A day that forever changed our nation

By U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe | Sep 08, 2010

This week, with the heaviest of hearts, we commemorate the ninth anniversary of the tragedy that befell our country Sept. 11, 2001, and changed America — and Americans — forever. We remember those whom we lost that terrible day, but also celebrate the freedoms we cherish and which make our nation the greatest in the world.

We are all a different people in America as a result of the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, that are etched upon the landscape of our consciousness for all time. We all know where we were, and what we were doing, at the precise time they happened.

As we all recall, that morning began with such remarkable blue skies, but ended with a nation in mourning and stunned disbelief. In Washington, D.C., I watched the images along with the rest of the world. Later, as the sun set over the National Mall — still capped by smoke billowing from the wound in the side of the Pentagon — I will never forget gathering with my colleagues in the House and Senate on the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America."

Indeed, the notes of "God Bless America" still reverberate, the resilience we recaptured as a country remains pressed upon our national psyche, and the memory of the inspirational sacrifices of so many heroic Americans who perished that morning will forever have a home in our hearts and our prayers.

On this Sept. 11 as on all that have preceded it, we mourn the loss of those eight individuals from Maine who were taken from us all too soon — Anna Allison, Carol Flyzik, Robert Jalbert, Jacqueline Norton, Robert Norton, James Roux, Robert Schlegel and Stephen Ward.

We remember the heroic acts of valor that will always distinguish the thousands of men and women who went to work that day, or boarded a plane, or rushed to the aid of strangers whose lives they believed were as vital as their own. Indeed, if 9/11 was a snapshot of horror, it also became a portrait of consummate humanity. If it laid bare the unimaginable cruelties of which humankind is capable, it also imbued forever within our minds the heights to which the human spirit can rise — even and especially in the face of mortality.

And nowhere was that more evident than with the first responders who, in the face of unspeakable adversity and peril, heroically ran toward the very dangers others were desperately trying to escape, placing their lives in harm's way in the most courageous and valiant of endeavors to save others without regard for their own safety.

Their service and sacrifice is also a vivid reminder of the exceptional men and women who have donned our country's uniform to safeguard and defend our nation. Whether on our shores or soil here at home or around the globe, their steadfast sense of duty and love of country is an inspiration to us all, their commitment fortifies our determination and their professionalism steadies our hands in an uncertain world.

I will always remember here in Maine, firefighters from throughout the state rushed to aid in the rescue and recovery efforts, the Portland Symphony Orchestra gave an inspiring "Concert of Remembrance and Healing," dedicated to those with close ties to Maine who lost their lives, and 554 employees of a pulp and paper mill in Baileyville donated more than $6,000 to help people whom the workers had never met, in places many of them had never visited. One employee contributed his entire $600 tax-relief refund to the cause, saying it was the least he could do to help. That is the America our enemies could never understand — and never will.

How clear it is, then, that, out of the rubble rose our resolve, out of despair grew our determination and out of the hate that was perpetrated upon us proudly stood our humanity. It was an unmistakable message to the world that we would never be deterred — that our freedoms could never be crushed by the blunt and torturous instruments of terror that are no match against a resilient people certain in the knowledge that good ultimately triumphs over evil.

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