We will never forget the morning, 18 years ago, that terrorists hijacked four planes and flew them into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, killing 2,937 people and injuring 6,000 more. Another 40 died when the fourth plane, bound for the U.S. Capitol building, crashed in a field in Somerset County.
The images of the towers falling and the Pentagon burning are seared into our memories. We also recall the eerie quiet of the skies, after commercial air traffic was grounded, and the anguish on the faces and tongues of victims' loved ones as they told us their stories.
We should take our vow to "never forget" seriously. With each year that passes, the number of Americans who do not remember that day rises. No one currently in high school remembers it. Very few who are in college today know where they were at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.
We've heard all the valid arguments against making Sept. 11 — officially known as Patriot Day — into a federal holiday. We, as a nation, do not make tragedies into federal holidays. Even Memorial Day, which honors military personnel who died while serving, is seen as a time to take pride in the sacrifices of our nation's brave service members.
Particularly at the Pentagon, the attacks disproportionately impacted federal employees, many of whom grimly and determinedly worked through the chaos that day. Many of them would rather stay at their posts and observe the day quietly than see it cheapened by parties and fireworks.
There's even a point to be made that giving all federal employees another paid holiday on Patriot Day would cost the government millions in taxpayer dollars.
On the other hand, it's arguable that Patriot Day is at least as worthy of inclusion as Presidents Day and the now-controversial Columbus Day. Making it a federal holiday could also honor the lives of the federal employees at the Pentagon who died while working to keep the rest of us safe.
It could also give school-aged children whose knowledge of 9/11 primarily comes from history lessons and their parents' recollections the chance to take part in events that bring what they've learned in textbooks to life in a more memorable and impactful way.
We expect the victims' loved ones to be divided on the topic. To some, the move would give the day greater significance and solidify its importance for generations to come. Others would be offended at the thought of it eventually becoming an excuse for late-summer barbecues and shore excursions.
Either way, perhaps this is a conversation our nation should have.
True, it would make a tragedy a federal holiday. But we also remember the overwhelming sense of patriotism that, for many of us, broke through the fear and grief of that day and the ones that followed.
We were a nation that was united in our resolve to rebuild, stand firm and play baseball again. We marveled at the heroism of our first responders, drew inspiration from the strength of new widows and orphans, and stood shoulder to shoulder, not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans. We could use a little bit of that spirit today and every day.
These are also things we should "never forget." Is a federal holiday the best way to ensure we don't? Maybe, maybe not. But what's the harm in having the discussion?
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD