Twenty years ago, we vowed to never forget. We promised revenge on the evil that had killed or injured thousands of Americans on our soil and forever changed life as we knew it. We rose up, proudly waving our American flag and announcing, “United we Stand”. Fifty states, selfless and compassionate, mourned together. The whole world became Americans that day and grieved along with us.
The images of 9/11 never fade for me. I was getting ready for work and had always kept my TV on the local news for traffic updates. I still remember standing in front of the TV while Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer tried to figure out what had happened when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. I had a flexible work schedule and usually left for work around 6 am to avoid the heavy commute traffic between Elk Grove and North Sacramento.
I was traveling on Interstate 5 when the second plane hit South Tower at 6:03 am PT. My disbelief and horror in that moment is seared in my memory. Time froze. I know the precise part of the freeway when I heard the radio DJs gasp and shriek, “This was no accident. We are under attack!”
When I got to work, I didn’t see any of the usual early birds in their cubicles. My manager came by as I settled in and said everyone was in the conference room watching the news on TV. At 6:37 am PT, we learned hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 had crashed into the Pentagon, and the entire U.S. airspace with nearly 5,000 planes in the air was shutting down for the first time in history. Everything was happening so fast. I don’t remember exactly when the call came in, but I remember team managers hustling about the office telling workers that the Governor had ordered all state employees to go home immediately.
I rushed to my car and drove home on Interstate 5. I couldn’t help but notice our State Capitol in downtown Sacramento shining bright under the morning sun and wonder if a hijacked commercial jetliner was headed our way. I listened closely to every news update on my car radio, while I tried to focus on the road. Hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field and both towers collapsed within minutes of each other. I made it home safely, but I felt far from safe.
For a whole year after September 11th, I worried we’d endure another terrorist attack. I refused to step on an airplane for ten years, until business travel to promote my first book forced me to face my fears; and I realized that if I didn’t, the terrorists would win.
I believe that if you experienced the September 11 terrorist attacks, you will never forget the trauma of that day. It’s just too deeply rooted in our collective spirit.
On this solemn day of remembrance, let’s vow to recapture the level of unity, selflessness, and strength which arose in the aftermath of that horrific tragedy. Do it for the thousands of souls who perished or were injured that day, the first responders who rushed into danger and gave their lives in the line of duty, including Port Authority Police Department K-9 Officer Sirius, and the warriors who stood up in its wake to defend our country against evil.
My hope is that our nation will be reminded today that we are not individual labels. We are only one word—Americans.
Denise Lee Branco, September 11, 2021
To learn more about 9/11 & PAPD K-9 Officer Sirius, visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website at: A Tribute to PAPD K-9 Officer Sirius | National September 11 Memorial & Museum (911memorial.org)