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By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone
CEO of University of the Potomac

I was living on the west coast at the time, so it was early.  I heard some commotion coming from the living room.  My husband yelled for me to “Turn on the television – “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!”  My first thought – what a terrible tragic accident.  But as I focused on the pictures flashing before me, it was obvious by the angle of impact that this was no accident.  It was as though the pilot had aimed for the building rather than try to avoid it.  My son, who was 4 at the time, thought this was just another action movie complete with computer generated destruction scenes.  As a child he had no real understanding of the magnitude of what was unfolding before him and for that I was thankful.  Then, as we watched live, another plane crashed into the second tower.  It was obvious that the United States was under attack.

For the next hour or so, I waited to hear reports of what was the unthinkable.  Two more planes crashed – one into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.  I was, like most of the nation, in a state of shock as I made my way into the office that day.  Little did any of us know how much our lives and our sense of security would change that fateful day.

In the weeks and months that followed, we learned of the heroism of those aboard United flight 93 as they thwarted mission of the fourth plane and bravely gave their lives to save countless others.  We heard reports of where the terrorists had trained, how they had plotted and who was behind the grisly plot.  We learned the names of those onboard and heard the accounts of last phone calls to loved ones.

In November of 2001, I had a trip planned to New York City.  I had considered canceling it, but decided instead to keep the plans and ventured to the site of the crashes.  It wasn’t a tourist attraction, but a pilgrimage.  Out of respect for those who had lost their lives there, no one spoke and no photographs were taken.  But the sight of the countless dump trucks leaving the scene, coupled with the dust and the stench of death will live in my memory forever.

Today, 11 years later, I still recall the feelings as if it were yesterday.  Osama Bin Laden is gone, but the threats of terrorists remain.  We must remain vigilant, but we must also retain our hope.  America is a land of opportunity and the open and caring nature of the people of our great nation will not be quelled by the acts of a cowardice few.  To allow that to happen would be to dishonor the memory of those that lost their lives that fateful day.

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