(Editor's note: The following are remarks that Dalton Fire Department Lt. Dan Hudson made at the local Patriot Day ceremony Friday morning in front of the Whitfield County Courthouse.)
As the son of preacher, it was ingrained into me at an early age that anything worth saying has three points. I’m not a preacher, but I’ll try to make Dad proud. This morning I want to challenge us to three things: to remember, to honor and to recount.
While today has been designated as Patriot Day since 2002, our presidents since President Bush have also designated the days around Sept. 11th as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance. So it’s entirely appropriate for us to gather this morning to remember. It would be easy for us to call to mind just some of the many stories of heroism and courage that were displayed on Sept. 11th, 2001. In fact, there are too many stories to mention here and undoubtedly countless that no one will ever know. But, if we are to be a culture that treasures and values life, then we do well to remember not only our heroes, both uniformed and civilian, but also those whose lives were snuffed out in an instant, even those who had no opportunity in their final moments to act selflessly.
The victims of 9/11 were all sons and daughters to someone. They left behind parents, brothers and sisters, and their deaths made widowers and widows of their spouses. They left behind some 1,300 orphans. Now, we could talk about the human potential that was lost with the nearly 3,000 people who died that day. Books that wouldn’t be written, breakthroughs in various fields of work that were never made, organizations stripped of their leaders, but even that misses the point. Our founders got it right in our first document, the Declaration of Independence, when they declared that people have intrinsic rights, values, “endowed by their Creator.” A culture of life celebrates and remembers the lives lost on Sept. 11th irrespective of their station in life, the color of their skin, or their contributions. Life is precious. Full stop. We rightly mourn for every person who died that day.
Point number two. It is good to honor the courage and sacrifice that so many showed on Sept. 11th. Todd Beamer’s famous last known words “Let’s roll” as he and other passengers of Flight 93 stormed the cockpit in an attempt to take control of their aircraft. Knowing the fate of the other airplanes that morning, it was their plan, should all else fail, to fly it into the ground and thus save lives. They crashed in an empty field only 20 minutes of flight time away from the suspected target of either the White House of the Capitol building.
Or Rick Rescorla, head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley, already a Silver Star recipient for his actions in Vietnam. He sang over a bullhorn to keep calm the 2,700 people he was responsible for evacuating as they exited the South Tower. He called his wife and with his last words told her to stop crying. “I have to get these people out safely,” he said. He was last seen on the tenth floor of the South Tower, headed up to look for stragglers.
Or Ladder 3’s Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown whose last words to Dispatch are known by firefighters all over the country. From the 35th floor of the North Tower he said, “This is 3 truck and we’re still heading up!”
The police officers, military personnel, medics and firefighters who died in the line of duty that day wouldn’t have imagined that they would be called on that particular morning to make good on the oaths they had taken. That day, like today, started out beautiful.
I remember it being as pleasant here in Georgia as it was in New York City. You might even still remember the blue skies in the background of the TV as the towers burned. Many of the emergency responders who ultimately responded to the Towers didn’t even have to be there. FDNY’s shift change is at 9 a.m. But rig after rig rode to the scene with every seat taken as firefighters getting off their shift chose to put their gear right back on the trucks and head into Manhattan. Those on scene, especially the veterans of the fire service, of which there were many there that morning, had to know that this would be the most historic tragedy to ever hit their city, and those climbing the stairwells had to know that they were trading precious last minutes for lives.
It’s been said that courage is displayed when character meets opportunity. Nelson Mandela put it this way: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” By any definition, men and women, both those wearing badges and those not wearing badges, took unbelievably courageous action that day in service of their fellow man. For some, it was intentional training that took over. Their creeds propelled them to act. For others, they found themselves thrust into situations they couldn’t have prepared for, but they chose in those moments to serve their fellow man. In both cases, this too, putting the lives of others before our own, is necessary in a culture that honors life.
One last word on this point. In talking with a friend who knew I’d be speaking this morning, he reminded me of the staggering number of law enforcement officers who died at the Trade Center: 60 officers of the NYPD, Port Authority and New Jersey Police Department. Whenever I’m asked about what it’s like to be a firefighter, I typically respond with some kind of reply that it’s the best job in the world because everyone loves to see us coming. And it’s true. People are almost always happy to see us. Not so for our brothers and sisters in blue. Law enforcement has always been a hard job and it seems that the job is only getting harder. In some ways, it was to be expected that the FDNY would lose 343 members in the collapses. But the staggering loss of life from our brothers in law enforcement is testimony to their dedication to serve and to save life also.
Finally, the last point is a challenge to act: Recount. Most of us here this morning know exactly where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. A few of you had already been born, but maybe were too young to remember the events of that day. But consider this: no one in our school systems was even born in 2001. We remember and we honor when we tell the stories from that day to our children and our grandchildren, our nephews and nieces.
Our country has a rich tradition of service, and we’ve sent our young men and women into harm’s way for centuries now to protect the vulnerable and oppressed all over the world. Cultures of courage don’t magically appear. They don’t form in a vacuum. The heroic actions taken on Sept. 11th came from deep wells of respect for duty and impulse to act decisively. It we don’t cultivate that within our own families, our country’s muscle memory will get weak. GK Chesterton once said that “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” When we tell our children about the actual heroes of 9/11, real stories, not even fairy tales, we’re giving them the fortitude and courage to act selflessly and heroically too. We’re preparing our next generation of servants for the challenges that they’ll one day face.
Remember, honor and recount.
God bless you all, and God bless America.