, and all of the passengers on the planes died.
n Another plane struck the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., killing scores in the building and all the plane's passengers.
n A fourth plane was hijacked soon after taking off from Newark, N.J. But its passengers learned of the earlier hijackings, and they courageously fought back against the terrorists. During the struggle, the plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing all on board. But had it not been for the passengers' valor, the hijackers almost certainly would have struck some heavily populated area or perhaps the Capitol in Washington.
Nearly 3,000 innocent people, almost all of whom were civilians, died that day -- most of them in the World Trade Center. The victims ranged from children to custodians to flight attendants to high-powered executives to hundreds of firefighters, police and rescue workers who fought heroically to save as many lives as they could.
Other flights were immediately grounded after the attacks, for fear that more hijackings might take place, and the nation was on high alert, even as we began to mourn those killed. But President George W. Bush rallied our grieving, outraged country.
Speaking at Ground Zero in New York not long after the attacks, he told the American people: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
And they did.
We quickly learned that Afghanistan, a tribal nation under the rule of the radical Muslim Taliban, was harboring bin Laden. In short order, a U.S.-led coalition of nations went to war in Afghanistan, decimating the Taliban and disrupting al-Qaida's ability to carry out attacks on the United States.
Bin Laden himself remained on the lam until this spring, though, when our intelligence agents learned he was hiding in Pakistan. President Barack Obama ordered a raid in which bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces.
The threat of radical Muslim terrorism has not ended, however.
While our country has not suffered any new attack that compares in scale with 9/11, there have been smaller domestic attacks by "homegrown" terrorists in the years since then. And terrorism-sponsoring Iran -- which has openly stated its desire to wipe the nation of Israel off the map -- continues its feverish attempts to obtain nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, we are still painfully involved in the war in Afghanistan.
With a decade having passed since 9/11, it would be easy to become complacent about the terrorist threat. But that would endanger our country and dishonor the memory of those whose lives were senselessly snuffed out.
On today of all days, we should commit ourselves individually and as a nation to taking the battle to the terrorists and to preventing them from ever repeating the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.