The responsibility of those who lived through 9/11

The American flag flies at a 9/11 ceremony in Downey. Photo by Alex Dominguez

The American flag flies at a 9/11 ceremony in Downey. Photo by Alex Dominguez

Every year – even 17 years later – there is something about this day that I absolutely dread.

The date of Sept. 11 still weighs extremely heavy. I don’t know whether it’s the atmosphere, the memories, or just the general widespread, universal feeling of grief, but the day always feels like a slog through thick air.

It’s a popular question to ask “Where were you when the Twin Towers were attacked?” Curious all these years later, I put out a feeler on one of Downey’s community Facebook groups.

Jose Padilla had just wrapped up a 7 a.m. math class at Cerritos College and was heading to the computer lab when another student told him to look at what was happening in New York. What he found left him sad, broken, and in disbelief.

Lupe Murillo saw the news on TV before going to work. She worked in a high rise by LACMA. Upon arriving she was turned away by the office manager, due to fear that their building might be targeted.

Coco Rubio says she had woken up early before school and was in an online chat room when people started talking about the attacks.

Those engaged in the chat got upset, thinking that an unfunny joke was being played on them. It wasn’t until she logged off and got to school that she realized the legitimacy of what had been posted.

Elizabeth Aguirre saw it on TV that morning. Her oldest son was 8 at the time, and was traumatized enough that he refused to board a plane for years after.

Ken Cook went from being a reservist to active duty almost overnight.

My publisher, Jennifer DeKay, worked in an office that looked out over LAX at the time. All planes were mandatorily grounded after the attacks, and LAX took in a lot of that air traffic. She says it looked like a shopping mall on Black Friday.

A very good friend of mine, Brittany Murphy, was a young child at home getting ready for school. Her aunt had been visiting from Texas and was supposed to catch a flight out at 11 a.m.

Instead, she ended up staying an extra three weeks. Murphy’s daughter, Emma, is not far from the same age that Murphy was during the attack.

I was an 8-year-old kid when I woke up to my mother’s and grandfather’s eyes glued to the tv screen. I remember being annoyed that I couldn’t watch my usual morning cartoons.

I didn’t realize the severity of what we were witnessing until I got to school, where the somber feeling of each teacher and faculty member radiated and trickled down to the student population. When we were lined up that morning, we were addressed by our Principal Gary Hardy. I don’t remember what was said, but a moment of silence followed.

September 11 attached everyone who witnessed and was affected by the attacks with a bond and a burden that we will all carry for the rest of our individual lives.

With that bond and burden comes a responsibility that a generation before us also carried.

For many if not most of those reading this, Pearl Harbor was just something we read about in our school textbooks. We could read about the build-up, the attack itself, and the war that followed, but could lose the vital human element of history unless we had someone available to us that could relate the pain, anger, and resulting sense of duty that welled up inside what would become “The Greatest Generation.”

Folks, it’s our turn; September 11 was our Pearl Harbor.

For those of us that were older, it was a strike on our own turf, something that seemed unimaginable and unprecedented. For those of us who were younger, it was our first real experience with war.

There is an entire generation now who were not there to witness what happened in New York.

Teach them. Speak with them. Explain why and how this has created the world that they were born into.

Let us never forget the day of September 11, 2001, and let us not let it become just another entry in a history textbook.

Features, OpinionAlex Dominguez